Baby Constipation: What Causes It and How to Help

Like adults, babies and toddlers can become constipated and experience tummy problems, but when they do, they may not know how to alert you to their discomfort. A crying baby is a sure sign something is wrong, but tears could mean anything from being ready for a nap to experiencing acute pain or even boredom.

Formula-fed babies are more prone to constipation than breastfed babies, and once you introduce solids, typically between 4-6 months old, you may notice an uptick in bowel issues as well. 

The good news is that figuring out your baby is dealing with constipation is usually pretty simple and, in most cases, nothing to worry about. 

How Do I Know My Baby Is Constipated?

There are a couple of signs your baby may give to let you know they’re having trouble passing a bowel movement:

  • Grunting or straining while trying to go. If you notice your little one scrunching their face up, making grunting noises, or turning red in the face, it could be because they are trying to pass a difficult bowel movement. 
  • Small, hard, infrequent poops. It is normal for a baby to go a few days without a bowel movent. Breastfed newborns may even pass seven to ten days without going. However, if your baby or toddler is going infrequently and having small, hard poops when they do go, it’s likely due to constipation. 
  • Infrequent poops when formula-fed or eating solids. Most formula-fed babies pass one bowel movement daily, although going two or three days isn’t uncommon. The same goes for babies and toddlers who have started solids. Going once sometimes twice a day is typical, but so is missing a day or two. However, if your formula-fed or solid-eating baby has gone several days without having a BM, constipation may be the culprit.
  • Crankiness or frequent bouts of crying. If your baby is cranky a lot or is crying more than usual, it could be because they are constipated and uncomfortable. A toddler may point to their belly if you ask what is bothering them, or they may even be able to tell you, depending on their linguistic skills. Crying and fussiness indicate something is wrong, so if your baby is crying more than normal combined with any of the above signs, it is probably constipation.

What Causes Constipation in Babies and Toddlers?

Just like adults, constipation for babies and toddlers is usually caused by our diet. However, some other causes of constipation, particularly for older babies and toddlers, could be at the root of your baby’s inability to go. Here are the top causes of constipation in babies and toddlers:

  • Diet – Diets that don’t contain enough fiber and protein and are full of sugar and processed foods are a major cause of constipation in toddlers. Some babies may also have an allergy or intolerance to different formulas. If you’ve recently switched formulas or switched from breastmilk to formula, check the ingredients and consider trying another brand or type. Many babies have sensitivities to cow’s milk and soy. 
  • Dehydration  – Breastfed and formula-fed babies should not have dehydration issues unless they struggle to feed. However, once you introduce solids, it’s possible your baby doesn’t have enough water in their diet. Therefore, at around six months old, introduce a sippy cup with water and encourage your child to drink from it throughout the day. 
  • Medication – Some medications can cause constipation. If your baby is on meds for a recent illness, check the side effects to see if constipation is listed.
  • Holding it in – Older toddlers and two-year-olds may try to hold their poop in. Some kids don’t like the feeling of going, while others are afraid of the bathroom or the toilet. Some kids, boys especially, hold their bowel movements and urine in because they don’t want to stop playing. 
  • Fear of discomfort – If your child has experienced constipation before, they may resist going because they are afraid of the discomfort or pain associated with going. However, holding it in has the opposite effect making the stool larger and even more difficult to pass. 
  • Illness – Some illnesses lead to constipation, especially if your child becomes dehydrated. A change in their diet while sick may also cause their bowels to change. 
  • Physical conditions – Some rare physical or anatomical issues with the anus or intestines can create chronic constipation. Nervous system disorders commonly affect a child’s ability to go to the bathroom.
  • Lack of physical activity. Movement helps us stay regular. It’s true for adults and kids. If your toddler isn’t getting enough physical exercise, it could contribute to constipation.

How to Help Your Child With Constipation

In most instances, the cause of constipation is easy to remedy and can be accomplished with some simple dietary or lifestyle changes. 

  • Change their diet – Make sure your child eats a well-rounded diet full of healthy fibers, fruits, and veggies: limit dairy, sugars, and processed foods when possible. 
  • Move More – Exercise benefits us all, so make a point of moving more with your toddler. You can dance, do yoga, go for walks, or play on the playground together!
  • Medication  – If you’ve tried changing their diet and exercise, some over-the-counter medications may help. Before administering medication, always discuss it with your child’s pediatrician, especially for babies and toddlers. 
  • Regular bathroom trips – If your toddler is holding it in or fears the bathroom, make using the bathroom a regular occurrence. Schedule bathroom breaks and make them fun. You can play games, read books, or even watch videos to help them relax. Allow them to see you using the bathroom, so they know there is nothing to fear.

Dealing with constipation is not fun for anyone, and especially not for little kids and babies who don’t understand what’s going on or how to ask for help. But rest assured, these tips on what to watch for and how to help will have your little ones’ tummy back on the right track in no time!

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