Table of contents
- Do breastfed babies become constipated?
- Week-by-week what to expect
- Is it something in the mother's diet?
- Constipation symptoms
- Straining during bowel movements
- Medical treatment for the constipated breastfed baby
- Relieving constipation in breastfed babies naturally.
Can Breastfed Babies Get Constipated?
Constipation in the breastfed baby is uncommon, although the introduction of solid foods can sometimes cause constipation. When it comes to a baby's stools, there is a broad range of normal.
See a detailed explanation of color and texture in the stools of breastfed infants.
So, How Often Should Your Baby Have a Bowel Movement?
Before Six Weeks
Dark, tarry stools are to be anticipated during the first few days; these stools are referred to as meconium. Colostrum, also known as "pre-milk", helps to clear meconium from the gut, and within a few days, the stools become yellowish-tan and soft. The stools will have a not-so-unpleasant kind of "porridge/popcorn or cheesy" smell to them. The consistency is usually compared to custard or mustard because it usually contains small seedy-looking bits.
After the meconium has been cleared from their systems, most babies will have two to five soft stools every 24 hours for the first six weeks of life. BUT - it is also normal for them to have more or less frequent bowel movements. As long as the baby has regular wet diapers (about six diapers every 24 hours) and is gaining weight, you don't need to worry about it.
Be sure to breastfeed your baby on demand(at least eight times per day). Avoid pacifier use because this will replace valuable time at the breast.
To ensure adequate milk intake, it is essential that your baby drinks more during the day if he/she is sleeping through at night.
After Six Weeks
After six weeks you may notice that your baby has fewer stools than before, sometimes only one bowel movement every ten days or longer; this is because breast milk is so easily absorbed. Again, it's also normal for them to have one stool after every feeding. Less frequent bowel movements should be easy to pass and soft. After the six week mark, your baby will be wetting about five diapers daily, but they should be considerably heavier than before; this is because your baby is now able to hold more urine in their bladder.
Six Months Onwards
As soon as solids are introduced at about six months, your baby's digestive system will be working through many changes. The stools will start to smell stronger, and the color and consistency will change. You may find pieces of food in the stool that have not been digested. During this time babies often struggle with diarrhea or constipation when they are not tolerating a particular food well.
Any Iron-fortified, or cow's milk-based cereals and formulas are common constipation triggers in babies. Always breastfeed your baby before offering solids, and if your baby becomes constipated, try to breastfeed more often; breastmilk acts as a natural laxative. The frequency of bowel movements should increase when solid foods are introduced. Call your pediatrician if you believe your baby is constipated.
Foods That Cause Constipation in Breastfed Babies Who Have Started Solids:
- Rice cereal.
- Carrots and squash.
- Cow’s milk.
Could anything in a mother's diet cause constipation via her breast milk?
Yes, caffeine can cause constipation in babies. So, try to limit your intake of chocolate, coffee, tea, and sodas, as the caffeine in these may pass through your breast milk to your baby. Your baby's liver is too immature to break down the caffeine; as a result, this could affect your baby's bowel movements.
Cow's milk protein can also cause constipation in breastfed babies via the mother's milk. Sometimes a mother will need to eliminate all dairy from her diet. In the same way, a mother can eat prunes, and this may help to soften her baby's stools.
Baby Constipation Signs
- A constipated baby will have dry, hard stools. The stools may look like little pellets.
- A baby with constipation may start vomiting.
- The baby cries when straining to have a bowel movement.
- Refusing to breastfeed.
- Baby seems weak.
- Insufficient wet diapers.
- Baby seems to have a dry mouth.
- Weight loss or poor weight gain.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Excessive crying.
- A hard, distended belly.
- Drawing of their knees up towards their tummy.
- Please contact your pediatrician if your baby has blood in their stool, or has a fever.
"My baby is straining to poo and goes red in the face, but when it comes out, it is soft..."
Some babies may seem to struggle during bowel movements; this is normal and is partly their reaction to new sensations, which they are still growing accustomed to. They are also developing strength in their abdominal muscles needed to push the poo out. As long as the stool is soft, you don't need to worry.
Medical Treatment for Constipation in Breastfed Babies
- For babies older than six months, ask your doctor about products containing polyethylene glycol (Miralax), which are more effective than other forms of constipation treatments.
- For babies younger than six months, try to avoid laxatives that need to be mixed with water as these might be difficult to feed to a breastfed baby and may interrupt the breastfeeding relationship. Oral laxatives, such as Lactulose or Senna are recommended, as well as Glycerine suppositories.
Natural Remedies for Constipation in Breastfed Babies
What Can I Do if My Baby Is Constipated?
- The best way to get a breastfed baby to poop is to breastfeed more frequently; breast milk is a natural laxative.
- Never give your baby water unless instructed to do so by your doctor. Water can result in electrolyte imbalances.
- If your baby is older than six months, you can give him/her small amounts of pear, peach, plum, prune, or apricot. A well-known baby constipation remedy is apple juice; it can be given twice a day to soften the stools.
- A warm bath followed with a tummy massage can help to "get things moving."
- Move your baby’s legs in circular motions; this is especially helpful in constipated infants and those with gas.
- If you find that the stool is sticking out and hurting your baby, you can smear some coconut oil around, and a little on, the inside of the anus, to help the feces glide out.
If your baby has repeated episodes of constipation, you should see your pediatrician.
National Breastfeeding Helpline - 0300 100 0212
Newborn Constipation Formula Fed
by Heather (Jamaica)
I have a 6weeks old premature baby boy. He is on formula and iron because I'm not producing enough milk.
I realize that he has a problem passing his stool on his own, so I assist by giving massage and using the q-tip. I'm concerned. Advise as to what I can do, other than what I am doing.
Constipation and Formula
Hi, Heather. Many times moms have found that if they change the type of formula they give their babies, constipation goes away.
Why do you say your milk supply is low?
Newborn Constipation Poop
My baby is a week old, and her poop is hard, and she has had 2 of these today! She is formula fed, is this normal? Or should I panic?
Hey! Have you thought of changing the formula? How was baby's poop before this? How often does your baby have a bowel movement? Does it look like your baby is in pain?
Average frequency is between 1 and 5 poops per day; this is for a formula fed baby for the first couple of weeks. The poo should be soft.
If the baby is in pain or poops less than once per day, you need to see your pediatrician. (this advice is only for newborn formula fed babies)
Breastfed Baby Constipated
by Rachel (Minnesota)
My baby is four days old and is breastfed. She is in the low levels of jaundice, and our doctor said to stick to just breastfeeding.
She's been feeding frequently daily and has wet diapers, but she hasn't had a bowel movement in over 24 hours, but less than 48.
I'm anxious. My baby is gassy and seems to try to poop, but cries and fusses a lot. Is there anything I can do to help her? And when should I be worried about her poop, if she doesn't go still?
Breastfed Newborn Constipation
Hi Rachel, I would suggest that you breastfeed as much as possible. Let your baby comfort feed during the day as well. Breast milk is a natural laxative and will help clear jaundice as well. Have your doctor keep an eye on baby’s weight gain and count of wet nappies.
Babywearing can help reduce gas symptoms and will comfort your baby. You can keep your baby in a sling during the day, with as much skin to skin contact; this will also increase the time your baby spends at the breast.
I Gave My Baby a Laxative
"My son is 4 months old and he hasn't had a poo for almost 6 days now. I went to the GP a few days ago and she recommended a laxative, so I gave it to him. Then I browsed the internet and found out that babies could go up to 10 days without doing a poo and its normal and also not to give a baby laxatives because it might cause harm. Breastfed babies apparently don't get constipated. So, I stopped giving him the laxative. I'm worried about the laxative I gave him - I hope it won't do any harm. I called a lactation consultant as well and she recommends to not give a laxative and to just wait it out."
Re: Four babies breastfed.
"I have successfully breastfed four babies now. One is 9, one is 3, one is 1, and one is 6 weeks. Of those four, none of them had daily bowel movements. Out of those four, one of them was actually constipated. Now I have learned that laxatives are horrible things, suppositories are also awful - so what's a mom to do?
I turned to Welch's Concord Grape juice. (100% no added sugars etc...) REALLY! I put 3ml into a syringe and gave it to my daughter from the time she was two weeks old until the constipation went away at 10 months. If a few days had passed with no bowel movements, and she was acting crabby, or abnormal, I did this on the fourth day, every hour until she had a bowel movement. It is still a laxative, but it's a little more gentle and doesn't cause cramping. It never took more than 1-2 doses like this before she had a bowel movement.
Once again, this is the ONLY baby I had out of four who actually was constipated. Signs of constipation include fussiness, sometimes gas, bloating (a large and hard tummy), and even grunting and wiggling, though if you have a newborn who is grunting I'd be more likely to get a hold of a pediatrician as grunting in a baby is also linked to breathing difficulties. Usually, prolonged constipation leads to a decrease in appetite.
If a laxative didn't make your baby go, I am doubting this is in fact constipation, just a personal opinion. Breast milk is 100% natural and organic. So it is extremely digestible and it may be some time before your baby passes any stools at all.
My son is 6 1/2 weeks old, and to be honest, he hasn't had a bowel movement in about 5 or 6 days. He's not uncomfortable (in fact he sleeps through the night yay for mommy!!), he's not cranky, fussy, whiny, or vomiting. I can most likely count the number of soiled diapers he has had in the last 6 weeks, probably between 10 and 12. That's not very many for 6 weeks of pooping, but it is what is normal for him.
I would be less worried about your child pooping, and more worried about finding a pediatrician who is more educated on breastfed babies.
Best wishes and good luck! I hope you figure this all out!"