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Foods That Cause and Relieve Constipation in Babies

As new parents, you might be surprised at how much you think, talk, and worry about poop. When a baby is pooping regularly, it usually means that all her pipes are in working order and that she's getting enough to eat and disposing of the rest. So it's understandable that the absence of -- or noticeable change in consistency in -- poop can stress parents out. And because food is largely to blame when it comes to constipation, let's take a closer look at your baby's diet.

The Just-Liquid Months
baby drinking bottle

For starters, constipation in newborns is fairly uncommon. Babies are on an all-liquid diet, so their food is more easily absorbed and digested, 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. On average, babies 0 to 4 months old poop 3 to 4 times a day. But rather than frequency, the most important thing to watch for is that it's soft. If an infant's poop is hard, that's a sign that it's staying in there longer than we want it to be, Dr. Shu says.

Breastfed babies can be all over the map when it comes to their poop schedule, making it even easier to think constipation is to blame. Some infants will poop after every feeding; others can go several days before releasing their bowels. These long stretches can be attributed to how easy it is for babies to digest breast milk. The ability of a baby's gut to absorb breast milk is amazing, says Jane Morton, M.D., a clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine, so babies may not poop that much. But if you suspect that your baby might be constipated, take a look at Mom's diet, as everything Mom eats gets passed to baby.

Constipation in breastfed infants could be a symptom of a milk-protein allergy, says Diana Lerner, M.D., instructor of pediatrics and pediatric gastroenterology fellow at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. So sometimes I would suggest that a mom who is breastfeeding take dairy out of her diet (consider substituting soy products for dairy). And on the other end of the spectrum, what you eat could also ease your baby's constipation. If baby is constipated, Dr. Shu recommends that the mother eat some prunes to see if that helps.

Exclusively formula-fed babies are much more likely to have constipation troubles, Dr. Morton says. Some of the ingredients in formula might be more challenging to a baby's digestive system and result in much firmer poops. Constipation may also be caused by a milk-protein allergy or intolerance. Once it is diagnosed, your pediatrician may switch your baby's formula to one that isn't milk-based, but parents should consult their pediatrician before making a formula change. Parents might also be tempted to switch to a low-iron formula if they suspect their baby is constipated, Dr. Shu says. But babies need this iron, and although foods high in iron can cause constipation, the amount found in formula isn't to blame.

Solid Foods

Once solid foods are introduced into your baby's diet, his poop is going to change. More formed food usually means more formed poop, Dr. Shu says. Also, the intestines are more mature now. They can compact things and hold on to them longer. And because the body is taking longer to process the food, you'll likely see one less poopy diaper a day.

Food can be both friend and foe. First, the foods that could be making it hard to poop:

Consider your ABCs -- or applesauce, bananas, and cereal, Dr. Morton says. Too much of any of these, especially cereal, could cause constipation in your baby; also, keep an eye on dairy products that are popular first foods for babies, such as cheese and yogurt. Low-fiber foods can bind babies up. These might include white rice, white bread, and pasta. Although it might be tempting to cut out constipation-causing foods altogether, Dr. Shu recommends giving your baby these foods in moderation -- that is, no more than a few times a day -- and cutting back quantities if a particular food is problematic.

When Baby's poops become more infrequent, harder, or difficult to pass, enlist the help of these foods to soften the situation:

Fiber is your first friend. Anything containing bran, known for it's high-fiber content, should help loosen up your baby's stool. Think fiber-rich cereals, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice. Next are the P fruits, particularly pears, plums, peaches, and prunes. Their juice counterparts could also do the trick. Dr. Shu often recommends pear juice; it works really well and kids actually like it. Some vegetables can also help: Try broccoli, beans, and Brussels sprouts. And don't forget water; sometimes the system just needs a good flushing to get working again.

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