Constipation in babies is a common problem that causes up to 3% of all consultations in pediatric offices. By definition, constipation is the effort to pass hard, tight stools at longer intervals than the average for a given age.
How Often Should a Baby Poop?
Breastfed infants may stain the nappy even after each feeding, several times a day, or fail to pass stools for several days. Despite such a wide standard in the defecation frequency, infants are rarely constipated (1.1%), and the consistency of the stools is usually liquid. Infants receiving organic formula usually pass 2-3 stools a day in a more compact form. On average, 9.2% of them suffer from constipation.
Older kids, after extending their diet to include solid foods, most often poop 1 or 2 times a day. Constipation may appear during the transition from breastfeeding to bottle feeding or during diet expansion.
Causes of Constipation in Infants
The vast majority of constipation is functional (90-95%). This means that they are not the result of any disease, but that, under the influence of various factors, the functioning of the digestive system is disturbed. Possible causes of constipation include:
- Infant dyschezia. It is a functional defecation disorder that appears in babies younger than 9 months. Immediately before passing a stool, an infant is screaming and crying, and exertion and reddening of the face can be observed. After about 10 minutes, these symptoms disappear, and the baby passes soft stools. The cause of dyschezia is improper work of the abdominal and pelvic muscles during defecation. Over time, the baby learns to properly coordinate muscles, so no treatment is needed.
- Wrong diet. The main reasons are insufficient fluid and fiber intake while eating constipating foods. Introducing cow’s milk to a baby’s diet too early without following the newborn feeding schedule may cause constipation.
- Medication side effects. Such constipations rarely affect infants, but it is important to bear this in mind. Drugs that cause constipation include antidepressants, diuretics, anticholinergics, opioids, and epilepsy drugs.
- Diseases. In a minority of cases, constipation may be caused by specific diseases.
Infant Constipation Relief Methods
The method of treating constipation largely depends on the baby’s age, variety of diet, and physical development. For constipation in infants, you can use the following methods.
The amount of fluids an infant drinks is crucial in constipation. Infants who are exclusively breastfed in the first months of life do not need additional hydration. In bottle-fed children, it is recommended to give water. For babies weighing up to 10 kg, the recommended amount of water is 100 ml for every kg of body weight. Therefore, it should be ensured that a baby over 6 months consumes about 800-1000 ml of water.
For constipation relief, it is recommended to follow a high-residual diet, i.e. with a high dietary fiber content. It can bind water, thus liquefying the stools and stimulating intestinal motility. Its work, therefore, depends on the proper hydration of the body. The main sources of fiber in the diet are vegetables, fruits, coarse grain groats, legumes, and wholegrain flour products. Foods to help with constipation that can be given even to the youngest children include dried plums, red beets, apples, pears, dried apricots, oatmeal, raw carrots, and buckwheat. Avoid sources of tannins in the diet: cocoa, chocolate, and strong tea.
Massages and Physical Activity
Stimulating intestinal peristalsis by movement or gentle pressure on the abdomen also relieves constipation. Babies can have tummy massages several times a day, which will also help against flatulence and colic. Older kids, who have already mastered the ability to crawl or walk, should be encouraged to move through games that activate various muscle groups.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Studies have shown that supplementing infants suffering from chronic constipation with live cultures of Lactobacillus reuteri bacteria increased the frequency of defecation. The introduction of prebiotics into the diet of infants fed with modified milk prevents or alleviates constipation.