I remembered sweating profusely as I tried comforting my then 7-month old baby, Sam, while she cried her heart out that one evening. As a first-time mom, I could only assume that her meltdown was due to either constipation or too much gas or ‘kabag.’ That was because she was diagnosed as lactose-intolerant and occasionally constipated. My husband and I then decided to bring her to the pediatrician for an expert medical examination. After her pedia thoroughly evaluated her symptoms, we were told that she was most likely having constipation.
What is constipation?
Mayo Clinic defines constipation as “an occurrence when waste or stool moves too slowly through the digestive tract or cannot be eliminated effectively from the rectum, which may cause the stool to become hard and dry. Constipation has many possible causes. It is quite a common condition among babies.”
We can easily tell when we're constipated, but it's not so easy with babies. Their “regular bowel movement” is not the same as ours.
Just because you're baby isn't pooping doesn't mean he is constipated — it's not about the frequency. Instead, look for signs of discomfort in your baby and take note of her stool consistency.
Dr. William C. Bayhon, a pediatrician and an intensivist, says that “constipation in babies is when there has been difficulty or rare defecation in passing stools for at least two weeks. A thorough evaluation is needed to address the discomfort of the baby properly.”
Pediatrician Dr. Ina Atutubo adds constipated babies have significant difficulty and discomfort because their stool is dense and hard. In an article for SmartParenting.com.ph, she writes, "This definition excludes the baby who has soft, easy-to-pass stools once a week, even if he seems to strain a lot in the process," .
What causes constipation in babies under six months
Constipation is uncommon in the first six months of your baby because he's on an all-liquid diet especially if he's on breast milk.
Dr. Atutubo says, “Breast milk is often called the 'perfect food' for a human infant’s digestive system because all of its components are in exact proportion to baby’s needs, and it is easily digestible.”
The doctor adds that breastfed babies have a much lesser chance of being constipated than formula-fed babies. It is because formula milk is more difficult to digest.
You may also consider switching milk brands if you suspect that your formula milk brand causes constipation. However, according to Dr. Bayhon, “You only need to change to new formula milk if it was a brand that’s only been recently used by the baby and suspected to have caused her constipation. Otherwise, consider other factors causing constipation.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics also advised if parents are to use formula milk to prepare it as directed by the manufacturer on the label. Never add extra water to stretch the baby milk formula.
There are cases where older infants may be prescribed water by a pediatrician, Dr. Jennifer Anders, a pediatric emergency physician, told Reuters Health, such as to help with constipation. The baby’s doctor will tell how much water, and it is usually a minimal amount.
Once your child starts on his solid food, which often begins when he's six months, make sure you are giving him enough fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains for his solids. These types of food are great agents in promoting proper digestion because of their ability to ‘sweep off’ food from the digestive system.
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Certain kinds of food may send your baby’s digestive system in pain and discomfort when taken. Avoid foods that are high in fat and sugar. Processed food, dairy products, gluten-containing foods, red meat, pasta are some of the constipation-causing food items.
Generally, poor diet and improper nutrition are usually the culprits in a lot of indigestion cases among babies. You should also watch out for his water intake at this age. The moment he gets dehydrated, you can expect a slow bowel movement that could sometimes lead to constipation.
Doing simple exercises are proven to stimulate the bowel movement. If your baby has not learned to walk yet, crawling is a good option. Let her crawl on her playmat or any safe area where she can move about freely. If she hasn’t learned how to crawl yet, you may assist her in doing leg exercises like bicycle movements where her legs are raised and move them in a circular motion.
A good rub on the belly, a circular motion massage on the stomach, especially around the belly button going clockwise, can help your babies pass gas and stimulate the bowel movement. Try doing this as often as needed to relieve her from stomach discomfort.
For any concerns about the health of your baby, if you feel your baby is constipated or not pooping enough, always consult with a medical professional.
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Caren Bayhon-Yrastorza, who developed, prepared, and styled the recipes, is a former news anchor at ABS-CBN News Channel and a food writer/stylist/blogger. She delights in whipping up delicious dishes with matching food styling at home and sharing the recipes upon request. You may follow her kitchen adventures at #KitchenOfCarenYrastorza on Instagram.