Infant constipation is usually difficult to detect at the onset, largely because what is ‘normal’ varies form one child to another. This is, in fact, the primary factor to consider when treating constipation in infants and babies. As a general guide, it is important to establish what is normal for your baby: stool consistency and frequency are key indicators. Infant constipation is painful and distressing for both the baby and the parents. It is quite unnerving to watch your baby contort in discomfort, and this is what makes it crucial to understand what’s normal for your baby.
To put this in perspective, the normal amount of bowel movement, coupled with the total number of times the baby passes stool is dependent on a number of factors. The main factors include baby’s age, the type of food they are eating as well as any pre-existing conditions and/or any medication provided. Infants generally suffer constipation when the total number of bowel movements over a couple of days decreases. Other symptoms that accompany this condition include straining more than is ‘normal’, a firm tummy, spots of blood in the stool as well as refusal to nurse/feed due to the building discomfort.
Some of the risk factors that have been associated with infant constipation include introduction of baby formula, lack of physical activity as well as the process of weaning. In some cases, this type of constipation is linked to underlying medical condition such as allergic reactions, disorders affecting the metabolic system as well as botulism. In case an underlying condition is the cause of the constipation, it is important to see a pediatrician immediately. For mild cases however, there is an array of home remedies that may be used to manage the condition and ease the discomfort. Note that in case of any doubts when using the remedies, it is important to get medical attention to prevent complications from arising.
1. Tummy Massage:
Time Required: 20 Min per session.
What You Need: Coconut/olive oil in a bowl and a water bath.
Giving your infant a massage is one of the simplest ways to alleviate the symptoms of constipation. The purpose of the massage is to stimulate the bowel movement, thus reducing the discomfort experienced by the baby. The massage typically involves the stomach and part of the lower abdomen. Additional benefits of massaging the tummy include the ability to get a god night’s rest, reduced gas accumulation in the tummy, and in some cases, relief from colic. Follow the steps below to get the best from a tummy massage on your infant.
- Place the baby in lying position, face upwards.
- Warm the oil indirectly by placing it on a water bath. Avoid applying cold oil on the infant’s tummy.
- Once the oil is warm enough, place 1 teaspoon of the oil on the stomach region.
- Gently massage the tummy in clockwise direction for a couple of minutes.
- While at it, ensure that you massage around the navel as well.
- You will need to repeat this remedy daily until the infant constipation is completely dealt with, and the infant resumes ‘normal’ bowel movements.
2. Perform Light Exercises:
Time Required: 20 Min per session .
What You Need: A comfortable place room where to carry out the exercises.
Mild cases of infant constipation will often respond to light exercises intended to stimulate bowel movement. These range of motion exercises not only help to improve digestion, they also eliminate constipation by allowing the baby to pass stool more frequently. As a matter of fact, research indicates that babies who are more active are less prone to constipation and its accompanied symptoms. You will need a comfortable place to carry out the exercises from to prevent the baby from getting injuries. Follow the simple steps below to help ease infant constipation.
- For babies who have already began crawling, one of the easiest ways to do this is place a fancy toy in front of them so that they crawl in its pursuit, effectively remaining active for a period of time. The same principle goes for kids who are just learning to walk.
- Do the bicycle exercises. These are a set of exercises that mimic the motion of riding a bicycle with the intention of stimulating the abdominal muscles and encouraging bowel movement. To do this,
i) Place the baby in a lying position so that they face upwards.
ii) Gently fold their legs so that they are half bent. Be careful not to apply excess pressure on the legs as this could cause soft tissue injuries. Additionally, it is best to avoid doing this set of exercise if the infant has received injections to the thigh as they can be extremely painful.
iii) In the half-bent position, gently move the baby’s legs so that it feels like they are riding a bicycle.
iv) Do this often, and try integrating it into the baby’s playtime to help treat infant constipation.
3. Increase the Baby’s Fluid Intake:
Time Required: 5 Min
What You Need: Adequate amounts of warm water and milk (optional).
As is the case with adults, dehydration is a key cause of infant constipation. When the body does not receive enough amounts of fluids, it tends to preserve the little in circulation. This in turn leads to hardening of the stool making it more difficult to pass and causing additional strain during bowel movements. For babies, warm water goes a long way in helping prevent constipation. Consult your pediatrician, however, if your child is on exclusive breastfeeding up to 1 year.
NOTE: The warm water enhances digestion, and is a better option than cold water.
- Provide the baby with warm water to drink on a regular basis, and ensure it is warm. Avoid including additives as baby’s digestive system is not yet fully developed.
- You may consider adding some more milk to baby’s diet to ease the effects of constipation. Breast milk is best because it is specially formulated to adapt to baby’s nutritional needs and is gentle on the digestive system. Steer clear of cow milk until the baby is at least one year.
- The reason for this is that cow milk has stronger proteins which, when taken by the infant, causes significant pain, discomfort and bloating. All of these effects make constipation worse and it is best to stay away from cow milk.
- Consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns about what type of milk to give your baby.
4. Give the Baby a Warm Bath:
Time Required:15 Min
What You Need: A warm bath using gentle baby bath products and a heater.
In addition to giving the baby warm water to drink, giving a warm bath has also been shown to have positive effects on a constipated infant. The warmth of the water soothes the abdominal muscles and encourages bowel movement. This also provides remarkable relief from the pain caused by gas accumulation in the stomach. It helps to incorporate the stomach massage when giving the bath to compliment the benefits of both remedies. It is important to note the following:
– Make sure that the room is warm enough to prevent the infant from cold gusts of air.
– Ensure that you use gentle bath products to avoid reactions on the skin.
– Use appropriate baby bath equipment to prevent accidents in the water.
- Fill the baby’s bathtub with warm water.
- Give the baby a warm and gentle bath using recommended baby bath products.
- Dry the baby and moisturize their skin and then proceed to give them a gentle massage.
- Do this at least once daily until the symptoms of infant constipation are effectively dealt with.
5. Apple Juice:
Time Required: 30 Min
What You Need: Organic apples and a juice extractor.
Apple juice is recommended for the treatment of infant constipation, thanks to its mild laxative effects. This is because the juice contains a compound known as pectin. When pectin is introduced to the baby’s digestive system, it helps bulk up stool and this makes it easy to pass with less straining. It is important to make the distinction between fresh apple juice and applesauce. The latter must not be used as a natural remedy for infant constipation as it contains significantly higher amounts of pectin. When there is excess pectin, the soluble fiber firms up stool, which only worsens the constipation; use apple juice instead to treat constipation in infants.
NOTE: Consult your pediatrician in case you have any concerns for your unweaned baby.
- To get the most of this remedy, it is important to prepare your own juice from fresh organic apples. This is an excellent alternative to store-bought apple juice and has the advantage of zero additives.
- Wash the apples well and peel them before extracting the juice.
- You may need to sieve the juice so that it is smooth and easy to consume.
- Use apple juice at least twice daily as you monitor the progress made.
6. Increase Baby’s Fiber Intake:
Time Required: Varies depending on the specific food.
What You Need: Foods rich in fiber.
Increasing fiber intake for the natural treatment of constipation is just important for infants as it is for adults. Increased fiber intake helps to ‘get things moving’ n the bowels, effectively reducing the extent of constipation. Fiber works because it increases the water content in the stool, bulks it and makes it easier to pass. This is an effective remedy for infants who have already started on solids. It is therefore important to start by introducing foods that are rich in fiber as early as possible. The methods of preparation will vary largely depending on the type of food and the age of the infant.
Tips on How to Add Fiber to Baby’s Diet:
- Give the baby cereals that are rich in barley and bran, both excellent sources of fiber.
- Alternatively, introduce cooked grains such as oats and quinoa and monitor the progress made in dealing with infant constipation.
- Wean off the baby using high-fiber foods. Some of the common options include skinned apples, pears, spinach, broccoli and peas among others.
- To add them to baby’s diet, simply boil them first then mash to a paste-like consistency during the first day of weaning.
- Keep up with this diet to help treat constipation.
7. Prune Juice:
Time Required: 20 Min
What You Need: Fresh organic prunes, juicer and strainer.
Prunes are an excellent home remedy for the natural treatment of infant constipation. They are not only rich in fiber which eases the passing of stool, they are also act as natural laxatives. Controlled amounts of prune juice go a long way in regulating bowel movement and reducing the accompanying discomfort.
NOTE: Check with your pediatrician before giving your infant prune juice as the remedy may react with the baby’s digestive system and cause irritation of the bowels. The options provided below vary according to the different stages the baby is in.
- Wash and peel the prunes before extracting the juice.
- Once extracted, give this remedy as follows:
i) Add 1 tablespoon of the prune juice to formula or breast milk and feed the baby.
ii) For babies who are already weaned, give pureed prunes and monitor the progress made.
- In case the baby experiences any discomfort, discontinue the use of this remedy immediately.
8. Consider Using Probiotics:
Time Required: 10 Min
What You Need: Yogurt that is rich in live cultures or the use of infant-friendly probiotic supplements.
A probiotic, by definition, refers to a dose that contains live bacteria whose purpose is to compliment the function of natural bacteria found in the gut. The live cultures help with the normal functioning of the gut, and go a long way in reducing the discomfort experienced during constipation. Studies show that the use of probiotics is linked to reduced likelihood of constipation, colic and other disorders that affect the digestive tract. Yogurt containing live cultures is recommended for this remedy.
- Simply add some yogurt to baby’s diet at least twice daily until the constipation is completely dealt with.
- Consult your doctor for infant-friendly probiotic supplements.
In addition to the aforementioned home remedies, it is important to avoid foods that contribute to constipation. These include cooked carrots, rice, applesauce and bananas. Talk to your pediatrician about other food options available. If the constipation does not ease, or is often accompanied by bleeding, seek immediate medical attention as this could be indicative of a serious underlying condition.