How Can I Help Relieve Constipation for My Baby and Toddler?
sRead time: 7 minutes
What should I know about constipation in babies and toddlers
Know the symptoms of constipation
Understand why constipation happens at these ages
Learn common dietary treatments for constipation
While constipation in children is defined as having fewer than two bowel movements per week and/or difficulty passing stools that are small, hard and dry – every child’s stooling pattern is different.1
Pay attention to whatever seems regular for your little one, because any deviation from your child’s “normal” may be unpleasant and leave you both feeling uncertain about what to do next.
What causes constipation?
Often, inadequate hydration is the likely constipation culprit, along with eating a diet low in fiber.
It is important for babies and toddlers to drink enough fluids to keep their bodies properly hydrated and bowels moving regularly.2 And when increasing the amount of fiber in your child’s diet, it is important to keep increasing the amount of water to help process the added fiber.
Read more: Dehydration in Kids: How to Keep your Baby or Tot Hydrated
Is my infant constipated?
Healthy babies under 6 months are unlikely to experience constipation because they receive adequate hydration and nutrients from breastmilk, formula, or a combination.
Remember that it’s very common for your baby to grunt, strain, and turn red while passing stool since their abdominal muscles are still weak so they must work harder to have a bowel movement.1314
As they become older and their muscles get stronger, they’ll be able to pass stool much easier!
Reasons infants may become constipated:
Incorrect preparation of formula. Always make sure to add water first, then the formula powder after so that baby is getting enough fluids and to ensure the formula is not concentrated.15
Intolerance or allergy. Certain proteins in formula may cause constipation if your baby is not tolerating them well. And while rare, a breastfed baby may experience constipation if allergic to some of the foods mom is eating.34
Starting solid foods.
Contrary to popular belief, recent studies have found that formulas with iron do not necessarily cause more constipation than formulas without iron.56
What are the signs of infant constipation?
Spitting up more than usual
Unusually hard stools, sometimes with blood
Straining for more than 10 minutes without passing stool
Having considerably fewer bowel movements than normal7
Will starting solids cause constipation?
Firmer, less regular bowel movements are common once your little one starts solid foods (usually around 6 months).
This is because the digestive track needs time to adapt to digesting.13 Think about it this way: solid foods in equals more solid poops out!
Your child’s normal stooling will change from being softer from an all liquid diet to it becoming firmer and less frequent.16 Note that some straining during bowel movements is normal, as babies still have weak abdominal muscles.
Tips to help your infant with constipation
Always reach out to your child’s healthcare provider if a change in your little one’s stool habits is concerning.
When preparing formula, add water first and then the powder to ensure baby is getting enough fluids.15 If constipation is consistent even with correct preparation of formula, speak with the pediatrician about additional signs that your little one may not be tolerating the formula well.
Even though research indicates that iron in formula may not cause constipation, all babies are different. If you feel this is the cause, call the pediatrician before switching to a low -iron formula, as iron is important for growth and development.
Everything you Need to Know about How to Prepare and Store Infant Formula
How much Formula does my Baby Need?
While a baby having an allergy and intolerance to the foods you eat is not common, it’s also not unheard of. If you are breastfeeding and are concerned about your baby reacting to foods you are eating, contact the pediatrician for more information.
You can also reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free to discuss how to alter your diet if that is what your pediatrician recommends. They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!
Give your baby a massage
The gentle “I love you” abdominal massage for babies and toddlers can be helpful in reducing constipation, abdominal pain, bloating, and gas.
Read more. How do I Give my Baby a Massage? Benefits and Techniques
Ask the healthcare provider about trying a bit of juice
If constipation does not improve, a small amount of 100% prune, apple, or pear juice may be added to formula or breastmilk as long as baby is older than 4 weeks.7 The type of sugars in these juices pull water into the intestines, helping baby pass stool.
This technique should only be used cautiously, and only a small amount of juice is needed. Always contact baby’s pediatrician before trying it and to learn the amount they recommend using.
Note that juice is not recommended for infants younger than 1 year old at any other time.
If these dietary changes do not work, or if you are at all concerned, call the pediatrician.
Learn more: How do I Help my Breastfed Baby with Diarrhea and Constipation?
Is my toddler constipated?
Once in toddlerhood, constipation can occur if your child holds in his stools. The longer the stool stays in the colon, the harder it becomes since the body continues to absorb fluids from it. As more stool gets backed up, the colon stretches, making it more difficult for the colon to then push the stool out.
Some children delay passing stool because they don’t want to stop playing, others feel embarrassment or stress about using the bathroom, while sometimes stool-withholding stems from fear of a painful bowel movement.1
What are the signs of toddler constipation?
Dry, hard stools with pain upon passing
Blood streaks along the outside of the stool
Abdominal pain with hard and infrequent stools
Swollen or bloated abdominal
Pellet sized stools passed with straining or grunting
Standing on tiptoes and rocking back and forth
Clenching buttocks muscles
Making dancelike movements
Stool or urine in underwear1
Although constipation is more common in toddlers than babies, most cases aren’t serious and generally last a short amount of time. Even though most cases aren’t dangerous, it is important not to ignore symptoms or leave constipation untreated because it can lead to more serious health problems.
Tips for Toddlers with constipation
Keep your child hydrated
Keeping your child well hydrated will help alleviate and prevent constipation. Choose water as the main source of hydration and limit drinks such as fruit juices (and no juice under the age of 1).
And remember that in addition to fluids, fresh fruits and vegetables can also contribute to proper hydration.
Include lots of fiber in your child’s diet
The recommended amount of fiber for toddlers (children 1-3 years old) is about 14 grams of fiber per day.8
Include vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains in your child's diet to help meet this goal. Aim to provide a vegetable along with whole fiber-containing grains at each meal, a fruit with each snack, plus beans a couple times per week.
Examples of foods with fiber include:
Apples and pears (keep the skin on for added fiber), berries, prunes
Sweet potatoes, peas, broccoli, beans
Oatmeal and whole grain bread or pasta.
You can’t go wrong with vegetables and fruits so offer a variety daily.
Fiber amounts in foods
For reference, half a cup of cooked beans has about 6-9 grams of fiber, 1 small apple with skin has about 3 grams of fiber and half a cup of broccoli or greens has about 3 grams of fiber.
Check the nutrition facts panel on whole grains to determine the amount of fiber they provide.
Learn more about how much fiber is needed and where to get it:
Why does Fiber Matter for Babies, Tots, and Mama?
How can I Include more Whole Grains in my Diet?
Avoid too many low fiber foods
Examples of foods that are either low in or don’t have any fiber include cheese, chips, ice cream, white breads, and refined grains (such as white rice), and many processed foods.
Try swapping out low fiber foods for those high in fiber.
Will probiotics help?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria in foods that can help promote our health in different ways by colonizing in our gut. While current research is not firm on whether probiotics may help alleviate constipation, results are starting to look promising.1011
Chat with your child’s healthcare provider about introducing probiotic-rich foods into your child diet.
Learn more: Probiotics 101
Encourage your child to move their bowels
When potty training, ask your child frequently if they need to use the bathroom and visit the bathroom regularly even if your child does not ask to go. Help your child feel comfortable using the bathroom in places other than your own home.
If constipation persists, contact your healthcare provider
If your child is experiencing persistent constipation for 2 weeks, or constipation accompanied by fever, vomiting, blood in stool, swollen abdomen, or weight loss you should contact your child’s pediatrician.
Do not use treatments such as mineral oil, stimulant laxatives, or enemas without consulting your child’s pediatrician.
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Formula Preparation: What Type of Water Should I Use?
Should I Breastfeed my Baby On Demand or on a Schedule?
Should I Formula Feed On Demand or on a Schedule?
Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Milk Supply
Introducing Solids: First Foods and Advancing Textures