As a first time mother and a health practitioner, on being pregnant, I had already decided to exclusively breastfeed my baby for 6 months and continue thereafter with alongside complementary feeding because I was a nutritionist right? I had to ensure I practiced what I preached. Many experiences and drama trailed my journey to motherhood. My very first battle was with constipation.
Knowing that I was exclusively breastfeeding I became even more worried because there was little or nothing I could do to help my bundle of joy because she was to be on breast milk only for the next 6 months. Nope, maternal instinct kicked in and I knew I had to do something! Below is what I gathered from the experience.
What is Constipation?
Constipation could mean various things to different people. For some people, it means infrequent passage of stool (feces), to others; it means hard stools, difficulty in passing stool, or a sense of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, constipation is one of the most common digestive problems in the United States, affecting around 42 million Americans and is not uncommon among infants. Constipation is a common problem that affects both all ages irrespective of race.
Causes of Constipation
Often when a child is constipating, there is infrequent bowel movement and most times the stool is hard, dry and painful to pass.
Causes of constipation in infants include:
- Withholding stool: This happens when a child is trying to hold his bowel movement in, due to some reasons such as stress about potty training, or not wanting to use the rest rooms in certain places (like in school), or pains while stooling.
- A low fiber diet.
- Side effects of certain medications.
Signs and Symptoms
Understanding the signs of constipation can help you detect a potential issue before it becomes a big problem.
- Infrequent bowel movements: The number of bowel movement of a child will reduce as to the normal frequency during constipation, sometimes during the period of trying new foods which the body seems to find different from the “usual”, sometimes may cause constipation
- Blood in the stool: If you notice streaks of bright red blood in your child’s stool, it is likely a sign that the child is pushing too hard to have a bowel movement. Pushing and passing out a hard stool may cause tiny tears around the anal walls, which can result in blood in the stool.
- Refusing to eat: Child may feel full quickly or refuse to eat while constipating.
What Can You Do?
If you notice signs of constipation, you can try several strategies to offer your baby relief. These strategies include:
A high-fiber diet: Your child’s plate should be teeming with fresh fruits and vegetables, high fiber cereals, whole grain breads and a variety of beans and other legumes can be very helpful. Foods containing probiotics like yogurt can also promote good digestive health. If your child does not like fresh fruits much, you could try pureeing/blending it or adding them to certain meals to encourage acceptance. Besides, adding fruits and vegetables to your child’s diet early in life helps build healthy eating habits later in life.
Switch up the milk: If your baby is breastfed, you can try adjusting YOUR diet. Baby may be sensitive to something you are eating, which could be causing the constipation, though this is uncommon. Bottle-fed babies may benefit from a different type of formula (which are rich in fiber), at least until the constipation clears. Sensitivity to certain ingredients can cause constipation.
Use solid foods: Although certain solid foods can cause constipation, but others could improve it. If you recently started feeding your baby solid foods, try adding a few high fiber alternatives, such as: broccoli, pears, prunes, peaches, skinless apple. Instead of refined cereals or puffed rice, offer cooked grains, such as barely or brown rice. Whole grain breads, crackers and bran cereals also add a lot of bulk to stool, which may help clear the constipation. Beans and other legumes provide soluble fiber which cause stool to move through the body faster.
Use pureed or mashed foods: if your baby is over 6 months and has not made the transition to solid foods yet, try some of the foods listed above in their pureed form. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables have a lot of natural fiber that will add bulk to your child’s stool. Some are better than others at helping stimulate a bowel movement.
Up the fluids: Proper hydration is essential for regular bowel movement. While focusing on fiber, don’t forget fluids. Water is great for keeping your baby hydrated. If your child is eating plenty of high fiber food but not getting enough fluid to help flush it through the digestive tract, it could make matters worse. There should liberal intake of water, soda and sugary drinks should be limited. Usually breastfed babies get enough fluid from the breast milk. However, infants from 7-12 months need about 0.8 L/day of fluid and children of ages 1-3 require 1.3L/day.
Encourage exercise: Movement speeds up digestion, which can help move things through the body more quickly. If your child is not walking yet, bicycles and play dates would be helpful.
Massage: Gentle stomach and lower-abdominal massage stimulate the bowel to pass a bowel movement. Do several massages throughout the day, until your child has a bowel movement.
Regular Toilet Time: Encourage your growing child to use the toilet first thing in the morning. Particularly for a younger child, you may get better results by telling, not asking. Instead of suggesting, “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” Simply say, “Time to go to the bathroom”.
Because breast milk is quite nutritious, sometimes a baby’s body absorbs almost all of it, leaving little or nothing to move through the digestive tract. Your baby may poop only once in a while—it is perfectly normal for breastfed infants to have a bowel movement once a week. Other infants just have a slower (but completely normal) gut, so they don’t go very often. But if your baby seems to be in pain, or you have any complain, call your doctor or dietitian. In rare cases, a medical problem could cause lasting, severe constipation. For kids that have progressed to eating solid foods very well, encourage them to consume more of high fiber foods and to take enough water.