If your baby seems to have trouble pooping, it can be a terrible feeling for you as a parent. Experts and moms share ideas to get your little one moving again.
Babies, like all people, sometimes get constipated. Some babies have little to no pooping issues, but others get into trouble to the point where Mom and Dad feel the need to intervene. How can constipation be alleviated, and what tried-and-true methods have moms used on their own kids?
We were able to chat with Ashanti Woods, M.D., a pediatrician who practices at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, about what constipation really means in infants. He said that in babies, it can be a bit of a mystery, as an infant’s digestive system is still being regulated. “The one definition that most doctors agree on is that constipation is any change from one's usual stool habits,” he explained.
Pediatrician Michelle Bennett, M.D., FAAP and co-founder of Mama Seeds wholeheartedly agreed. “It's normal for new babies to grunt and make a big production of stooling, and again, as long as stools are soft, it does not mean they're constipated,” she told us. “It takes a little time for babies to figure out the coordination for stooling, so grunting, straining or pulling up the legs is just part of that learning process.”
Constipation can arise from a number of causes, such as the iron in a baby’s formula and the introduction of baby food, like infant cereals and bananas. Dr. Bennett said that breastfed babies are less likely to be constipated than their formula-fed peers, and to make sure that you don’t introduce solid foods too early — usually 6 months of age is when babies can begin enjoying solids.
There are several non-medical things moms can try at home to get baby’s bowels moving again. Many moms swear by gentle massage, for example. “Tummy massage, in a clockwise motion, can help relieve constipation,” said Dr. Bennett.
Another technique used by parents is leg pedaling, or bicycling. With the baby on her back, move her legs, just like she’s riding an imaginary bicycle. Adults can go for a walk if they’re feeling a little backed up, and this is a way to get a baby “moving” too. Moms can also give their baby a warm, soothing bath — and sometimes the results are comically quick, so be prepared.
There are other at-home remedies moms can try, but Dr. Woods emphasizes that you should check with your pediatrician before trying these solutions. “You can start off by offering one serving of prune juice or pear juice, 2 ounces [given] once a day,” he shared. “Alternatively, you can consider adding 1 teaspoon (or 5 milliliters) of corn syrup into a 2-ounce bottle of milk, also once a day.”
Many moms we spoke with echoed the juice advice. “I would give Emily watered down prune juice when she was constipated as a baby,” said Stacy, mom of three. Other moms recommended soaking prunes in a glass of water overnight, then giving some of that to the little one.
There is a manual solution too. “Lastly, and I want to emphasize that this should be saved for last, one can introduce the tip of a rectal thermometer just barely at the rectum to stimulate contraction of the anus muscles,” said Dr. Woods. Glycerin suppositories are another tool that parents can use, but definitely check with your doctor first.
In addition to calling your child's doctor if you’re concerned, there are a few other things to watch out for, according to Dr. Bennett. “If a baby under a year is frequently passing hard balls of stool, develops a hemorrhoid, has blood with stooling, seems very uncomfortable or is needing intervention for constipation on a regular basis, it's probably time to see a doctor,” she explained.
Dr. Woods agreed, and expanded on that idea. “If an infant is still having problems with constipation, your primary care physician may consider a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist who will further investigate the cause of your child's constipation (including anatomical, endocrine, or metabolic diseases),” he said.
Baby poop is a big deal, but make sure that you’re evaluating her bowel habits correctly — and always check with your doctor if you have any concerns. And avoid “old wives’ tales” at all costs, no matter what your mother-in-law or grandma has to say. Always defer to your child’s own doctor.
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