Experts estimate the average baby goes through as many as 3,000 diapers during the first year alone. But sometimes baby just won’t poop and baby constipation turns everything upside-down.
Since baby’s poop—from the frequency to the color and the texture—can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside her body, what’s a mama to do when baby constipation strikes?
Here, we’ll explain what causes baby constipation, offer some safe, natural ways to give your little one some relief, and talk about when it might be time to call the doctor.
How to Tell If Baby Is Constipated?
Lactation consultants often advise new parents to count wet diapers to make sure baby is getting enough to drink. And there are some studies supporting the theory that the amount of soiled diapers baby has per day should match babies age during the first week of life—on day four baby should have approximately four soiled diapers.
But, like adults, baby’s bowel movements can vary a fair amount from person to person and diaper output isn’t always a hard and fast rule. It’s much more effective to look out for the following symptoms of baby constipation:
1. Sudden change in frequency of bowel movements
As a baseline, use your baby’s normal bowel movement pattern. If your baby hasn’t pooped in two days, but normally has a bowel movement after every feeding, he might be a little backed up.
2. Hard stools
Even if your baby has regular poopy diapers, hard, dry poop (think: rabbit poop) can be a sign that you have a case of baby constipation on your hands. Poop shouldn’t be so hard that it causes painful straining.
Hard stools don’t typically occur in breastfed babies, but formula-fed babies may benefit from switching formulas.
If you notice your baby grunting excessively and turning red in the face, these are signs she’s straining to poop.
4. Firm belly
Does his tummy feel really full, hard, or bloated? Constipation in babies can cause a belly to feel extra firm.
5. Refusing to eat
Due to their bowel discomfort and distention, constipated babies often refuse eating—even if it’s been hours since their last meal.
6. Blood in the stool
Just like with adults, straining too hard during a bowel movement can cause tiny fissures (tears) around the anus, which produces little streaks of blood on the outside of the stool. Although this can be a normal side effect of baby constipation, blood throughout can indicate a problem. If you see any blood in your baby’s poop, it’s always a good idea to visit the pediatrician to rule out other conditions.
How Long Can a Baby Go Without Pooping?
We’ve established that every baby is different, and we know what symptoms to look for, but how long is too long? How long can a baby go without pooping? The rather unsatisfying answer: It depends.
During the newborn stage, you can expect a baby to have one dirty diaper for every day of life.
On day one, she’ll have one dirty diaper; on day two, she’ll have two dirty diapers. Around day four, you can expect a baby to have 3 t0 4 dirty diapers per day. During this newborn stage, the frequent pooping is important as it helps flush out the meconium from baby’s system.
But once baby gets a little older, the amount of soiled diapers varies more. And how baby is getting his nutrients can affect how often he’s pooping.
For breastfed infants:
Once baby reaches about one month of age, you may start to see a decrease in baby’s dirty diapers. For the first 6 to 8 weeks, a breastfed baby should have four or more poops a day. After eight weeks, baby may poop as frequently as once per day and as infrequently as once a week. Does that seem like a crazy low figure? The reason for this is that babies absorb so many of the nutrients from breastmilk—there just isn’t much left over as waste. Pretty cool!
For formula-fed babies:
Formula-fed babies still need to pass stools to help eliminate all of the meconium, but they typically do not see such a sharp decline in bowel movements after the first few weeks. In fact, many formula-fed babies will continue to pass stools once a day or even once after every feeding due to the contents of formula. Monitor your baby’s diaper habits to learn what’s normal for him, and that will help you determine when to treat him for constipation.
Whether breastfed or formula-fed, the most important indicator of health is steady weight gain. If your baby isn’t gaining weight and is fussy, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
What Causes Constipation in Babies?
If you slack a bit on your water consumption, eat too many bananas, or indulge in too many processed grains, you may experience a bit of constipation. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out the cause of our own bowel issues, but what about infants? What causes constipation in babies?
1. Transitioning to solids
It’s common for babies who are transitioning to solids to experience constipation, because their digestive systems are adjusting to the new diet. Wait until baby displays signs of readiness (like reaching for your food) and at least 6 months of age to give baby solids or purees. If baby becomes constipated, he may not be ready for the transition quite yet. Cut back on solid foods and boost your breastfeeding.
2. Too much rice cereal
Though often recommended by pediatricians, rice cereal is not a great choice for baby’s first solid. Besides being high in arsenic, it’s usually made from white rice and is, therefore, very low in nutrients, including fiber. Babies immature systems also have a hard time digesting grains. Skip the rice cereal altogether and try these foods instead.
3. Mom’s diet
Sometimes the cause isn’t what baby’s eating—it’s what Mama is eating! Studies suggest that chronic constipation in children can be a result of cow’s milk allergy. Other signs of a cow’s milk allergy or sensitivity can include baby eczema, hives, or excessive spitting up.
If you suspect that your baby is sensitive to diary or other allergens, slowly cut out dairy and other potential triggers from your diet. An elimination diet can help pinpoint what your baby is reacting to. A lactation consultant can help guide you through the process.
4. Incorrect formula ratio
If baby is formula-fed, double check to make sure you’re using the correct ratio of powder to water. An imbalance can contribute to dehydration, which can cause constipation in babies.
5. Try a new formula
If a bottle-fed baby is constipated, sometimes it’s as easy as changing out the formula. Some babies don’t do well on a cow’s milk formula, but thrive on a goat milk one. Experiment and see if that helps baby’s bowels.
Sometimes a little dehydration is all it takes to cause constipation. If baby is steadily gaining weight, you probably don’t have to worry about dehydration. But if baby is not gaining weight, has a poor latch, or is excessively fussy, he may not be getting enough milk. A lactation consultant can help determine whether or not baby is getting enough to drink and can help establish a plan of action.
7. Medical condition
Although rare, chronic constipation can be caused by medical conditions including allergies or thyroid disorders. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you suspect a problem.
Preventing Baby Constipation
You know the saying: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Although baby constipation can usually be treated easily, it can generally be prevented in the first place.
Most importantly, make sure baby is hydrated at all times. Without adequate hydration, the risk of constipation increases. For babies under 6 months old, this means breastfeeding on demand (breastmilk is over 80% water!) or giving the proper amount of formula each day. For babies that are eating solids, make sure baby continues to get either breastmilk or formula for liquid nourishment.
Once baby can use a sippy cup, you can give 2 ounces of water per day for added hydration.
How to Help Babies Poop: Natural Remedies for Baby Constipation
There are plenty of products designed to help relieve constipation in babies and children, but they are not all equal. Some stool softeners for babies contain yucky ingredients like artificial food dyes and preservatives and could set up dependencies.
The best way to relieve baby constipation is to let Mother Nature lend you a helping hand. Here’s how:
- “Let food be thy medicine”: Hippocrates knew what he was talking about! When baby is eating solids, avoid foods that constipate (like bananas, rice, or too much meat) and offer high-fiber foods that help relieve constipation. Good choices include cooked pears, prunes, apricots, and peaches. You can offer these fruits as purees or slices (if you’re doing baby led weaning). Just remember: Babies younger than 6 months should not have anything but breastmilk or formula unless directed by a doctor.
- Probiotics: Probiotics help restore balance in the gut, improve overall digestive health, and can make a huge difference in a constipated baby! Simply mix the recommended dosage amount into a bottle of breastmilk, formula, or purees. You can also apply directly to the nipple if breastfeeding.
- Homeopathic remedies for digestion: Homeopathic remedies are safe and easy to administer to babies. (Of course, always get your doctor’s OK!) Simply give one pilule (the little white bead) under the tongue or dissolve two pilules in a small amount of breastmilk or formula. Use a syringe to administer to baby and repeat as needed. For baby constipation, try:
- Calc-cabonica: For constipation accompanied by teething or for babies who are sensitive to lactose or milk protein.
- Lycopodium: For irritable or extremely gassy babies.
- Nux-vomica: For constipated babies who are straining.
- Silica: For babies who produce stools, but the stools are small and hard.
- Baths: A warm bath can soothe baby and stimulate the digestive system.
- Exercise: Just like adults, exercise can help get the digestive system going. If baby can crawl, get on the floor with her and encourage her to crawl towards you. If not, you can “bicycle” her legs, by laying her down and moving her legs back and forth as if she were riding a bicycle. You can also have him do tummy time if not too uncomfortable.
- Belly massage or foot rubs:
What About Suppositories or Baby Laxatives?
Although glycerin suppositories can help relieve baby constipation, it’s best not to administer suppositories without the guidance of a doctor—overuse can lead to baby’s dependency on them.
How Long Is Too Long to Be Constipated? When to Call the Doctor.
If you’ve exhausted all of these options and haven’t found a way to relieve baby’s constipation, you may be wondering what to do next.
It’s important to call your child’s pediatrician if baby isn’t eating, stops producing wet diapers, or has blood in her stool. If baby is younger than four months of age, call the doctor if baby has hard or pebble-like stool or hasn’t had a bowel movement within 24 hours.
How About You?
Has your little one ever been constipated? What worked (and what didn’t) to relive her constipation?