While constipation isn’t an illness, it is a problem that occurs for some older babies, especially after they begin eating solid food. Newborns, especially those who are breastfed, are rarely constipated.

What is Constipation?

Constipation occurs when babies don’t have regular bowel movements. Keep in mind that babies’ abdominal muscles are weaker and they may appear to be straining to have a bowel movement. However, if a soft stool passes after less than 10 minutes of straining, your baby isn’t necessarily constipated. Also, everyone’s body is different so your baby might not have a bowel movement every day.

Rather, constipation refers to the consistency of the stool and the difficulty with which it passes from the body.

Symptoms of Constipation

• For newborns, firm stools that occur less than once a day. Your baby may have difficulty passing them.
• Hard, dry stool with pain during bowel movements.
• Pebble-like stool with strain when passing. Your baby may draw his or her legs to the abdomen, grunt and become flushed.
• Bloody streaks of on the outside of the stool.
• Abdominal pain and discomfort along with infrequent stools.

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation can be caused by myriad factors, both emotional and physical. In babies, new foods or switching from formula or breast milk to cow’s milk might be the problem. Some types of formula might cause constipation so you may need to experiment with different types of formula to find one your baby can tolerate.

For older children, constipation can occur if they don’t get enough water or fiber in his or her diet. If your child is going through a negative emotional phase, it could cause constipation or even diarrhea.

Constipation can become a problem because it may deter your child from going to the bathroom. If it’s painful to have a bowel movement, your child may try to avoid having bowel movements altogether. This can perpetuate the problem as chronic constipation makes the intestinal and abdominal muscles weaker and the stool harder to pass.

How Can I Treat and Prevent Constipation?

For babies:
• Try feeding formula fed babies half the amount but twice as often to give the intestines more time to digest the formula.
• Avoid constipating foods like bananas and rice. Fed barley cereal, pureed pears and prunes instead.
• Add a teaspoon of flaxseed oil to baby’s cereal or bottle.
• Give a formula-fed baby an extra bottle of water every day.

For toddlers and old children:
• Encourage your child to drink more water.
• Feed fiber rich foods like bran cereal, graham crackers, peas, broccoli and beans.
• Exercise can help to move stool along the intestinal tract.
• Try liquid glycerin drops or suppositories.

Should I Consult a Doctor?

If you can’t find relief for your baby with tips like these, consult your pediatrician for further advice on treating your baby’s constipation. In rare cases, constipation can be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.