Along with colic and diaper rash, constipation is also a common concern among parents of infants. With babies having irregular bowel movements, many parents often worry that their babies are constipated. But can you really rely on the frequency of bowel movements alone to indicate constipation? For many of us, the regularity of our bowel movements can help signal if we need more fiber in our diet. But for babies, it’s important to look for other symptoms because infrequent stools do not always signal a problem.

What is considered a normal bowel movement?

The bowel movements of babies are as distinct as they are. Healthy babies can have irregular or predictable bowel movements that it’s common for parents to speculate if such patterns already indicate constipation. But that is not always the case. Your baby’s bowel movements can depend largely on what you are feeding him, his activity, as well as how quick his digestive system can process food.

For breastfed infants, constipation is uncommon because breast milk contains the right amount of nutrients and it is also easily digestible. After your baby passes meconium or the first stool, you can expect firmer stools that are brown in color. But as you progress to feeding your baby regularly, your baby’s stool will turn distinctly yellow green to yellow. The color of your baby’s stool will depend largely on your diet but color changes are expected. For as long as there is no blood in your baby’s stool and he seems to be thriving well, do not be alarmed with color changes.

Generally, breastfed infants poop more frequently as compared to formula fed babies. But there will be times when your baby will have several stools during the day and it can go to having none at all in between days. Since these bowel patterns are normal, it’s best not to be too obsessed with how often your baby passes stool. Instead shift your focus on other cues that will signal constipation.

Formula fed babies on the other hand have firmer stools and the usual color can go from pale brown to black at times, which is primarily due to iron contained in the formula. Babies fed with formula also don’t pass stools as often as breastfed infants so don’t rely solely on the frequency of your baby’s bowel movement when ruling out constipation.

Is it constipation?

Hard and dry stools are difficult to pass and they can easily tell you that your baby is constipated. To add to that, constipation will cause significant discomfort and difficulty in babies so when your baby is really fussy during a bowel movement, it could already be due to constipation. Hence, a baby who strains during a bowel movement but still has easy to pass stools is not constipated, even if he only defecates once or a couple of times in a week.

What causes constipation?

It is very rare for constipation to be due to an underlying medical cause. In many instances, constipation is caused by a component in the milk of formula-fed babies, and it can also be due to starting solid foods. Constipation can also be caused by dehydration or when your baby is not getting enough fluids because the body compensates by absorbing more fluids each time your baby eats or drinks.

How to treat constipation?

Many times a change in the brand of milk can easily correct the problem in formula-fed babies. For four month old babies and younger, it’s best to first consult your doctor before you try any home and over the counter remedies. An increase in fluid intake can also help, but you need to consult a doctor first before you give juice or even water for babies younger than 2 months old.

For older babies, encourage more activity during the day. When lying down, gently move your baby’s legs in a forward circular motion. An increase in activity can improve digestion. For babies who are already eating solids, it may be good to consider switching to barley or oat cereal because rice cereal is low in fiber.

However, you need to be very careful when adding fruits and vegetables to your child’s diet because these are generally not introduced until a baby reaches 6 months old. During a routine visit to the doctor, you can ask whether you can use a glycerin suppository or other laxatives if your baby is severely constipated. However, do not use these OTC remedies too often because your baby may end up being dependent on them.

What remedies did you use when your baby got constipated? How were you able to tell apart constipation from a normal bowel movement?