Constipation is often a response to something in your baby's diet, but there are cases where it's a symptom of something potentially more serious. Here are a few things parents need to know.
When to See a Doctor
It's time to enlist the help of your pediatrician if your baby has blood in the stool, fever, and vomiting that contains bile (green) or blood. Also, if she is unable to poop independently, without suppositories or rectal stimulation, then she should be seen by a doctor, says Diana Lerner, M.D., instructor of pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology fellow at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.
Sometimes constipation could be an indicator of a milk-protein allergy, Dr. Lerner says. Parents should also watch out for bloody stools and vomiting when trying to pinpoint this issue. "If a breastfed baby is constipated, I might recommend that mom cut dairy out of her diet," Dr. Lerner adds. For formula-fed babies, switching to a hypoallergenic formula which can be prescribed by your pediatrician.
Uncomfortable and fussy babies with noticeably bigger bellies might be constipated -- or they could have dyschezia. This occurs when a baby is having trouble learning to poop. To be able to have a bowel movement, a baby has to be able to coordinate pushing with his belly muscles while relaxing the muscles of the external anal sphincter, Dr. Lerner explains. A baby with dyschezia can't coordinate this right away; he pushes against resistance and that makes him upset; after the episode he will pass a soft, normal baby stool. Dyschezia is common in infants and usually corrects itself within the first two months of life.
To help your baby poop, place her on all fours in a frog-like position. Hold her thighs with your hands and push them towards her chest. This should relax her sphincter to help let the poop out.
It should be said that Hirschsprung's disease is very rare: Only one baby in 5,000 is born with it, and it's more common in boys. Constipation is the key symptom because Hirschsprung's disease affects a baby's ability to poop. Babies born with this are missing some nerves, and the muscles, in their large intestines can't contract and push poop out, says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta-based pediatrician and coauthor of Food Fights: Winning The Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and A Bottle of Ketchup. Doctors are on the lookout for a baby's first poop (ideally within 48 hours of birth) before discharging her from the hospital so this is often diagnosed shortly after birth. But milder cases, in which some poop can get through, can go undetected even into later childhood. Once the problem is diagnosed, surgery corrects it by the removal of the part of the bowels missing the nerves.
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