Within days of becoming a new parent, one of your very favorite topics will be...poop. Suddenly one of the most fascinating topics in the world is your baby's bowel movements. So naturally, when your baby has constipation, finding a way to relieve it is a top priority. Unlike adults, babies cannot simply eat more fiber to help their bowel movements be more regular and comfortable, they rely on us to provide constipation relief. Of course, it is important to be sure that your baby is indeed having constipation before you try to treat it. Babies, especially breastfed babies, can sometimes go up to 3 or 4 days between bowel movements, simply because they are metabolizing nearly all of their feedings.
One dangerous symptom which is sometimes confused with infant constipation (or that goes unnoticed because of focusing to closely on a baby's constipation), is having a sharp drop in the number of wet diapers per day. This could be a symptom of a serious condition and you should consult your pediatrician if you notice your baby producing significantly fewer wet diapers. Some signs to look for to be sure that your baby is constipated are: absence of bowel movements for more than 3 or 4 days, reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, slightly bloated abdomen, grunting and straining interrupted by high-pitched cries, and very smelly gas. Here are a few home-remedies for helping your baby get things moving down below.
1. A small amount of diluted fruit juice.
This should be given in addition to your baby's regular feedings, it should not replace any of them. Try mixing 1/2 ounce of juice with 1/2 ounce water, and offering it to your baby 3 to 4 times a day between feedings. Do not sweeten the juice, the sugar will not help with your baby's constipation and could upset her digestion. A popular choice of juice is prune juice, however, I have found that many fruit juices are just as effective. I prefer to use apple juice or pear juice, though you could also try grape juice or blueberry juice, I would recommend staying away from stone-fruit juices such as apricot or peach, and also acidic fruits such as orange, grapefruit, kiwi, pineapple and nearly all berries, because they can irritate your baby's sensitive stomach, and they are higher allergen risks.
2. Use the "bicycle legs" baby massage motion.
In a warm room, lay your naked little nummy-toed koala on a soft clean changing pad, with a cloth diaper under his rump, and another one draped between his legs and over his behind, but none secured over his whole bottom. Then take those chubby, yummy feet in your hands and slowly push your baby's right knee toward his right shoulder. When your baby's knee cannot comfortably go any further, raise his foot slightly and pull his leg toward you, slowly straightening it. As you straighten his right leg, begin pushing his left knee toward his left shoulder. If you are doing this correctly it should appear that your baby is very slowly peddling an invisible bicycle. His hind-end should be slightly raised off of the cloth diaper and gently leaning right-to-left then left-to-right as you continue the motions. The reason your baby has no diaper on is to encourage the natural expulsion of the waste that has been stopping him up, so that diaper draped between his legs is very important, you don't want him painting the walls (or you) a new shade of green.
3. Offer your baby small amounts of very weak peppermint tea.
Heat a pot of water till it is comfortably warm, not boiling. Then and pour a cup, and dunk a peppermint tea bag into the water about 5 times. Now pour one ounce of this water into a bottle and offer it to your baby in addition to regular feedings. The most important element of this solution is the water. Water is one of natures fastest and most effective ways to stimulate proper bowel function. The peppermint is soothing to your baby's stomach, and can help to ease digestion, which will help keep things in your baby's bowels moving along smoothly. If this doesn't produce any results you could try to substitute a bag of white tea for the peppermint. Caffeine won't help your little wiggle-worm sleep, but it does make a great diuretic. You should only use white tea as a last resort, since caffeine can be hard on a baby's sensitive system. Chamomile is another herbal tea that has a calming effect on tissue and the nervous system. If you don't have peppermint tea, it would be a good safe substitute. Use the same brewing instructions as given for the peppermint tea. Also, warm water by itself is quite often effective in relieving constipation.
4. Give your baby a warm bath.
Warm water isn't just effective on your baby's insides. When your baby is uncomfortable from the symptoms of constipation, a nice soak in a warm aromatic bath can be very soothing. Being uncomfortable because of the gas caused by a dense stool is part of what causes the muscle tightness that exacerbates infant constipation. If you can relax your baby's stomach muscles, while soothing the pain of excess gas it should help ease the passing of the bowel movement. I recommend adding a chamomile teabag to your baby's bathwater, the smell is soothing, and can assist in the achieving the desired level of relaxation.
5. Take your baby's rectal temperature.
If you are unsure of how to do this, ask your pediatrician for detailed instructions. As one of my son's nurses explained it to me, when your baby feels pressure down there, it reminds him where to push. So instead of straining and tensing all of his muscles without being sure which ones will help relieve the discomfort, your baby can focus on one area. I have heard parents describe using a q-tip with a small amount of Aquaphor on it to place pressure on the opening of their baby's rectum, but I have not had this recommended to me by a medical professional, nor have I tried it myself. Since I am comfortable and confident with taking my son's temperature rectally, I used this method with great success several times. As with any physical assistance in regards to constipation, it is important not to use this type of assistance too often as there is a danger of your baby becoming reliant on your assistance. This type of technique should only be used when all other suggestions have been tried first.
If these suggestions do not help get the ball rolling, your pediatrician can recommend more extreme measures. However, I do think that these tips will most likely get your little diaper-soiling-factory up and running again (one more of my favorite home remedies for infant constipation can be found here). Keep in mind that while your baby is experiencing constipation, the physical and emotional symptoms of distress may get you a little tense as well. Be sure to get plenty of fiber in your own diet, and you'll feel better and have more energy to deal well with your baby's discomfort. If you have found these tips to be helpful, please pass them on to any new or expecting parents you might know. As always, questions and comments are welcome. Happy parenting!