Constipation in babies is very common, but it has significantly increased over the years mostly due to formula milk and poor diet. It is equal in both girls and boys below 5 years of age but more common in girls in the teenage.
Apart from diet multiple diseases, conditions, and medicines can also cause constipation. About 36 out of 100 children are found to have functional constipation (a type of constipation whose cause is unknown) 1, 2
Most children have bowel movement, 2-3 times a day while breast fed babies may have bowel movement even up to 13 times a day. Hence, If a baby is healthy and has more bowel movement than normal that does not necessarily mean that they have digestion problem.
How to identify constipation in babies?
If the baby shows the following symptoms, then he/she might be suffering from constipation:
- 2 or fewer defecations in a week
- Painful bowel movement
- Stomach pain
- Traces of feces in the underwear- stains are left on the underwear that can be mistaken for diarrhea.
- Blood in the stool
Sometimes babies stop themselves from pooping to avoid pain due to constipation. They will cry, cross legs, and makes faces whenever they try to stop the stool from coming out.
Causes of constipation in babies
- It runs in the family, so family history is a big cause for constipation in children.
- Not going to the toilet at the proper time; withholding stool causes dry and lumpy stool as water is absorbed by the colon.
- Drinking less water
- Children with hard toilet training usually withhold stool and are mostly negative in the mood. They should be encouraged with reward techniques.
- Hirschsprung’s disease, hypothyroidism, and changes in calcium level in the body
- Allergy to cow milk
- Painful defaecation before 3 years of age can cause the baby to withhold stool which causes constipation, soiling, and hard stool.
How to treat constipation in babies?
There are basically two ways to treat constipation or prevent it: with medicines and without medicines.
There are roughly two types of constipation: organic and functional constipation. Organic constipation is caused by various diseases or disorders of the brain and gut while functional constipation does not have a proper cause.
If constipation is caused by some disease or disorder than solving the underlying problem will treat constipation but if the reason is unknown then emptying the bowl is the primary concern.
- Diet: Foods that are high in fiber should be given with plenty of water. Fruit juice can also be given with pulp so that it contains fiber and water both.
Fruits such as prunes, apples, peaches, and raspberries. Vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. Cooked whole grains should also be given as they have high fiber in them. Flax seeds are also known to help in constipation (grind and serve them in the morning with fruit juice).
- Water intake: encourage kids to drink plenty of water for the bowel movement.
- Toilet training: Regularly train your kids to control the pee or poop so they can easily use the bathroom by themselves and do not have to withhold any of the two processes.
- Exercise: Take your child to walk and engage them in playing outside. Walking and playing can stimulate bowel movement.
- Massage: If the baby is very young and can not walk then massage his/her tummy. Massage has several positive effects on a baby’s health such as diarrhea and constipation control, helps in body growth, and lowers the aggression in the baby. 3
- Boil roasted fennel seeds in water and serve 1-2 teaspoons to the baby. Fennel seeds are known to relax the intestinal muscles and relieve the gas in the stomach. 4, 5
- Osmotic laxatives draw water into the colon and help in moving the stool out. Some common examples are Polyethylene glycol (PEG), milk of magnesia (magnesium hydroxide), magnesium sulphate, lacticol, lactulose, glycerine suppositories.
- Stimulants laxatives contract muscles in the intestines and move the stool out. Some common examples are senna compounds, bisacodyl, castor oil.
- Softeners as the name suggest helps to soften the stool by drawing water into it. Example: liquid paraffin and docusate sodium.
- Bulk producing agents help to add bulk to the stool as they have high fiber content. Example: dietary fiber and psyllium.
- You can also use home remedies or non-medicinal approaches along with the medicines prescribed by the doctor for better recovery against constipation. 6
If the symptoms are not getting any better after using a non-medicinal approach then contact your doctor (Paediatrician).
NOTE: Do not give any medicine for constipation to your kid without consulting the doctor to avoid any kind of serious side effect.