Having to watch your baby in pain while not knowing what's to blame is a horrible feeling for any parent. If your baby is suffering regularly from constipation, then it's a good idea to speak to your doctor and try to figure out what's going on.
If your baby is suffering from constipation, it might be because of the milk protein and other ingredients in their formula milk. We've had a look at formula milk that claim they are the best infant formula for constipation, and we've checked out what ingredients in formula milk are best for your little one's bottom. You may be interested to know some of the slightly more surprising reasons that babies can become constipated, and our natural remedies that babies love.
Why Do Babies Get Constipation?
Babies get constipation for all sorts of reasons. Signs that your baby might be constipated include hard bowel movements like rocks or pellets, less common bowel movements, blood on the surface of their stool or when you wipe, and pain for your baby while passing bowel movements. If your baby is lacking interest in food, this could also be because of their constipation.
You might notice your baby crying more or arching their back while trying to pass stools and straining more than they normally would. You may also be able to see their buttocks straining as they try to pass a stool. The size and shape of your baby's poop can also be affected by constipation. If they are constipated then their tummy area will also be likely to get much firmer and harder to touch. However, just because your baby hasn't passed a stool for a while, doesn't actually mean that they are suffering from constipation, and things could actually be perfectly healthy.
Your baby might get constipation when you change their diet. For example, some infant formulas can be known to cause constipation. Breastfed babies tend to get constipation less because breast milk is easier to digest than formula or cow's milk. Breastmilk is also considered to be a natural laxative and can help babies to have frequent bowel movements. Formula, on the other hand, is thicker with larger proteins that might be difficult for your baby to digest, which makes baby constipation a lot more common in formula-fed babies.
If your baby is dehydrated, then this could be the cause of their constipation. A lack of fluids will make their stool harder and their bowel movement more painful. When your baby is teething or has an illness like a throat or ear infection, they may not get enough fluids. For older babies, it could be that they aren't drinking enough liquids with their meals, which makes it harder for them to push out a stool. If you are living somewhere particularly hot or experiencing higher than normal temperatures, then your baby could be suffering from more extreme levels of dehydration which could lead to them becoming constipated.
Constipation can sometimes just be part of your child's genetic makeup, so if you have a family history of constipation then unfortunately for your baby, it might just be something that they are prone to. Also if your baby is on certain medications then they may be more likely to be constipated during that time. Check the packaging or ask your doctor if you have any questions about any medication that your child is taking.
If you are transitioning your baby onto solid foods, then they might also experience constipation while their body gets used to digesting new things. When your baby is eating solid foods, constipation can be caused by a lack of fiber in their diet. Not getting enough fruit, cereals, and vegetables in their everyday diet can cause baby constipation. Adding in fruit and vegetables that are high in fiber will help your baby to pass stools more easily.
If your baby is breastfed but is still not pooping regularly, this could just be because your baby is absorbing all of the nutrients from the milk. Parents will often think that their baby is constipated, but actually, constipation refers to a hard stool and not simply a lack of pooping. It's completely normal for a breastfed baby to only poop once every five days, and for a formula-fed baby to pass stool over three times a day. Most babies aren't actually constipated, and the reason you might think they are could be because they have colic and are straining. They might have a lactose intolerance or another underlying medical condition that is making you think they have constipation too.
Newborn babies can have very varying amounts of bowel movements and still be healthy. Some will pass stools once or twice a day, and others might be more around the once or twice a week mark.
Babies with constipation are often in a lot of pain, but it is very rare that hard stools are actually going to lead to anything extremely dangerous. If their constipation becomes extremely severe, your baby could be at risk of an anal fissure or hemorrhoids because of the pressure around the rectum, which will cause some pain but is not actually any danger for your little one.
If constipation causes a cut or tear in your baby's rectum or anus, then it could be even more painful for them to go to the toilet. Instinctually they might hold in their stools to avoid the pain, which could lead to constipation becoming more prolonged.
Which Formulas Claim To Help Constipation?
The ingredients in infant formula milk are FDA regulated, so all of them contain a specific percentage of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, and a similar mineral and vitamin profile. Some will contain additional ingredients that are beneficial for babies, like pre and probiotics and iron.
All formula milk contains protein sources, which can come from coconut, corn syrup, vegetable oils, palm oil, and soy. Depending on your child you should pick a formula that best fits their nutritional needs, which your pediatrician will be able to help you with.
Because formula milk tends to be worse for babies than breast milk in terms of constipation, most formula milk is not specifically marketed to help your baby have less constipation. If you want to try a different formula from your usual, then you might want to try a formula that is completely organic. Organic formula will have all-natural ingredients with no fertilizer or pesticides, so it can be a lot kinder to a sensitive baby's tummy, compared to formulas that have chemicals in.
Formulas that contain prebiotics and probiotics are also a good choice if you are looking for a baby formula for constipation, as they make digestion easier and encourage a more healthy gut overall.
Some people think that baby formulas that are iron-fortified are a leading cause of constipation for babies that are formula-fed, but that is actually just a myth. Iron is a necessary part of your baby's diet, and recent studies have shown that it has no known effect on constipation at all. Babies that are low in iron might be recommended by their doctor to take an iron drop supplement for their brain development and the creation of healthy red blood cells in their body.
Some baby formula is made from cow milk protein, and others are made from soy. If your baby has a milk allergy, then formulas that contain cow milk will contain lactose, which can be a common cause of constipation in people with allergies. Switching to soy-based formulas might allow your baby to have softer stools and less pain if this is the case and changing formulas could help your baby if they have an aversion to a certain type of milk.
It's important to note that any formula is going to have similar ingredients because of the FDA regulations, so there might not be that much difference from one to another in terms of helping with your constipated child. Switching from one formula to another can actually cause more bowel problems, as they can require different amounts of dilution depending on the brand. If you find a baby formula that claims to help babies with constipation, then it's important to check if they have done clinical tests, and whether they have been proven to work before feeding it to your baby.
Can Formula Actually Help With Constipation?
Infant formulas are often touted as the cause of baby constipation, and this can be the case. Breastfed babies are less likely to experience constipation than formula-fed ones, but is there any baby formula that can relieve constipation and help your baby have healthy bowel movements?
The short answer is usually no. Babies that consume formula milk instead of breast milk are more likely to be constipated because of the difference in makeup and the added protein found in formula milk. While a change of formula might be beneficial for your baby, if you are breastfeeding and thinking about switching to formula for constipation reasons, it's probably just going to make things worse.
Breast milk contains a hormone called motilin which makes a baby's bowel movements easier and more increased so that they are less likely to have hard and painful stools. It's also important to note that a baby can get as much milk as they need from the breast, whereas a bottle will be a set amount, and this could be another reason that a child is suffering from constipation if they aren't getting enough liquid.
What Other Cures Are There For Constipation?
Though you might not be able to use formula milk to help your baby with their constipation, there are a lot of different natural remedies that can help your baby with constipation relief.
If you are bottle-feeding your baby, make sure you always follow the instructions for preparation on the label. If you give your baby too much or too little powder this could cause more constipation, so it's really important to get it right.
Giving a bottle-fed baby some extra water in between feeding them formula will help them to stay hydrated and make it more likely that their stool is soft. Boiling and then cooling water is important for it to be safe for your baby. Speak to your doctor about how much water is healthy for your baby to drink at their age.
To relieve any pain for your baby, try lying them on their back and moving their legs up and down in a gentle bicycle movement to get things moving inside. You can also try giving them a gentle stomach massage in circular clockwise motions to help things move through their intestines. You might also want to try downward motions just under their belly button.
For babies on solid food, making sure they are consuming enough products with fiber in them will be a great way to keep them healthy and avoid rock-hard stools. Fruits like apples, prunes, and pears are good for babies' digestive health, and prune juice or pear juice might help their bowel movements become less painful.
Babies that eat solid food might also benefit from eating porridge or oatmeal for some meals, as it is great for helping your baby's digestive system. If you think that the lactose from cow's milk could be a problem for your child, then switching to soy or a fruit juice like prune juice for constipation might be a good idea.
Formula-fed babies might benefit from swapping to a different baby formula, so it's definitely worth speaking to your doctor and asking what they recommend. Some parents also suggest adding a little bit of prune juice to your baby's formula milk to aid digestion, but again, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor before making any changes to your little one's diet.
Frequent warm baths might also be a good remedy for your baby's constipation. The warm water should help them to relax their whole body including their bowels so that their stools are passed much more easily. You might want to try massaging your baby's stomach while they're in the bath to help them even more.
It can be helpful to apply some cream or petroleum jelly around the outside of your baby's anus when washing so that there is less pain when they are passing a stool next.
If your baby is breastfed, there is a small chance your baby is lactose intolerant and could be sensitive to that coming through your milk. Cutting dairy products like cow's milk out of your diet and swapping to soy or another dairy alternative is something that you could speak to your doctor about trying if nothing else seems to work for your infant.
If your baby is still constipated after trying at-home remedies, then it is a wise idea to speak to your doctor, so that they can run some tests and see what might be wrong. A constipated baby is not a happy baby, so getting to the bottom of what's going on is really key to help your infant healthy. Your doctor might suggest an infant laxative that contains something like macrogol or lactulose and will explain how to use these kinds of products safely, and how to help constipation in your child.
At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents.
We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it’s important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.
Kidadl provides inspiration to entertain and educate your children. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.
Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong.
Sponsorship & Advertising Policy
Kidadl is independent and to make our service free to you the reader we are supported by advertising.
We hope you love our recommendations for products and services! What we suggest is selected independently by the Kidadl team. If you purchase using the buy now button we may earn a small commission. This does not influence our choices. Please note: prices are correct and items are available at the time the article was published.
Kidadl has a number of affiliate partners that we work with including Amazon. Please note that Kidadl is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.
We also link to other websites, but are not responsible for their content.