Q&A: Our baby's constipated. What can we do to help her?
We have adopted a beautiful baby girl. She is now five months old, however, she was born about 12-14 weeks early. She is on iron-fortified formula and iron vitamins. She had been having regular bowel movements, but now she is struggling to have them. She cries in pain and her feces are shaped like little hard rocks.
I've called our doctor who at first suggested apple juice (one ounce juice mixed with one ounce of water). This helped for a couple of days, then she started having problems again. Our doctor then prescribed a laxative for her. I'm very uncomfortable with this, but did give it to her because she was obviously needing relief. The next day she had seven dirty diapers, all very runny. But she felt so much better!
Today, she had one big dirty diaper, part liquid, part pasty. Some friends have suggested taking her off of the iron or at least lowering the intake. But the doctors don't want me to do that because when she was first born, she received blood. I'm at a loss. I don't like the idea of her being on laxatives, yet I obviously don't want her to be uncomfortable or in pain.
Otherwise, our little girl is healthy and thriving! She smiles, lifts her head, ...etc. About what a two-three-month-old should do. She's up to eleven pounds and is outgrowing her newborn clothes.
Any help or suggestions with this problem would be greatly appreciated.
Your friend has given you well-meant but misguided advice and your doctor is right: low iron formula has no place in your child’s diet for two reasons.
The first is that it won’t help the constipation. Unlike in adults, iron does not constipate children, so removing the iron won’t solve the problem. The second reason is that iron is very important for early brain development. So much so that children who are iron-deficient have been shown to have lower IQ’s than those with enough iron, and this effect is permanent.
Your baby is particularly vulnerable since she missed out on the last trimester of pregnancy when babies build up their iron stores from the placenta. So, keep her iron-enriched. But I agree with your reluctance to use laxatives to combat the constipation. Medicines should be given to children only when absolutely necessary.
Since apple juice worked for a while, you already know that diet changes can be helpful for her. Try an even better one: prune juice. Juices help constipation by being sugary. The sugar draws water into the intestine, which slowly mixes with and softens the stool. Prune juice tends to be more effective at this than other juices and contains some vitamins as well, making it a more nutitious alternative than a concentrated sugar like Karo syrup.
Start with one ounce per day, mixed with one ounce of water to make it less sweet and more palatable. This may take a few days, but should slowly and naturally soften her stool. You can continue this off and on until you add solids to her diet, which should change her stool pattern.