What do I do if baby is constipated

Author Philippa Murphy

What do I do if baby is constipated

Looking for the cause of constipation is first and foremost when it comes to easing the child’s discomfort in the long term. Causes can consist of:

  • Type of formula that is being fed, and/or solids, and/or breastfeeding diet - research shows that what Mum eats travels through to the baby, so if Mum's diet consist of foods that make the stomach and digestive system feel gripey this can have baby feeling tense in the digestive tract, perhaps even crying and screaming. Formula's these days are changing so quickly that one needs to be more aware of formula ingredients for some of these do not aid bowel motions. 

  • Too much discomfort in the body from any cause -  when this happens the sympathetic nervous system (the fight and flight way of being) get's 'turned on' which turns off digestive function. Quite the opposite to what is needed at the time, and yes, this discomfort can be from the overload of waste building up but it can also be from teething, diet, too much food, trapped wind, feeling ill and other things. 

  • Baby hasn’t learnt how to bare down yet – we often don’t even think that a baby has to learn how to push out a bowel motion, that they just know, and it’s true that some do this better than others. However, the majority of times, the newborns that poo easily actually have food and waste being pushed through the digestive system via its sheer volume, which is how the early developing digestive system works. Contrary to this, when you bio-logically feed your baby, so feed them within their natural capacities and capabilities, their food and waste will be processed in harmony with their natural rhythm, which then asks the intestinal peristalsis to aid movement of the waste in conjunction with them baring down to poo. They get better with the baring down as they age as the natural development of their digestive system asks them to do this more.

How to relieve constipation in the moment

Obviously diagnosing constipation is the first thing (you can read the symptoms here) then finding the cause, or causes and eliminating these are paramount to digestive health for the child and their bowel motions. If you need help to find the cause I am more than happy to have a consultation with any parent worldwide about this, while showing you in person how to stimulate a bowel motion appropriately.

Most professionals will recommend lactulose to help your child pass a stool. However, lactulose is not even established as safe for age 0-18 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)1 and the side effects are not worth the results. In fact it can actually heighten the child’s discomfort beyond what they are already feeling from not having a bowel motion. Prune juice will also do the same, and even though it is something I have recommended previously, I now firmly believe that giving a baby, or infant something that has to travel through the system and cause more discomfort in order to get them to poo is not the solution. Stimulation and glycerine suppositories are. 

To stimulate a bowel motion, which I recommend you do within half-an-hour after a feed and after one-and-a-half days of your child not pooing, lay baby down on the changing mat and take off their nappy. Ideally it's great to have someone else at their head relaxing them with low hums in their ear, letting them hold your fingers with both hands while bringing their hands onto their chest, and letting them suck a pacifier, or using other ways that you know soothes them. Meanwhile, the other person will be bending their legs up onto their chest, placing a big dollop of their own saliva on their index finger (that will have a short nail) and then placing this onto their child's anus. Exert pressure onto the anus and slightly down. You don't go into the anus in any way, you are just providing baby something to push against. 

There are three things to remember that will help make this successful if baby doesn't have a plug at the entrance that is too hard to push out, in which case they will need a suppository. The three things are:

  • keep their legs bent up on their stomach - each time they go to straighten them is usually when they would bare down
  • once the pressure is placed on the anus try not to take it off - if you release the pressure you are basically starting at the start again
  • when your child starts to poo, keep your finger on the anus with pressure throughout their entire poo. This will help them empty out their bowel more.
  • It may take five minutes, or more of pressure for them to release a stool but if they get to upset then stop, and try again after the next feed.

If stimulating doesn't work after trying twice then it may mean your child has a 'plug' at the exit point, and this needs softened before they can release their bowel motion. So if it's been two days since a poo, then I recommend you use a child's glycerine suppository to help them have a clean out, which always has them feeling better. Some countries supply glycerine suppositories for newborns and infants over the counter, New Zealand doesn't. In these cases you will need to cut the suppository down to size before inserting and since doing this and inserting a suppository is a rather delicate thing, I do advise a consultation with me so I can show you how 'in person' and we can make sure you use a safe brand of glycerine suppositories.

To summarise

A baby that hasn't had a bowel motion generally by day two will be highly unsettled, and this will be effecting how they feed, burp, sleep and how much they cry and thrash around. Relieving them in the moment by using these quick and safe ways not only has them pooing, it also teaches them how to push as they bare down on the pressure caused by your finger or suppository. Generally this teaching, alongside the appropriate changes being made in regards to the causes, will have a child releasing a bowel motion on their own within 10-14 days.

Please note to, if you use a suppository and only get a small bowel motion and this happens twice in a row, then I suggest you investigate your baby's level of milk if breastfeeding and/or food intake, especially if baby's weight gain is not increasing and baby is upset for this can be an indicator that baby is hungry. I help Mums gauge their supply via consultation.

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Last Updated: 07 September 2018