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Constipation in Infants

Constipation in infants can be extremely painful for the child and very emotionally trying for the parents trying to deal with it and provide relief. It’s difficult for a parent because they see their child in obvious discomfort but cannot communicate effectively to discover the underlying problem. Many parents feel helpless when trying to comfort their baby, especially when nothing seems to work.

If you’re a new parent, don’t worry. Constipation in infants is a normal event. The baby’s digestive system is in a state of flux as it develops and it may be a few months before their bowel movements become regular. That being said, it’s still important to know when your child is constipated and what you can do to help relieve their pain.

Symptoms of Constipation in Infants

With infants, early detection is the best way to get a handle on the constipation before it becomes too acute or prolonged. Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Stomach pains
  • Restlessness and sleeplessness
  • Irritability
  • Pellet-like stools
  • Hard stomach
  • Traces of blood in diaper (due to hemorrhoids)
  • Baby pulls knees up before a bowel movement

Causes of Constipation in Infants

One of the most common causes of constipation in infants is artificial baby formula. Formulas contain chemicals which cannot be easily digested and the residue ends up collecting in the colon. Breastmilk is vastly easier for babies to digest and this leads to fewer digestive problems the longer the baby is breastfed. Mother’s milk also introduces beneficial bacteria into the digestive system which helps to break down food and strengthen the immune system.

Studies indicate that breast-fed babies have a higher level of motiline in their digestive systems. Motiline is a hormone that promotes bowel regularity. Normally, breast-fed babies tend not to experience constipation until they are introduced to dairy milk (which can constipate even full-grown adults).

Concerns for a Constipated Infant

The basic job of the colon is to remove water from waste. Without that process, the body would dehydrate from most of the available water being lost during a bowel movement. The problem arises when waste is held in the colon or an obstruction blocks it from being expelled in a timely manner. Another dilemma concerning constipation in infants involves the child refusing to have a bowel movement.

The longer the child resists going, the drier and compacted the BM will become. Eventually, the hardened stool causes painful cramping in your baby’s colon. This pain reinforces your child’s efforts to avoid elimination because it hurts. Again, the longer the stool stays inside, the more water is removed from it and the harder it becomes until your child can no longer have a bowel movement without medical intervention.

Infant Bowel Movement Habits

An infant can sometimes go a few days without having a bowel movement and this does not mean they are constipated. A breastfed infant will typically have fewer bowel movements compared to a bottle fed infant. It can take a while for your baby to produce enough waste to form a bowel movement because virtually all the contents breastmilk is fully absorbable.

Breast-fed babies also have bowel movements that are softer than those of formula fed babies. Breastfeeding induced waste is comprised mostly of mucous, whereas bottle fed waste contains a variety of man-made chemicals, preservatives, and other artificial compounds.

The Digestive System of Infants

As stated earlier, constipation in infants is common due to their still-developing digestive systems which will continue to adapt to ex-utero foods until the child is between 4 and 6 months old. Their growing digestive system leaves them vulnerable for all kinds of gastro-intestinal problems. Infants simply can’t digest foods as effectively as adults, whose own systems really can’t handle the garbage that passes for food nowadays. That’s the reason constipation in infants almost always develops when solid foods are being introduced.

Interestingly, infants possess unique enzymes in their mouths which are not evident in adults. When your baby feeds, these enzymes start breaking down fats in the breastmilk while it’s still in their mouth as a kind of head start on the digestive process. By the time food gets to your child’s stomach, it’s already broken down a little so it’s easier to digest.

Not surprisingly, recent studies have shown that babies born through Cesarean section are more susceptible to disease and illness than their naturally birthed counterparts. The study also indicates—when a baby is traveling through the birth canal, he or she swallows bacteria that end up in their colon. These helpful flora strengthen the infant’s digestive system. It would seem that a great deal more is going on during childbirth than just bringing that little person into the outer world.

Common Sense Baby Constipation Remedies

When dealing with constipation in infants, you can try some of these common sense methods for helping them have an easier time of it.

  • Prepare a nice, warm bath to help your baby relax. You can add massage oils or burn incense for additional therapeutic effect.
  • Gently massage your child’s abdomen.
  • With your child lying on his or her back, slowly move their legs as if pedaling a bicycle. This stimulates and strengthens the abdominal muscles.
  • Add natural-fiber fruit juices such as prune or apple juice to your baby’s diet (but only occasionally and in small amounts as this can upset their digestive system).
  • Sometimes, your baby’s anus may be too tight for the stool to pass and you can use a lubricated pinkie finger to gently dilate his or her anus. Sometimes, several “massages” of this type are needed before your baby’s anus is flexible enough for stool to pass easily.
  • Continue breastfeeding your child as long as possible. This choice fits human design and provides untold physical, emotional, and psychological benefits as well as helping you bond with your child. The World Health Organization has interesting information about the wonderful health you can give your child by feeding them the natural way.
  • If your child’s BM’s seem a little drier than normal, supplement their diet with purified water. Do not give your child colas, fruit punches, and other manufactured beverages.
    Anything other than purified water makes dehydration symptoms worse and starts your child on the path to lifelong health problems from caffeine, preservatives, chemical sugars, and other unhealthful ingredients. You may think it’s “cute” to give them cola in their bottle, but constipation in infants isn’t very funny to them.
  • Establish regular feeding times so your child’s body can adapt to a schedule, but let his or her nutritional and comfort needs direct the specifics. Also, permit time after feedings to foster good bowel habits so your child can get used to “going” on a regular basis.

Constipation in infants usually isn’t a cause for serious concern. However, should your child display symptoms of constipation for an extended period or in unusual severity, you should consult a qualified pediatrician or healthcare practitioner specializing in infant digestive issues. Learn to listen to your child even though the cues may be non-verbal. Try to develop an interest in all your child’s activities, even their bowel habits. Even the practical duties of parenting, such as changing diapers ten times a day, can be fun if you maintain the right attitude. No matter how odious (or odorous) the task, caring for your kid shows them your love!

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