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.

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 could indicate something deeper, especially if it hurts when they go. Parents may worry, but sometimes relieving baby constipation is as simple as changing their diet. Read on to learn about foods that help babies poop, and those to avoid.

How to Know if Your Child Is Constipated

For starters, you need to figure out whether your baby is actually backed up. Until they are about 4 months old, babies 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 6 months, babies are less likely to be constipated. At that age, they are still on an all-liquid diet of breast milk or formula, so their food is more easily absorbed and digested, says Jennifer Shu, M.D., an Atlanta-based pediatrician and co-author of Food Fights: Winning The Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and A Bottle of Ketchup. However, some formulas can cause harder poops.

So how can you tell if your baby is constipated? One way is to look at their stool. Healthy infant 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 bright red blood in a bowel movement or diaper if your baby was straining. Your child's behavior might suddenly change, too: You might find them crying, looking pained, or arching their back in an attempt to either poop or avoid it. Some will even refuse to eat.

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How Liquid Foods Affect Constipation

Constipation in infants can be a symptom of an allergy to the protein in cow's milk, says Diana Lerner, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. Both breastfed and formula-fed infants can be affected. If you suspect a cow's milk allergy (or more likely, a sensitivity or intolerance), the first step is to eliminate it from your baby's diet to see if the change relieves their symptoms.

If your baby is breastfed and you're the one nursing them, removing cow's milk from their diet ultimately means removing cow's milk products from your diet to avoid passing those proteins along. To replace it, try adding foods that help your 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 can result in much firmer poops. Before switching infant formulas, however, it's always best to consult with your child's pediatrician.

If your baby is sensitive to cow's milk protein specifically, your pediatrician may suggest changing their formula to one that isn't milk-based. Though you might be tempted to use a low-iron formula if you suspect your baby is constipated, 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 and pooping habits will change. As Dr. Shu points out, food that is more cohesive creates more formed stools. 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.

While the changes in bowel movements that come with introducing solids are a natural progression, some foods can make it harder for your baby to poop. Dr. Morton tells parents to know their ABCs: applesauce, bananas, and cereal. Too much of any of these foods, especially cereal, can cause constipation. Dairy products that are popular first foods for babies, such as cheese and yogurt, can also be hard on their digestive systems. And low-fiber foods—white rice, white bread, pasta—often bind babies up.

Foods That Help With Constipation

Wondering how to relieve constipation in babies quickly? When your baby's poops become less frequent, harder, or more difficult to pass, try feeding them one of these:

  • "P" fruits: This category 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-filled 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.
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