When you first start introducing solid foods to your baby, a whole new world of wonder opens up to your little and their nappies can produce some surprising findings. While changes in poop are quite normal when starting solids, at some point in your weaning journey, your baby may become constipated.
Here is a thorough guide to everything you need to know about weaning and constipation, to help put your mind at ease.
What is Constipation?
In adults. Constipation is defined as having less than 3 bowel movements per week or having difficulty passing stools.
When considering bowel movements in babies, it is not unusual for babies to go for a couple of days without a bowel movement. This does not necessarily mean that your baby is constipated.
In babies, constipation is seen in difficulty or pain when having a bowel movement or passing hard, pellet-like stools.
Why Introducing Solids can Lead to Constipation
For the first 6 months of your little one’s life, they have been accustomed to either breast milk or formula. And in these 6 months, their digestive system has been developing and maturing in preparation for starting solid foods.
According to Paeditrician, Dr Baweja, your little one’s digestive system will not produce enough enzymes to digest starches until about 6 months. And between 6 and 9 months, the production of bile salts and lipase (important for the digestion of fats) will reach maturity.
As with all areas of development, remember that milestones are a guideline and that your baby’s digestive system may mature a little more quickly or slowly.
When solids are first introduced, it can take some time for the digestive system to adjust to this new way of eating. And during this time of adjustment, you may find that your little one becomes constipated and struggles to pass stools.
Also, traditional first foods often include foods like baby rice or baby cereal, which is low in fibre. As adults, we know that lack of fibre in our own diets can lead us to be constipated. The same is true for your little one.
One of the benefits of baby-led weaning is that a lot of the commonly introduced first foods are high in fibre. This does not mean that baby-led weaning babies are less constipated though.
Signs that your Baby is Constipated
As solids foods are introduced, your baby’s stools will start to change from the looser, liquidy stool to something that is more solid and starts to resemble an adult stool.
The regularity of passing stools will also change. This means that it can be easy to think that your little one is constipated when, in fact, they are not.
Here are some signs of constipation in babies about 6 months old and older:
- Straining and red in the face for more than 10 minutes when trying to pass a stool – constipated babies experience physical difficulty passing stools. If your baby is puce in the face with and has been trying to pass a stool for more than 10 minutes, they may well be constipated.
- Crying and pain when trying to pass a stool – Small, hard stool can be painful to pass, especially if your baby has not pooed for a couple of days. They may also be experiencing stomach cramps as a result of being constipated.
- Stools that are hard and round pellets – Constipated babies often produce small round pellet-like stools. This is because food is moving slowly through the colon where water is reabsorbed into the body, producing harder stools.
How Often Should your Baby Poo?
The regularity of passing stools can vary from baby to baby and the frequency will change as solids are introduced. It is important to consider what is normal for YOUR baby.
Breastfeeding, formula feeding and starting solid foods will all impact on how often your baby passes stools, according to Dr Pittman.
Here are some general guidelines:
|Newborn Baby||Up to 10 times a day|
|4+ months||2-4 times per day|
|4-6 months||Varies from every day to every 1-2 days (and breastfed babies can go for longer)|
|Starting Solids||Varies greatly|
So you can see that there is huge variability and just because your baby hasn’t passed a stool for a couple of days does not necessarily mean that they are constipated. It could be normal for them.
It is more important to look at the symptoms of constipation we mentioned earlier. They are a better sign of constipation that the frequency of passing stools, especially if your baby is moving to the next stage and their bodies are changing all the time.
Strategies to Deal with Constipation in Baby Led Weaning
Up the Fluids to Relieve Constipation
When your baby is constipated, very often food moves more slowly through the colon. The colon reabsorbs a lot of fluid from the food, causing it to form small hard pellets.
Adding more liquids can help to lubricate the stool making it easier to pass. So, if you are breastfeeding, offering feeds more frequently can help to alleviate constipation. YOu can also offer an additional formula feed if necessary.
If your little one is 6 months and up, you can also offer small amounts of water, especially when you are offering solid foods. This will help to increase fluid intake and may help to soften the stool, making it easier to pass.
Exercise to Get the Digestive Tract Moving
When you first start introducing solids, your baby will probably be sitting independently. They will still have some limited mobility, however. This lack of mobility and movement can contribute to constipation as the physical movement can help food move through the digestive tract.
Whilst your baby is developing the skills they need to move independently, there are some things that you can do to simulate movement for them.
With your baby lying on their back on a towel or blanket, hold their ankles and gently move their legs in a cycling motion. This helps to stimulate the digestive tract and can help to physically move food through the bowels.
This is also a great exercise to help alleviate and release trapped wind.
Research studies have shown that adults who squat when passing stools are able to do so more quickly and with less straining than adults who sit to pass stools. There are a number of reasons for this but one of them is that squatting relaxes the puborectalis muscle, allowing a straighter passage from the bowels to the outside.
Given a 6-month old’s limited movement, you can help to simulate the squat position by doing knee hugs with your baby. Once you have done bicycle kicks, you can gently push baby’s knees toward their chest.
This will help to relax the puborectalis muscle and will help to stimulate the bowels, encouraging your little one to poop.
Tummy Massage to Help Manually Move Stools through the Digestive Tract
I have fond memories of doing baby massage with my little ones and it was a wonderful bonding experience for both of us.
And there are many reported benefits of baby massage, including:
- Reduced crying and fussiness
- More peaceful sleep
- Alleviate colic and constipation
When massaging your baby, make sure that they are happy, calm and relaxed. You could start with the knee hugs and bicycles first and then move on to baby massage.
Although you can do baby massage with your little one’s clothes on, having them just in their (diaper) nappy will give you better skin to skin contact and using oil like olive oil on your warm hands will help to soothe the tummy even more.
Make sure that you check in with your little one while massaging, checking that they are comfortable and enjoying the experience.
It also helps to bear in mind the anatomy of the digestive system. Everything that you do with baby massage is to help move food through the digestive tract so it is important to go “with the flow” of traffic, in a clockwise direction.
Although there are different techniques for baby massage, when my two were little, I found the “I love you” to be the most effective.
With your baby lying on a towel or blanket on their back, start at the lower left side of your little one’s tummy, just below the belly button, start from the bottom and gently but firmly trace the letter “I”.
Go back to the point where you started and now we’re going to do the letter “L”. So start to the left and down of your little one’s belly button, trace a line up to just below the ribcage and then move your fingers from left to right, above the belly button, to create an “L” shape.
Now we’re going to make an upside down “U”. Go back to the same starting position. Trace up as before, across the top of the belly button from left to right and down the right side of the belly button.
This motion massages the large intestine and can help food to move along the digestive tract.
Image Sourced from BabyCentre
Up Fibre Intake to Improve Constipation
Fibre is an important element in any diet. It helps to bulk up stools and absorbs water, creating a gel-like layer over the stool to help pass it more easily.
Some recent research shows that baby’s diets tend to be higher in protein and can be lacking fibre. Foods such as greens, legumes and whole cereals are high in fibre and should be introduced during the baby-led weaning journey.
These foods are wholesome, with many key minerals, vitamins and nutrients and will help to ensure that your little one is enjoying a balanced diet.
Current research suggests that you should aim slowly up the fibre content to about 5g per day.
What does that mean in real life?
Here is a helpful visual graphic.
Info from this image from International Foundation For Gastrointestinal Disorders
Remember, a balanced diet is important. So, if your baby is constipated, including some higher fibre foods, along with other nutritious food is important. Giving too much fibre, too quickly can also cause more harm than good.
Slowly introduce higher fibre foods and monitor your baby’s reaction. Hopefully, the increased fibre intake along with the other strategies already mentioned will help to keep your baby less constipated and more comfortable.
Offer more P Foods for Constipation
P foods is a term used to remember foods that are helpful for constipation. Some of these foods include:
These foods are high in fibre and will help to get things moving. You could also consider offering the juice form, particularly prune and pear juice.
Avoid these Foods if your Baby is Constipated
Certain foods can cause constipation in babies. These include potatoes, rice, bananas, dairy, and baby rice cereal. If your baby is struggling with constipation, it may be helpful to avoid these foods until their constipation has been relieved and then slowly reintroduce them.
Food Sensitivities can Cause Constipation in Babies
Some food sensitivities can cause constipation in babies. Research shows that a cow’s milk intolerance is the leading cause of constipation in the first 3 years of life.
So, if your baby struggles with chronic constipation, it may be worth avoiding dairy products and seeing if things improve. Your paediatrician would also be able to guide you through the correct tests and procedures to confirm if your baby does, in fact, have a dairy intolerance.
Use a Food Journal to Track Constipation Causing Foods
A food journal is a helpful tool that you can use to track foods that you suspect are causing constipation in your little one. Keep a note of the foods that your baby eats and monitor the diapers that are produced.
This method may help you pinpoint foods that are problematic. It would also be helpful to take the food journal with you to your paediatrician when discussing any concerns that you may have.
When to Call your Doctor about Your Baby’s Constipation
As mothers, we often don’t want to overreact and call our doctors too soon and seem neurotic. But, there are times when it is crucial to phone your doctor about your baby’s bowel movements. The following symptoms must be seen by a trained medical professional:
- Blood in stools
- Severe abdominal pain
- The above symptoms accompanied by loss of appetite
From all of this, I hope you can see that constipation is very common when introducing solid foods to your baby, whether you are following the baby-led weaning approach or traditional spoon-feeding. There are things that you can do to help alleviate constipation but if at any point you are concerned, you should consult your doctor.