Causes of constipation in babies
There are various reasons why your baby could be constipated. First and foremost, what your baby is being fed can have an impact on how likely they are to suffer from constipation. Bottle-fed babies are more likely to suffer from constipation than breast-fed babies because breast milk is more easily digested. Breast milk also contains the right nutrients to keep stools soft and prevent constipation, and it also protects the baby against germs that cause diarrhoea.
Constipation can be made worse if you’re moving from breast feeding to bottle feeding. When doing this, try to spread the change over a few weeks. Weaning can also have a similar impact on your baby’s digestion, because the different nutrients in solid foods take a while to get used to.
If your baby was delivered by Caesarean section, they will also be more likely to suffer from constipation. This is because during natural birth babies get a portion of the mother’s gut bacteria, including bacteria beneficial for digestion, when they pass through the birth canal. It is now believed that babies born via C-Section therefore don’t get the good (probiotic) bacteria, which means they may possibly be more susceptible to a variety of digestive issues.
Colds and other illnesses which stops your baby from suckling properly can also cause constipation. If your baby can’t feed properly, they aren’t taking in enough liquid, which leads to dehydration and constipation. Your baby can also get dehydrated if their formula milk is too thick, either because you’ve used too much powder or not enough water. Always check the label carefully to make sure you’re using the right amount of water (and don’t over-dilute it!).
How to see if your baby is constipated
Signs of possible constipation include straining when passing stools, sometimes with pain or a little blood in the nappy from a skin tear, going less frequently than normal and hard or dry stools. If going to the toilet becomes uncomfortable or painful, you might notice that your baby starts to hold it in, which makes things worse. The longer they hold it in, the more water is extracted by the colon and the harder it will be to pass.
Another sign of constipation can be if your baby refuses to feed or if they pass a lot of wind. If your baby has a lack of appetite and is listless or restless, then constipation could be the cause. Although it sounds odd, constipation can sometimes look like diarrhoea in older babies. This is because the looser stools are squeezing past the compacted harder stools.
There are many things you can do to ease the discomfort of constipation for your baby. A warm bath often helps to encourage bowel movement, and gently massaging your baby’s stomach around the navel with baby oil can also help. Whether you are bottle-feeding or breast-feeding, try a bottle of cooled boiled water between feeds. Weaned babies can also have fruit juices such as prune, apple and pear which have a laxative effect. Your baby’s stools can change in colour, consistency and smell from day to day, but if you are concerned you should talk to your practice nurse or a qualified nutritionist.
If you’re breastfeeding, you could consider taking a prebiotic supplement, which can be passed onto your baby through breast milk. Taking a probiotic with prebiotics is advisable, because although the probiotics don’t get passed onto your baby, they greatly improve the quality of your breast milk. If your baby is between 6 months and 1 year old, we would suggest giving them OptiBac Probiotics For babies & children, which is a blend of probiotic and prebiotic fibres designed specifically for children and breastfeeding mothers.
If your baby is one year old or over, you can give them Bifidobacteria & fibre, which contains our favourite probiotic strain Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12®.   We would always recommend a powdered supplement, rather than a capsule because it’s much easier to give to babies and children. As well as helping with constipation, probiotics help with lots of other things too.
We hope you find these tips useful. If you ever find that your baby is constipated for a long period of time, always talk to your doctor or nutritionist.
References & Footnotes
Matsumoto M, Imai T, Hironaka T, Kume H, Watanabe M and Benno Y. Effect of Yoghurt with Bifidobacterium lactis LKM512 in Improving Fecal Microflora and Defecation of Healthy Volunteers. Intestine Microbiology Magazine 2001;14:97-102.
Murakami T, Miyahara H, Yukisato S, Nakamura R, Kanno H, Kotakemori M, Kamei T and Kobayashi O. Safety and effect of yoghurt containing Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 on improvement of defecation and fecal microflora in healthy volunteers. Food, Health and Nutrition Research (Journal of Nutritional Food) 2006;9(1):1-12.
Uchida K, Akashi K, Kusunoki I, Ikeda T, Katano N, Motoshima H and Benno Y. Effect of fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis BB-12 on stool frequency, defecation, fecal microbiota and safety of excessive ingestion in healthy female students -2nd report. Food Health and Nutrition Research (Journal of Nutritional Food) 2005;8(1):39-51.