february 2023

Baby Constipation: Signs, Remedies, and Treatments

Are you wondering how to relieve constipation in babies quickly? Follow these tips to help relieve your baby's discomfort and get things moving.

10 min read Avril Flynn baby Recommended Products
Baby Constipation: Signs, Remedies, and Treatments

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From day one of having your baby, you will be talking about baby poo with anyone and everyone!

How many times a day, what consistency and colour, what is to be expected, is it enough, are they having trouble, and what you can do to help the baby if you think they are struggling will form the basis of many conversations.

This blog aims to answer the critical issues around constipation in babies. We’ve got you, Poo!

How can I tell if my baby is constipated?

All babies are different, so their bowels, how often they poo, colour and consistency may be different too.

Breastfed babies tend to poo at nearly every feed in the first six weeks unlike formula-fed babies. But this isn’t always the case. So, don’t worry if the experience is different for you and your baby.

Equally, some babies might poo less often but may not be suffering from newborn constipation. As babies get older, their bowel habits will form more of a pattern. And you will learn what is typical for your little one.

A good rule of thumb is that they have not just a single symptom of constipation but a few together. Signs of constipation in babies can include:

  • Straining - Babies may appear to strain and pull faces even when passing a soft poo. But a constipated newborn will strain more and may appear in pain
  • Fussy, unsettled, upset – Constipated babies are likely to be more uncomfortable or in pain. They will express this by crying, grizzling, whingeing, and generally being more unsettled than usual
  • Hard, very large, or small rabbit-dropping style poos – Are not typical. Although it is normal for formula-fed babies to have darker, harder, less frequent poos than breastfed babies
  • Fewer bowel movements than expected – Your baby will probably have developed a pattern of what is normal for them regarding how many poos they have in a day. So, if this decreases – the NHS says less than three times a week – they may be constipated
  • Smelly wind or poos – Caused by a back-up of odour-producing bacteria
  • Reduced feeding – Their tummy will feel fuller than usual and may reduce their hunger
  • Firm, hard tummy – A baby’s stomach should feel soft. So, a firm or hard belly may suggest constipation as poo and gas back up. They may not appreciate tummy time

Causes of constipation

Regardless of how you feed your baby, they can still suffer from bouts of constipation.

When your baby is born, it can take their bowels a few weeks to adapt to their body’s digestive systems and then defecate (pooing) effectively.

Constipation can happen for no particular reason at all. However, there are specific triggers that can mean it might be more common.

  1. Dehydration

    Dehydration is one of the most common reasons a baby can be constipated. Babies become dehydrated when they take in fewer fluids than they need.

    This might be because they are unwell, teething, having a growth spurt (your breastmilk supply may take a few days to catch up), or the weather has become significantly warmer.

    But whatever the cause, making sure your baby has at least 6-8 heavy wet nappies daily is a good sign that they are well hydrated.

  2. Changes in Diet

    Switching from breast to formula milk, changing the formula they usually have, introducing solid foods, or just adding a new food into their diet, can trigger constipation.

    Formula milks are more challenging for your baby to digest than breast milk. And changing from one to the other, even if done gradually, can increase their risk of constipation.

    But don’t worry. Your baby will usually adapt well to any changes in their diet but may need help if they show any symptoms.

  3. Fibre

    Fibre is a vital component of any healthy balanced diet. Not having enough fibre in your baby’s diet can cause constipation.

    This is usually more of a concern in those babies who have begun eating solid foods. See our article here on baby-led weaning.

  4. Food allergies or intolerances

    Although uncommon, affecting only 2-8% of babies, food allergies and intolerances can cause constipation. So, if your baby suffers regularly, it may be worth keeping a feed and food diary to discuss with a healthcare professional.

    As mentioned previously, but worth reiterating, every baby has differing pooing habits. One of the best ways to alleviate the common worry about yours is to get to know their normal.

    Keeping a ‘nappy notebook’ can be helpful, helping you to keep track of when they poo, pee, and feed. By keeping this information on hand, you’ll be able to notice any changes quickly.

Remedies for baby constipation

While it can be upsetting and distressing to see your little one struggle with constipation, it is incredibly common. There are many things you can do at home, as their parents, to help them get back to a normal rhythm.

Here are a few top tips on how to help a constipated baby:

  1. Stay hydrated

    If you are breastfeeding, offer lots of additional feeds to increase the baby’s fluid intake. There is no need to provide water as the baby will get both hydration and nutrition from breast milk.

    If formula feeding, offer sips of cooled boiled water in-between feeds. If you are weaning your baby onto solids or introducing a new food, offer sips of cool boiled water before and after meals.

  2. Try baby massage

    Baby massage is a lovely way for a parent and baby to bond and connect. Gentle tummy massage can stimulate their bowels to move so they can poo.

    Use a baby massage balm or oil, such as our Mega Calm Massage Balm. Do a gentle but firm clockwise motion on the tummy using your fingers. It can be very relaxing and relieve that blockage.

    Read our full article on baby massage and its benefits here.

  3. Follow instructions for formula feeding

    Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when making up a feed. Using too much powder or not enough water can lead to constipation.

  4. Eat fibre-rich foods

    When weaning, add some fruits, vegetables, and cereals to their food. It’s great for keeping the baby’s bowel habits regular and should be included in a healthy, balanced diet.

    As is the case with adults, fibre-rich food is how to help a newborn poop.

  5. Practice bicycle legs

    Have you ever tried to poo while lying on your back? Probably not! Babies, especially young babies, tend not to move very much, so their bowels will be more sluggish.

    Helping your baby move by gently cycling with their legs can help things ‘move.’

  6. Give your baby a warm bath

    We know the benefits of a warm bath for helping to relax. But it can also help your baby to relieve their constipation. Beware, though. You may need to change the bathwater if it is effective!

  7. Use cotton buds

    A simple but effective trick is to tickle just around the entrance to your baby’s bottom (the anus). This can encourage your baby to want to bear down against the bud, which may get their bowels moving.

When to call a doctor

As a parent, always follow your instincts.

If you have any immediate concerns or your baby’s symptoms are not improving, and you have tried the self-help remedies suggested above to no avail, a check-up with your Midwife, GP, or healthcare professional is the recommended course of action.

The following is a list of concerns that we recommend you seek urgent medical advice for your baby:

  • not pooed in the first 48 hours after birth
  • frequently constipated, despite using all the ‘at home’ advice
  • not thriving (not putting on weight)
  • not eating or is refusing feeds repeatedly, vomiting, or is very lethargic
  • blood in their poo, around their bottom, or in their nappy
  • baby is very distressed, or you feel very distressed about their constipatiom

Trusted products for relieving common issues like constipation

We at My Expert Midwife created our baby range to help parents use trusted products to help with common issues like constipation. Our Mega Calm Massage Balm is great for massaging your baby’s tummy to provide relief from constipation.

Your baby is learning, alongside you, what their routine is. Constipation in babies is common but can be a cause of worry.

Understanding the causes and the many things you can do to relieve your baby’s symptoms can help them restore their normal bowel and poo rhythm.