When a baby is constipated, it is rough for them and rough for the parents who want to help but aren’t sure how. This can feel overwhelming, especially when a baby is upset and unsettled. I struggled along with my youngest son, who was constipated often. I found myself researching everything possible to find some relief for him, and to be honest, us as well. It’s important to know that constipation in babies is common and had nothing to do with anything I did wrong. It comes with hitting certain milestones in their growth. I began to learn the signs and triggers for constipation and learned how to prevent instead of just alleviate the symptoms.
Normal Stool and Bowel Patterns
A breastfed newborn’s stool that is “textbook normal” is runny, soft (like an applesauce consistency), stringy, and varies in color. It is normal for a breastfed baby to go as often as after every feeding or as little as once per week.
A formula-fed baby’s normal stool is like a soft paste but can be runny and varies in color. They can go as often as 1-3 times a day or once every 2-3 days.
These are all signs of healthy working bowels. If baby’s symptoms are less frequent, then they may be experiencing constipation.
Signs of Constipation in Babies
Some indications your newborn could be constipated include crying, grunting, painful farts, discomfort, loss of appetite, hard belly, and going longer than three days without a bowel movement. And when they do go, it is hard, dry, or uncomfortable for them to pass.
Why My Newborn is Constipated
Something to look for that can potentially cause constipation is starting a new diet, like adding solids, especially rice cereal–it is common for babies to experience some constipation in addition to some dehydration. Formula-fed babies can get constipated if the protein component in the formula doesn’t settle with their bellies; this is in most cases why babies end up switching formula brands, so ask your doctor their recommendation on that!
Some more serious factors could be causing constipation like hyperthyroidism, botulism, food allergies, or metabolic disorders. These scenarios are more uncommon, but if constipation persists, ask the doctor their opinion on investigating them further.
Baby Constipation Remedy: How To Help A Newborn Poop
1. A belly massage.
Measure 3 finger-widths below babies belly button down to the lower left side and apply pressure. Press until you feel firmness or a mass, keep pressure there for roughly 3 minutes.
If you’re uncomfortable applying pressure, try this technique:
- Have your hands in a paddle motion and sweep the palms of your hands on baby’s abdomen, making a scooping stroke downward. Start it from just below the ribs and stop just above the pubic bone.
- With your fingertips, move your fingers around your baby’s belly button in a circle. Move clockwise to follow the natural path of digestion systems.
2. Bicycle legs.
Lay baby on his back and bicycle his legs forwards and backward in a circular motion.
3. Topical Castor Oil
Massage baby’s tummy with castor oil, topically, while performing a belly massage.
While this is marketed as a remedy for gas, the stimulation will often help a baby to poop! (You may get a few farts out of it too.)
5. For formula-fed babies adding dark corn syrup to the bottle can help.
Start with ¼ tsp per 4 oz of formula. If that doesn’t work, you can gradually increase it until you get to 1 tsp per 4 oz. Do not do more than that.
6. Fruit juice is also a good option, like prune, pear, or apple.
Remember, babies younger than 8 weeks shouldn’t have any fruit juice.
7. If your baby is eating solid foods, try cutting back on constipation-inducing foods like cooked carrots, rice, and bananas.
A good option is to give your baby a belly massage and then follow it up with high fiber foods like pears, prunes, and apples.
8. If your baby is mobile, encourage them to do some exercise.
Crawling is a perfect option!
What to Give a Constipated Baby
- Babies up to 8 weeks should only have 30 ml of cooled boiled water twice a day, between morning and evening feeds.
- Ages 8 weeks to 6 months can have 30-60 ml cooled boiled water twice a day between the morning and evening feeds.
- Babies 6 months – 12 months can have 60-120 ml of freshly drawn tap water twice per day.
- Sugar is used in constipation remedies because it draws additional fluid into the baby’s bowels to soften a hard stool.
- To add sugar to a bottle, first, prepare a minimum of 7 oz of water in a bottle with the appropriate amount of infant formula how you usually would. Then add one formula scoop of brown sugar to the bottle and shake it to dissolve the sugar. It will also dissolve better in a warm bottle. For the next 24 hours, you can do this for every other feed. If constipation continues, you can do this for every feed until the baby passes a bowel movement. Between sugar bottles, use the water formula to keep baby hydrated.
- Once baby passes the stool, reduce the brown sugar bottles to every third, then fourth, then fifth, before stopping it altogether.
- Do not try these sugar-added bottles for more than two days in a row. This option is for emergencies.
- Laxatives might be a necessary measure if other options you have tried are failing to work. Picking the right one is important because not all laxatives are the same in the way they work. Some laxatives soften the stool or stimulate the contraction of the bowel, where others do both of those things, and then some also offer additional fiber.
- A suppository is a medicine in a solid form administered by inserting it into the anus. They are used to treat constipation because they effectively get a bowel movement to pass generally within 15-60 minutes.
- Glycerin suppositories draw water to the intestines, which encourage a bowel movement. Follow directions on the package to insert. If used too frequently, this will cause a loss of normal bowel function.
As always, follow up with your doctor to ask more specific questions and rule out anything more serious, but I hope that something on this list is helpful to you and your baby, and it gets “things” moving again!