How to Help Your Constipated Baby
When a baby becomes constipated (cue grunting, red-faced baby) parents quickly become concerned. Top experts explain what's behind (ahem) the problem.
Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care
“Remember the ‘P’ fruits that make you poop‘: prunes, plums, peaches, and pears. Apricots, too. You can also add unprocessed millers bran (available in most supermarkets) or bran cereal to muffins, applesauce, or a peanut-butter sandwich [for children over age two]. If you add bran or other dried fiber, be sure to give your child two or three extra glasses of water or fruit juice a day.”
Poop Advisory: Iron in formula does not cause constipation, Dr. Spock reminds us, and that it is often due to changes in Baby’s intestines that come as they grow. He too recommends making as little fuss about your child’s BMs as possible.
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“Infants who strain to poop often accidentally tighten their anus. Like adults who can’t pat their heads and rub their tummies at the same time, many babies have trouble tightening their stomach muscles and relaxing their rectums simultaneously.”
Poop Advisory: Dr. Karp describes “opening the door” to loosen up your child’s rectum: Try either bicycling Baby’s legs or massaging his bottom. If that doesn’t do the trick, try inserting a Vaseline-greased thermometer or Q-tip one inch into the bottom. Your baby will react by trying to push it out … and poop is likely to follow.
What to Expect the First Year
“Constipation is rare in breastfed babies (even if they move their bowels infrequently and their movements seem difficult to expel), because their movements are never hard. (In a breastfed newborn, infrequent movements—no matter how soft—can be sign that baby isn’t getting enough to eat.) Constipation can, however, plague formula-fed infants.”
Poop Advisory: In her book, Murkoff focuses on dietary changes (after consulting your doctor) to both relieve and prevent constipation, such as including mostly whole grains and lots of fruits and veggies when
adding solids to your baby’s diet. And she warns it is important to deal with constipation when it happens so the problem does not become a “habit” for your little one.
“Constipation is diagnosed by the FIRMNESS of the poop, NOT THE FREQUENCY (or infrequency) of pooping. Concerned parents often think their baby is constipated when they are not. Newborns to six-week-olds usually poop several times a day. Occasionally, though, they take a day off. That’s when you call the doctor in a state of panic. The answer is ‘Be prepared for the Mother Load.’”
Poop Advisory: These experts teach parents to recognize the signs of true constipation—poop that looks like logs, rock balls, marbles, or deer pellet. They also offer tricks for relieving poop problems, including the use of a prune juice cocktail (one teaspoon of prune juice per feeding) or glycerin suppositories (look for infant suppositories at your local pharmacy, but as Fields and Dr. Brown say, be prepared for fireworks).
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“Doctors are loathe to use laxatives or purgatives for a young child, and it is hardly ever necessary to resort to such treatments. In a very small baby, constipation is rare and it is nearly always a result of not giving the baby enough water. It can nearly always be corrected by adding a little water to each bottle.
Poop Advisory: Dr. Stoppard, unlike some of her colleagues, says no to using laxatives to help your baby’s poop cycle along. She also reminds parents that it is fairly common for a child to be constipated shortly after an illness or a high fever. Dr. Stoppard warns that parents who are “over-fussy” about the regularity of their baby’s bowel movements can cause constipation in their child. So relax a little, and your baby’s bottom will, too.
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“Constipation often becomes a self-perpetuating problem. Hard stools cause pain on passage; consequently Baby holds on. The longer the stool remains, the harder it becomes—which makes it even more painful to pass. And the longer the large stool stretches the intestines, the weaker their muscle tone becomes.”
Poop Advisory: Dr. Sears mainly focuses his advice on natural laxative approaches and says one of the most successful measures he prescribes is flaxseed oil. According to Dr. Sears, one teaspoon per day (for a six-month-old) mixed with pureed fruit, a fruit and yogurt smoothie, or barley cereal will not only help put a stop to constipation, but also provide nutrients your child needs for vitamin absorption.
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