During your infant’s first few months of life, his bowel movement pattern will change often as his digestive tract matures. At first, infants may have a dirty diaper after every feeding. At about 2 months of age, they may transition to twice a day and by 4 months of age, most babies go every day or every other day.
“Also, any time an infant’s diet is changed, he may experience a temporary change in his pooping pattern,” said Dr. Emma Raizman, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Medina. “Introducing solids or switching to formula from breast milk can change the frequency in your baby’s bowel movements.”
So, how can you tell if your baby is truly constipated? Constipation is based on consistency and frequency. Signs of constipation include infrequent bowel movements – especially if he hasn’t gone in more than 4 or 5 days – and hard, pellet-like stools that are difficult to pass.
“Even infants on a liquid diet can get constipated,” she said. “Poop should always be relatively soft. It should not be pellets or formed stool like you’d see with older kids or adults.”
If you think your infant may be constipated, contact your pediatrician. In the meantime, Dr. Raizman offers 3 tips to help relieve his discomfort and get things moving.
- Offer prune, pear or apple juice. Juice is a very good, natural way to ease constipation in babies. It contains sorbitol, a sweetener that acts like a natural laxative. Add 1 to 2 ounces of 100 percent prune, pear or apple juice to a baby’s diet each day until symptoms resolve. Don’t offer water to babies. It can interfere with his ability to absorb the nutrients in breast milk or formula.
- Perform a belly massage: Peristalsis, the muscular contractions that move stool through the intestines, is not yet developed in babies. That’s why your baby may strain or grunt to move stool down his tract. If he’s constipated, a gentle belly massage or bicycle legs can help move stool, as well.
Lay your baby down on his back. Place your fingertips just below his belly button and massage gently in a clockwise, circular motion for 1 minute or so. Then, hold his ankles and gently press one leg at a time against his chest in a bicycle motion, holding for a few seconds.
- Adjust diet. If you’re breast-feeding, your baby eats what you’re eating. Eliminate any foods from your diet that may cause constipation and add in stool-softening options, such as prunes or apricots. If your baby is on formula, talk to your pediatrician. She can help you decide if a change in formula is appropriate.
If your infant’s constipation persists, contact his pediatrician. In rare cases, infant constipation may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as Hirschsprung’s disease or hypothyroidism.