Around 15% of all babies experience constipation during their first year. Newborn baby constipation is thought to be due to your little one’s developing digestive system, and although it’s very uncomfortable and can be a stressful time for both you and your baby, it usually isn’t serious. It does, however, need to be managed early on to stop it from getting any worse. Your baby’s bowel movements are a good indication of their overall health, so keep a close eye on their nappies!
What are the signs of a constipated baby?
From their funny little faces as they try to do a number two, to the remarkable colours and smells within their nappy, one of the wonders of early parenthood is the amount of time you’ll spend discussing your little one’s bowel movements.
If you notice your little one is struggling to do a poo, it doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is constipated. There is no normal number of or schedule for baby poos, and your little one’s bowel movements can vary from day to day. If you’re concerned that your baby may be constipated, though, look out for these signs:
- If your baby goes less than two times a week.
- If your baby’s poos are hard and pellet-like. This is a clear indication they are constipated, as baby poo tends to be soft.
- Particularly smelly wind and poo indicates they are not as regular as they should be.
- A straining “poo-face”. As time goes by you will become all too familiar with your little one’s facial expressions as they do a poo. If they are constipated, this strained look will seem more intense and might be accompanied by some louder sounds as they try to go.
- Crying or becoming irritable before or while trying to poo. This is normally a sign that it is uncomfortable for your little one to go.
- A hard belly. If your baby’s tummy feels hard to touch (normally they are soft and squishy), then this can be a sign of constipation.
- Poor appetite. If you notice that your baby isn’t eating quite as much as usual, this can be an indication they have infant constipation. After all, if they can’t get it out, they might not want to put more in.
- Lack of energy. This could be due to a number of factors, but it is also a possible sign of constipation in babies.
If your baby is experiencing any of these signs of constipation, it is worth checking our Baby Symptom Checker to see what the problem might be. If you are still in doubt, consult your midwife or doctor.
What causes constipation in babies?
Baby constipation can be caused by a number of things, but as a general rule of thumb breastfed babies are less likely to experience constipation than bottle-fed babies.
Constipation in babies can be caused by any of the following:
- Low liquid intake. If your baby is dehydrated and not drinking enough milk or water with their feeds, this can cause them to be constipated. Dehydration can cause dry, hard poos that are difficult for your little one to pass. In hot weather especially, it is important to give your baby plenty to drink to keep them hydrated.
- Change in diet. Any change in what your baby eats can cause a change in their bowel movements. So if they were breastfed and are now formula-fed, your baby’s digestive system needs to get used to this change. The same is true if you go from a liquid diet - like breastmilk or formula - to solid foods.
- Habit. That’s right, if your baby gets used to not going to the loo, this can lead them to become constipated. Some babies find the sensation strange when they are little, so they don’t get used to going. This can lead to infant constipation.
- Physical reasons. There are some conditions that can cause constipation in babies, such as a small tear in the anal canal (ouch!).
- Food allergy, illness or a medical condition. Occasionally baby constipation can be a symptom of a food allergy, food poisoning, or a metabolic disorder, which occurs when your little one’s system struggles to absorb foods.
If you are not sure what is causing your baby to be constipated, try our Baby Symptom Checker. If you’re still worried about baby constipation, want to know what to give a constipated baby, or have any other queries relating to baby constipation, call your midwife or doctor.
How many poos should my baby be doing?
The good news is, like all people, there is no set amount of poos your baby should be doing. In the early stages, when their digestive system is still developing, they might go much less than you think is ‘normal’.
As a general guide, babies do an average of four poos a day in the first week of life, then this usually goes down to an average of two a day by the time your baby is one.
If you’re breastfeeding your newborn in the early weeks, then they could poo after each feed; then, after roughly six weeks, they may not have a poo for several days. If you’re formula-feeding your baby, they may poo up to five times a day when newborn, but again, this is likely to go down after time, to once a day. It's also normal for your baby to strain or grimace, and occasionally cry, when doing a poo. It’s worth keeping an eye on your baby’s poos - if they’re soft, they’re generally not constipated, even if they haven't done one for a few days.
The above is just a guide, so don’t be alarmed if your little one’s bowels aren’t working like clockwork. Baby constipation can be uncomfortable, but remember, it’s not serious!
How can I help my constipated baby?
Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to relieve your baby’s constipation. Here are a few tips to help your little one feel better:
- Give your baby extra liquid. This can be done by filling their bottle with boiled water that has been left to cool down. Make sure the water is cool before giving it to your baby. This extra fluid might help them go to the loo. If your baby is formula-fed, do not add additional water to their formula; instead, give them extra water in between feeds.
- Check the formula. If your baby is formula-fed, make sure you are using the right amount of powder when mixing their formula. Too much can cause your baby to become constipated.
- Talk to your doctor or local pharmacist. If your baby is constipated, it is worth asking them about specialist formulas that can help with this.
- Give your baby a little tummy rub. It may sound strange, but rubbing your baby’s stomach in a clockwise circular motion can really help their digestion.
- Do the baby bicycle. With your baby lying on their back, gently move their legs in a cycling motion. This can help relieve any trapped wind and kickstart their little digestive system. Many babies tend to find this very relaxing, too.
- Give them some fruit. At around six months, if you have already started weaning your baby, then try feeding them fruit. The natural fibre in fruit can help get things moving again.
- Give them a warm bath. This can help your baby relax and the warmth can soothe their aching tummy. Make sure the bath is not hot - no more than 38 degrees (baby bath thermometers can be bought online).
Constipation in babies is going to happen from time to time while they are developing. At times it can be uncomfortable for them, but more often than not, their tummy will work things out. If you are worried, consult your doctor, who will be able to offer alternative solutions.
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