Foods That Cause and Relieve Constipation in Babies

If your little one is backed up, you may need to examine their diet. We explore the differences between foods that trigger babies' digestive issues and those that relieve them.

mother holding child and kissing forehead
Photo: Getty Images

When a baby is pooping regularly, it usually means that their digestive system is working properly and they're getting enough to eat. If they haven't pooped in a while, it may indicate something deeper, especially if it hurts when they go. The absence of poop—or noticeable changes in the consistency of a child's poop—can really stress a parent out. But sometimes the answer is as simple as changing the food that they're eating. Here's what you need to know about constipation and the way food affects it.

How To Know if Your Child is Constipated

To start with, you need to figure out whether your baby is backed up. Until they reach about four months of age, babies will poop three or four times a day, on average. But some babies will poop after every feeding, while others can go several days before releasing their bowels. So even though a prolonged absence of poop suggests constipation, it can be hard to confirm this in infants.

Before the age of six months, babies are less likely to be constipated. At that age, they are still 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. Some formulas can also cause harder poops.

How can you tell if your baby is constipated? One way is to look at their stool. Healthy stool is soft, while hard stool suggests it's been inside longer than desired, says Dr. Shu. The baby's belly may also feel hard, and there can be a small amount of blood in a bowel movement or diaper (from stretched anal walls). Your child's behavior might suddenly change, too: You might find them crying, looking strained, or arching their back in an attempt to either poop or avoid it. Some will even refuse to eat.

How Liquid Foods Affect Constipation

Constipation in breastfed infants can be caused by a cow's milk protein allergy, says Diana Lerner, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. If you're the one nursing them and you eat dairy, consider taking it out of your diet to avoid passing those proteins along. To replace it, try adding foods that help baby poop, such as prunes and fiber-filled items.

Exclusively formula-fed babies are more likely to experience constipation than breastfed infants, says Jane Morton, M.D., an emeritus adjunct clinical professor of pediatrics at Stanford University School of Medicine. Some ingredients in formula might be more challenging to a baby's digestive system and result in much firmer poops. Your pediatrician may switch their formula to one that isn't milk-based.

Parents might be tempted to use a low-iron formula if they suspect their baby is constipated, because iron has been known to keep babies backed up. But Dr. Shu advises against switching, noting that formula-fed babies need extra iron, and the amount in the formula itself wouldn't hurt them.

How Solid Foods Affect Constipation

Once solid foods become part of your baby's diet, their poop is going to change. As Dr. Shu points out, food that is more cohesive creates more formed poop. As your child's intestines mature, they also get better at compacting that food and holding on to it longer. Their bodies will now take longer to process what they eat, so you'll probably see one less poopy diaper a day.

The food you give your baby can make it harder for them to poop. Dr. Morton tells parents to know their ABCs—applesauce, bananas, and cereal. Too much of any of these, especially cereal, can cause constipation. Dairy products that are popular first foods for babies, such as cheese and yogurt, can also be hard on them. And low-fiber foods—white rice, white bread, pasta—often bind babies up.

Foods That Help With Constipation

When baby's poops become more infrequent, harder, or difficult to pass, try feeding them one of these:

  • "P" fruits. This includes pears, plums, peaches, and prunes, and any of their juices. Dr. Shu often recommends pear juice to parents; it works really well and kids think it's delicious.
  • Fiber foods. Anything containing bran (known for its high fiber content) could help loosen up your baby's stool. Look for fiber-rich cereals, whole-wheat pasta, and brown rice.
  • Vegetables. Broccoli, beans, and Brussels sprouts can get things back on track.
  • Water. Sometimes your baby's system just needs a good flush to work well again. But note that babies can only have small sips of water, and only after they are 6 months old.
Was this page helpful?
Related Articles