While babies that are fed breast milk rarely become constipated, formula fed babies do seem to be a bit more prone to this condition. Many parents and caregivers wonder what they can do to make it easier for baby to pass stools and if it’s safe to add water to baby formula to aid constipation.
Is it Really Constipation?
Before giving baby something to loosen the stool, it is important to first understand what healthcare professionals consider to be a normal bowel movement for infants. For example, many infants grimace and seem to strain when passing stools. These signs are completely normal, but they are often mistaken by parents and others as signs that baby is constipated.
Normal Stool Frequency in Infants
There are many variations in stool formation and passage in infants. Since the amount and consistency of a baby’s stool changes as baby develops, many parents also mistake these normal developmental changes for constipation. For example, a baby that is fed breast milk may pass a stool after every feeding, or even once every 7 to 10 days, or somewhere in between, all of which is completely normal. A formula fed baby will normally pass stools more frequently, and average about one or two bowel movements every one to two days.
Normal Stool Color and Consistency in Infants
A breast fed baby will have stools that are runny, or soft in consistency, and that will range in color from yellow to orange, with tiny white to cream colored bits that somewhat resemble small seeds. A formula fed baby will generally have stools that resemble a soft paste and that ranges from light brown or tan to gray or even green!
Common Causes of Infant Constipation
Sometimes, babies do in fact become constipated, and this is most likely to occur when baby first begins eating solid foods. Other common causes are lack of fiber once baby starts solids, drinking an inadequate amount of liquids, changing formulas or introducing new foods.
Taking certain medications can also cause constipation in babies, including vitamin supplements that contain iron, antibiotics, fever reducers and other pain medications that contain ibuprofen, paracetamol or acetaminophen, as well as antacids with aluminum as an ingredient.
How to tell if Baby Really is Constipated
Infants are not normally considered to be constipated unless they have all of the following three signs: firm dry stools that resemble small stones or gravel, crying while passing stool and no bowel movements after two days for a formula fed baby, or 10 days for a breast fed baby.
When to Call Baby’s Doctor
Parents and other caregivers should always contact their baby’s doctor before starting any type of treatment or home remedy to relive baby’s constipation, especially before adding extra water to baby’s formula. Diluting formula or breast milk with water before feeding it to a baby is very dangerous, as is offering extra water in between feedings.
Unless the baby’s doctor advises to do so, never give an infant or young baby extra water.
Water Intoxication is a Very Real Danger of Giving Babies Extra Water
Breast milk or formula provides all of the liquid that a baby needs during the first 6 to 9 months or so of life, as these two fluids already contain 80 to 90% water. Adding extra water to baby’s diet can very quickly and easily interrupt the normal balance of sodium in their bloodstream.
This condition is also called water intoxication, and it can rapidly lead to disruption in the normal functioning of an infant’s brain and lead to confusion, excessive drowsiness, blurry vision, muscle cramps, vomiting and/or diarrhea, seizures, difficulty breathing, brain damage, coma and even death. For this reason, care must be taken to follow the directions exactly when mixing baby’s formula and no extra water should ever be given to an infant or child under the age of one year unless directed to do so by a healthcare professional.
Natural Remedies for Constipation
Other home remedies for constipation include giving baby small amounts of water that contain brown sugar, syrup or a little fruit juice. Do not give these or other remedies, including over-the-counter preparations, to a baby or young child unless advised to do so by the baby’s doctor.
Sometimes, constipation in infants can be relieved simply by giving them a warm bath, or gently massaging their tummy. Both of these methods can help to stimulate the natural contraction of baby’s bowels, and make it easier for the stool to pass.
Parents and caregivers can prompt looser, more frequent stools in older babies beginning around four to six months of age if they have become constipated due to the addition of new solid foods to their diet. Often, simply introducing new foods more slowly, and adding some additional soft, pureed fruit to baby’s diet is all that is needed to resolve any issues with constipation.