Your Baby's Bowels and Constipation
There are a lot of misconceptions about constipation and its significance in babies.
Can Infrequent Bowel Movements Still Be Normal?
Because breastmilk is such a nutritious substance, sometimes almost all of it is absorbed, leaving little to move through the digestive tract. Stools may be infrequent -- perfectly normal breastfed infants may only have a bowel movement once a week. Other infants just have a slower (but completely normal) gut, so they also go infrequently. However, if your baby seems to be in pain or you have any concerns, call your health care provider.
Prolonged, severe constipation rarely has a medical cause (for example, the muscles in the intestine don't work or there is some sort of blockage), while infrequent, hard stools are very common.
There is no medical harm in the stool staying in the body for a long time, and the frequency of your baby's bowel movements (BMs) does not really define true constipation. True constipation occurs when the baby's stools cause significant difficulty and discomfort when being passed, because they are very dense and hard. This definition excludes the baby who has soft, easy-to-pass stools once a week, even if he seems to strain a lot in the process, or there's a lot of stool.
Tips for Easing Baby's Constipation
- Try a different brand of formula -- after checking with your doctor -- if you're bottle feeding. (Constipation should never be considered a reason to discontinue breastfeeding.)
- Add a little non-absorbable sugar or dark fruit (prune or pear) juice to your baby's formula. Or just give some extra water (if your baby is older than 4 months) or electrolyte solution between feedings, especially in hot weather.
- Try a glycerin suppository or the tip only of a well greased thermometer if the addition of a little sugar does not work.
- Remember that most babies with infrequent BMs are not truly "constipated" and nothing needs to be done.
When to Worry About Baby's Constipation
Contact your pediatrician if the infrequent, hard stools seem to be causing significant discomfort to your baby. But keep in mind that infrequent but soft, easy-to-pass BMs are not constipation and rarely require intervention.