Keeping up to date on all the newest health solutions and home remedies for various conditions a challenge, and it becomes even more difficult when you need to take the rest of your family into consideration, especially infants. As we get older, it is easier to express how we are feeling through words and detailed explanations, but as babies, we are only able to express our emotions in limited ways, namely crying and making noise.
One of the most common afflictions for babies affects one of their main activities, and their parents’ main responsibilities; going to the bathroom! Constipation is a serious problem for some children, and there are a number of things that can bring on constipation, and also certain times in infancy and early childhood where constipation is common.
Normal bowel movements in infants occur 4-5 times per day in the period directly after birth, and these should be soft stools, which easily pass through the digestive system. Breast-fed children typically have more consistent bowel movements than formula-fed babies. As they age, the rate of BM (bowel movements) will drop to 2-3 per day, and then again around two years of age, reducing to 1-2 per day. Hard, unmoving stool in the body’s system will cause great discomfort to a child, and they will most likely let a parent, or anyone within earshot, know that something is wrong.
It is important to recognize the symptoms because babies often resist passing hard or painful stools, which only exacerbates the problem. You need to understand what might be going wrong, and then actively work to fix it. First, let’s look at the causes and traditional examples of infant/childhood constipation, and then we’ll explore some useful home remedies that have worked for generations, and are often connected with nutritional or dietary issues.
Causes of Infant Constipation
There are a number of different causes for your baby’s constipation, and knowing which cause that is can help your treat the symptoms in the moment and prevent a similar condition from occurring again in the future.
Changes in Diet – As infants, our organ systems are warming up, and getting used to the normal metabolic functions and activities that we will continue for the rest of our lives. The digestive system is one of these, so drastic changes, like a switch from breast-feeding to formula or processed foods. This change can be disruptive to your child’s system and cause it to become constipated. Different types of formula or processed foods can affect children differently, so try a variety to see which one is most compatible with your child’s system.
This form of constipation is often due to a decrease in the amount of fluids that the infant is taking in, and without fluid to make the stool soft and easy to pass through the digestive tract, it can harden and become more and more painful to the child. If this is the case, a quick fix is to simply switch back to the more fluid diet, which will loosen the stool to normal levels and relieve the infant’s discomfort. Perhaps try the change in a few more weeks or so, and closely monitor your child’s reaction again at that point.
Dehydration – On a related note to dietary changes, babies must also stay properly hydrated, particularly after they stop breast-feeding. Overly active children become dehydrated more quickly, so they should be given extra water or diluted juice every day to stimulate healthy bowel movements.
Nutritional Intake - Just like in adults, a baby’s diet can have a huge impact on constipation. Infants need fiber to add bulk to stool in order for it to pass through their digestive tract. A proper diet of fruits and fiber-rich vegetables, particularly once they have stopped breast-feeding is essential to healthy bowel movements. Adding fibrous foods into their diet can be a quick fix for this common reason for constipation in infants.
Emotional Stress - Again, babies are not so different from adults. When we are stressed or anxious, it can often manifest as constipation. Infants that are going through a rough “stage” or a negative patch of behavior can often stress themselves out into not creating passable bowel movements and cause themselves to become constipated.
Home Remedies for Infant Constipation
Besides the direct solutions mentioned above, like delaying the introduction of solid food or formula after breast feeding, increasing the amount of liquid they consume, adding fibrous foods to their diet, and calming them during stressful situations, there are a number of home remedies and alternative strategies that many people find helpful. A brief explanation of the most popular and trusted remedies is as follows:
Prune Juice: Prunes and prune juice contain high levels of fiber, which will help to bulk up stool content and promote its passage through the digestive tract. Also, they are mild sources of sorbitol, which is a colonic stimulant and will help the creation and release of bowel movements.
Combine 3 parts water with 1 part prune juice in a bottle and mix thoroughly. Give your baby the bottle and wait for the prune juice to do its magic!
Warm Bath/Baking Soda: Warm water helps to relax muscles all over the body, but for babies that are constipated, it can relax the rectal muscles that have been tensed from the pain of constipation. The baking soda (approximately 2-3 teaspoons in the bathwater) can further soothe the child into having a bowel movement.
Milk of Magnesia: As a short term solution for constipation, milk of magnesia can be added in small amounts (1 teaspoon) to the baby’s bottle. Milk of magnesia forces the colon to slightly distend and absorb water from the body, causing the muscles to contract and release a loose stool. However, this should not be done on a regular basis, as it is dehydrating and can cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances.
Physical Activity: As with adults, movement keeps the body’s organs working, and the digestive system is no exception. Movement can often loosen hardened bowels and stimulate a bowel movement. For infants, bouncing and rocking can sometimes stimulate a bowel movement. Rubbing their stomach and giving abdominal massage can sometimes help as well, by manually stimulating peristaltic motion in the child.
Metamucil and Bran Flakes: One of the best natural solutions for constipation is the addition of psyllium husks, more commonly known as bran flakes, to the baby’s soft foods. This high-fiber stool softener should stimulate the bulking up of the bowel movements that will stimulate a bowel movement. These psyllium flakes can be commonly found in the form of Metamucil at most grocery stores.
Although there are many ways to cure constipation in adults, the options are limited for infants. It is very important to be observant of your child’s diet and behavior to determine the cause of the constipation. Also, due to the inability to properly communicate their distress, it is a good idea to see a doctor before beginning any at home treatments of constipation, just to be sure that there is not a more serious problem like a rectal tear or bleeding. In some rare cases, constipation can also be the result of a more serious, chronic disease where serious medical procedures or modern medicines must be employed.
Basically, keep your eyes and ears open, and keep that baby happy!