Constipation in Breastfed Babies – Causes and Prevention

It is normal for breastfed babies to go without a bowel movement for days. There can be “no stool” days for almost a week followed by a complete “emptying”. Unless the stool passed is not hard and pellet-like and your baby is gaining weight normally, then there is nothing to be worried about. Breastfed babies may suffer from constipation. But, what causes constipation in breastfed babies and how do we prevent it? If your mind is filled with these questions, then this is the article to go through.

How Many Times Does a Breastfed Baby Poop in a Day?

Breastmilk is the perfect food for babies. Many times the breastmilk that a baby consumes gets completely absorbed. Therefore, babies may not have a bowel movement for 5-6 days. However, it is said that it is not healthy for babies to go without passing the stool for too long. It may signify that the breastmilk which assists gut function is not doing its work properly. Normally babies may poop after every feed that is around 8-10 times a day. At times, some babies may do it just 1-2 times a day which is also normal.

What Causes Constipation in Breastfed Newborns?

Babies who are exclusively breastfed very rarely get constipated. However, there can be several causes for constipation among newborns.

1. Introducing Solid Food with No Fibre

Constipation usually occurs when along with breastfeeding, babies are given solid foods like rice cereals, carrots, wheat or nuts which do not contain fibre. Due to the lack of fibrous food in a baby’s diet, there is no roughage. The lack of roughage does not promote regular bowel movement.

2. Dehydration

When babies suffer from health problems like cold, cough, throat infection, or the common teething problem, the water content in the body reduces resulting in dehydration. This causes constipation.

3. Formula Milk

At times, in order to compensate for less breastmilk, mothers feed infants with formula milk. This also may lead to constipation in infants. Some of the ingredients in formula milk may lead to constipation in babies. Babies with milk protein allergy also suffer from constipation when they are given formula milk.

A baby drinking formula milk

4. Medicines 

Giving certain medicines to your baby without checking can also cause constipation.

5. Weather

Hot and humid weather may cause babies to sweat much or dehydrate. Therefore lack of water content may make a baby feel constipated.

6. Insufficient Breastmilk

Breastmilk is the best way to keep a baby hydrated. If the baby is not getting enough of it, he may suffer from constipation.

7. Diet of Mothers

A baby’s bowel movements sometimes also depend on the eating habits of his mother. The diet of a mother decides the health of a baby. If a mother’s diet lacks fibre and has excess iron content, her baby may suffer from constipation. A diet rich in iron can lead to constipation in babies. Therefore it is imperative for a nursing mother to eat food which is low in iron. Nursing mothers are particularly advised to eat prunes, pears, peaches, and plums.

8. Rectal Opening too Small

At times a small rectal opening makes it difficult for the baby to pass stool making him feel constipated. Generally, this condition may need medical intervention, so consulting a paediatrician becomes necessary.

How Long Can a Breastfed Baby Go Without Pooping?

Breastmilk is a complete meal in itself for babies. At times all of it is easily digested by the baby leaving no waste to be eliminated. Therefore, it has been seen that some babies can go without any bowel movement for as long as 2 weeks. Then there are some babies who may take a week to pass stool. Some may poop after every feed and some may do so once in two-three days time. According to medical practitioners, all of this is normal if the stool is soft and there are no signs of discomfort in the baby.

What Changes Can a Nursing Mother Make in Her Diet to Avoid Constipation in Breastfed Infant?

Nursing mothers should make these alterations in their daily diet in order to avoid constipation in their breastfeeding babies.

  • In case you see that your infant has cow’s milk protein intolerance, you must avoid foods like cream, yoghurt, butter, cottage cheese, ghee etc. Always remember to read the contents of the food before buying it.
  • Peanut allergy is the worst of all and if your baby suffers from food allergy then be sure to avoid peanuts or anything made of peanuts like peanut butter, ice creams, chocolates, formula milk etc.
  • If you drink caffeine-containing products like tea, coffee, or carbonated drinks, make sure you drink those in moderation.
  • Foods which cause gas and bloating are best avoided.
  • Take more of fibre-rich diet and fluids which will soften the stool and aid in easy bowel movement.
  • Make the four Ps (prunes, peaches, plums, and pears) a part of your everyday diet.

A woman eating prunes

What If Breastfed Baby Constipated After Starting Solids?

Many babies get constipated after solids are introduced into their diet. This may be due to a non-fibrous or iron-rich diet which usually causes constipation. Therefore, measures should be taken to stop or reduce the intake of such food. Babies should be given more fluids, especially breastmilk to combat constipation. Prune juice can be given as it acts as a stool softener, however, give less quantity of it as giving it too much can cause gas problems in babies.

When Should You Worry? 

Constipation in breastfed infants is not very common. There can be times when an infant can go without pooping for days. However, you should watch out for constipation signs like firm and compact stool, at times with blood in it. Also, if there are no bowel movements for days and a baby is vomiting and has a bloated stomach, he might be suffering from constipation. Such a condition can also make the baby cranky and restless. In case you see any of these symptoms, you should immediately consult a doctor.

Which Foods Can Cause Constipation in Breastfed Babies? 

Non-fibrous food such as rice or wheat cereal, carrots, formula milk, banana can cause constipation in breastfeeding babies. Such infants should be given lots of fluids like water and juice of prunes, peaches, and plums. And of course breastmilk.

What to do to Prevent Constipation in Breastfed Baby? 

If a breastfed baby is not pooping, it can trouble his mother. So here are some ways to prevent constipation in infants.

  1. Dehydration can lead to a serious case of constipation in infants. Therefore keep your baby well hydrated through breastmilk, water, and fruit juices.
  2. If your baby has just started with solid foods, make sure to give him enough of fibrous foods.
  3. Exercising your baby every day is key to a regular bowel movement. Especially the cycling exercise is a great way to initiate smooth bowel movement in infants.
  4. Giving a gentle belly massage can ease constipation in infants.
  5. If your baby gets constipated after being given formula milk, change it to some other formula.
  6. Include prune juice in your baby’s everyday diet in order to soften the stool.
  7. Some changes in your diet have to be made in order to prevent constipation in your baby.

Constipation is a serious and painful condition, which, if not treated in time, can lead to serious health issues. However, it should be kept in mind that irregular bowel movement in infants does not mean they are constipated. Only when the bowel is hard and difficult to pass through should one be concerned. In such a condition, a doctor should be consulted immediately.

Also Read: Home Remedies for Constipation in Infants