I’ll never forget the frustrated cries my kids made when they were constipated as babies. They were clearly in pain and had bloated bellies. I quickly discovered that constipation — a chronic condition in which it is difficult to poop — is pretty typical in babies. I also learned that I had to find a way to help alleviate their constipation quickly, both for their own comfort and to break the cycle of constipation. “The longer a baby isn’t able to poop, the more the stool dries out and becomes hard and painful to pass,” explains Kim Harrison, a certified pediatric nurse practitioner at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City. “Thus, the cycle of constipation will continue.” What to do if your baby is constipated? We break it down here.
How can I tell if my baby is constipated?
Just look at your baby’s poop. “The most important factor in determining constipation in an infant is the consistency of her poop,” explains Deena Blanchard, MD, a pediatrician with Premier Pediatrics in New York City. “As long as your baby’s poop is soft in consistency and is of one of the normal colors of yellow, orange, green, or brown, she is not constipated. But, if her poop is hard like little pellets, she may be constipated, so you should check in with your pediatrician.”
What causes constipation in babies?
• Change in diet. For babies, this could mean the introduction of solids, which can be very disruptive to their digestive system. Common foods that cause constipation in babies include bananas, applesauce, baby cereal, yogurt, cheese, cooked carrots, pasta, and white bread.
• Lack of fiber. Fiber, found in baby-friendly foods like sweet potatoes and prunes, makes pooping easier. Without it, stool is dryer and lighter, and therefore more apt to get stuck in the intestines.
• Potty training. “Toilet training seems to be a trigger for many,” says Harrison. When toddlers start potty training and exerting their own control over bowel movements, they often withhold stool as a result.
• Genetics. Constipation often affects multiple family members. Chances are, if a parent has problems with constipation, the kids will, too.
• Travel. It happens to the best of us. Being in a new place can mess with a baby’s circadian rhythm and cause pooping problems.
How do I relieve my baby’s constipation?
• Feed her foods that are high in fiber. A diet high in fiber is the mainstay of managing constipation, says Harrison. Be careful though: Young children don’t digest fiber the same way adults do; too much may cause bloating, gas, or diarrhea. In order to unclog your baby’s system, prunes work wonders. Other naturally fiber-friendly foods include pears, peaches, apricots, plums, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and oat/barley baby cereal mixed with prune, pear, or apricot.
• Make sure that she’s drinking plenty of water. Don’t forget to keep your baby hydrated. The constipation problem could be as simple as flushing out your baby’s pipes.
• Keep her active. If she’s mobile, she’s already pretty active. But, if she’s not crawling or walking yet, ask your healthcare provider if there are any massage techniques that you can do with your baby (like cycling their legs) to help exercise the limbs and get the insides moving smoothly again.
Okay, so, there is no definitive “cure” for constipation, but as parents we can do a lot to alleviate our babies’ constipation symptoms. Adding fiber to their diet is a great start, but there are times and situations when fiber is not enough. As with anything health related, it is important to work with your pediatrician if you notice changes in your baby’s pooping pattern.
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