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Baby Constipation: When to Worry and How to Help Your Baby Find Relief

When it comes to baby constipation, knowing when to worry is key. It’s all about knowing what’s normal and what’s not. Here’s how to help a constipated baby, and when it might be time to seek help.

What is Baby Constipation?

Constipation is when bowel motions (poos) become difficult to push out. Your baby may pass hard, dry, crumbly or pellet-shaped poos, causing them pain and discomfort. Here’s some helpful information on the causes, symptoms, and possible treatments. 

There are many things that can affect your baby’s constipation: whether your baby is breast or bottle-fed, drinking enough fluids or eating solids. So, it can sometimes be difficult to tell when things aren’t normal. Here’s what to remember when deciding what’s normal:

  • There’s a wide variation in ‘normal’ bowel function and each baby will be different – during the first 3 months of life, your baby could pass anywhere from 5 to 40 poos in a single week!
  • The frequency of poos will naturally slow down as your baby gets older – by the time your baby turns 1, they may only produce between 4 and 20 poos per week.
  • It can be normal for many babies to strain and turn red when they poo – but they are not constipated unless the poo is hard and painful.
  • Breastfed babies don’t usually become constipated. If your breastfed baby is constipated, they may still have soft poos.

Constipation is not just about how often your baby poos, but whether there is any change in their normal frequency and how hard their poo has become.

What Causes Baby Constipation?

If your baby has constipation, their poo will start to look pellet-like, as well as being dry and crumbly. This can be caused by a number of things including:

  • Not having enough fluids during warmer weather.
  • If they are formula fed, their formula may have been made up incorrectly – it’s important to make sure the right amount of powder is added to the right amount of water, based on the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • The type of milk or formula has changed – for example, constipation may sometimes occur after introducing ‘follow-on’ formula from 6 months, changing from one type of formula to another, or when introducing cow’s milk from 12 months.
  • When different types of solids are introduced into their diet (from around 6 months).
  • If passing a poo becomes painful (for example, there is a small tear in the skin around their anus caused by a previous hard poo) then your baby may ‘hold on’ and the poo becomes harder, making things worse.

How to Help a Constipated Baby

Make sure your baby is getting enough fluids:

  • If your baby is formula fed, check the formula has not been made up incorrectly. This can occur when too much powder has been added to the water.
  • You may need to offer your baby extra drinks of water.

Moving your baby’s legs up and down in a gentle cycling motion may help stimulate their bowels. You can also help your baby relax with a gentle tummy massage or a warm bath.

What Not to do When Your Baby is Constipated

Constipation in newborns and babies needs special care – here are a few things you shouldn’t do to try and relieve their constipation:

  • Don’t give your baby any medications other than those prescribed by your doctor.
  • Don’t add sugar or other cereals to your baby’s formula.

If you’re concerned about your baby, be sure to seek advice from your healthcare professional.