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Different studies show that 10-15% of the world’s population suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and up to 20% from chronic constipation. It could be very difficult and uneasy for your baby to handle, especially with just developing digestive and excretory systems in place. Read on to find more about constipation in babies and how to avoid it.
What is constipation?
Constipation is a condition that causes extremely hard, clay-like stools that are painful or difficult to pass. Medically, a person is diagnosed with constipation if the bowel movements are fewer than three times a week. As a bowel dysfunction, constipation impacts a considerable number of adults, due to several lifestyle factors. Mostly these include incorrect diet, behavior or sometimes underlying medical conditions. This condition is seen in babies as well.
From newborn to toddler years, constipation can bother some children who may have a higher natural tendency for the same. This can be due to the way their digestive systems work, their body’s response to certain foods or due to other factors such as fluid or dietary intake. Although constipation is preventable as well as treatable in the long run, it is ideal to create positive habits which are directed towards a healthy bowel system in your baby.
Recurring constipation isn’t just a painful experience. While babies may only suffer this situation without being able to complain, as they enter their toddler years, repeated constipated stools can also create negative associations for the child with respect to the entire bowel cleansing process. This can, in turn, lead them to hold their bowel longer to escape the traumatic experience, which further worsens the condition.
A constipated baby may not pass stools for days in a row. Sometimes, due to repeated constipation, the rectal muscles or the anal sphincter can lose its contraction strength causing Rectal Incontinence. This means the nerve near the rectum gets damaged causing occasional leakage of stool while passing gas or in extreme conditions, complete loss of bowel control.
Causes of Constipation
An infant not passing a stool for days may still not be an indication of a problem. However, if the baby becomes very uncomfortable and cranky during the bowel movement, parents may need to pay closer attention.
A careful monitoring of the texture of the stool can help a parent understand if the child is constipated. In infants, the frequency of the stool may not yield a major insight into their bowel functioning.
There could be several causes contributing to this situation:
- Solid foods
It isn’t uncommon for a baby to get constipated when their tiny digestive systems are introduced to solid foods. Foods that cause the baby to be constipated include bananas, rice, cereal, cheese and carrots which may be nutritious, but lack fiber which is imperative for good bowels. Hence, it helps to start with smaller portions and offer fiber-rich foods to add dietary roughage and keep constipation at bay.
The protein component in the Formula milk can cause constipation in your baby and sometimes changing the brand for one with different ingredient composition might help the situation. Contrary to common belief, the iron in formula milk hasn’t been found to attribute to constipation.
Although your newborn baby may be primarily on fluid diet, given that she is exclusively on breastfeed or formula milk. She may still not be getting sufficient fluid to help her stay hydrated. In such cases, the water content from the bowels is absorbed into the body, in turn, hardening the poop. It would help offering her a few sips of water or juice after the feeds to ensure that she stays well hydrated. Although in babies younger than six months, only breast milk or formula is advisable, for a constipated child, this remedy might provide some respite.
- Milk Protein Allergies
The ingredients of dairy consumed by the mother can pass on to the child who might have milk protein intolerance. This could lead her to be constipated.
- Hormonal imbalance
Sometimes when natural hormones aren’t released in a balanced manner, children, as well as adults, can face a wide range of symptoms. In children, this can lead to symptoms such as dry skin, slow growth, fatigue and sometimes, constipation.
Signs and Symptoms
As a parent to an infant or toddler, you are most observant to the smallest of cues, and one of the most vital of these is the bowel movement.
Breastfed babies are rarely known to be constipated. However, when it comes to bowel movements in babies, there is a wide spectrum of what is considered normal. It is known that breastfed babies tend to absorb most of the milk as nutrition and tend to poop much lesser sometimes, even once in ten days. This, however, isn’t true for formula-fed infants. They can have bowel movements between 3 to 4 times a day as well.
Whatever the routine of your child may be, you tend to get accustomed to the same. However, changes are bound to come in with development milestones, age and introduction of solid foods. Sometimes, you may observe your child straining to pass stool or notice small balls of poop in her diaper. If constipation continues, the baby may get irritable or cranky. Most parents get alerted when the bowel movement goes altogether missing in the child for a few days. In extreme cases, the stool may be accompanied by blood which can come from a tear of the rectal walls.
How to Prevent Constipation in Babies?
Due to changes in dietary intake, regular growth milestones and changes in their body, babies may tend to get constipated occasionally. However, as a parent, you can take precautionary measures to prevent constipation.
- Ensure healthy diet including good portions of fruits and vegetables accompanied with a good fluid intake.
- Encourage movement and exercise as your baby grows.
- Give ample tummy time to your baby.
- Inculcate good toilet habits by encouraging toilet sitting time after meals. This aligns with body’s natural urge to cleanse the bowels..
- It benefits the child in the long term to remove any negative associations with bowel movements and encourage good habits with verbal or other rewards. This especially holds good when the child has been suffering from faecal incontinence issues and is emotionally impacted with the same.
How to treat your child’s constipation?
Although most babies get constipated at some or the other time, it is can often be cured if handled immediately. You can prevent constipation from returning by using these home remedies for your baby
1. Change the milk – If your baby is exclusively breastfed, try to change your dietary intake to see if something you are consuming is leading to constipation in your child. For a formula fed baby, changing the brand of milk can sometimes help.
2. Increase fluid intake – Offer prunes, pear or apple fruit juice in small portions. If the taste is too strong for her liking, dilute it with a portion of water. You may offer this after feeds so that her appetite isn’t compromised.
3. Exercise – If your baby has already started crawling, it helps her bowels to let her do a few extra laps. If she has still not reached that milestone, help her digestion by softly bicycling her legs while she rests on her back
4. Massage – Gentle tummy massages and regular tummy time to alleviate her discomfort.
5. Change of solid foods – Offer two portions of fruits and three portions of vegetables every day into her diet. The dietary fibre in these foods helps your child combat constipation, and gets regular bowel movements.
6. Puree the foods– Offering fruit and vegetable purees help the baby consume some dietary fibre in an easily digestible manner. It is particularly useful to offer purees to a constipated child who may not be able to chew solid food yet.
7. Rectal stimulation- When none of the above remedies are giving relief to your little one, this remedy might offer some help. A little stimulation on the rectum using your finger, cotton swab or rectal thermometer is almost assured to cause bowel movement stimulus in the baby. Make sure you are gentle and can also lubricate the stimulant using Vaseline so that it doesn’t hurt the baby.
8. Suppository- With your paediatrician’s consultation, you can get suppositories for helping your baby pass the motion. Based on your baby’s age and condition, the doctor may prescribe the dose. These are intended to be inserted into the rectum and cause a bowel movement within 15-30 minutes. These are particularly helpful if the child is in distress with anal fissures due to passing hard stools earlier.
9. Laxatives- When natural laxatives such as prune juice fail to work, you may need to consult the doctor before using over-the-counter purchased laxatives. Be wary that young babies can quickly get dehydrated, so these need to be administered under medical supervision only.
When to worry about constipation?
Most home remedies mentioned above will help with constipation in your baby. But if one or a combination of the natural remedies don’t work, it would be ideal to consult your paediatrician.
If your child seems uncomfortable or feverish, a medical checkup may be needed to rule out any underlying ailments. Especially if the recurring occurrences of following symptoms take place
- The child becomes irritable or uncomfortable in attempting to pass stool.
- Despite straining to pass stools, nothing comes out.
- The child passes blood along with stools or you notice anal tears or fissures. These can be particularly painful for the child and should receive immediate attention.
- If the repeated constipation has resulted in fecal incontinence. You start noticing soiled diaper too often or when the baby passes gas and involuntarily passes the stool with it.
Conclusion: Parenting isn’t easy. But it is also not too difficult when you know what is best for the well-being of your child. Just make sure that constipation is not one of the reasons for your discomfort. Or that of your child. Follow a few simple steps and keep an eager eye out to catch any early symptoms in your little one.