Constipation in Babies: Signs & How To Help

Look, no-one likes to talk about poop, but it’s one of the things you’ll find yourself thinking and talking about the most in your early days, weeks and months at home with a new baby. So let’s get into the subject: constipation.


What’s normal?

Before we can talk about abnormal poop, we need to know what it looks like on a normal schedule. Newborn and young babies should be on an exclusive milk diet until they are at least 6 months old, according to the WHO. Depending on your situation, that means either breast-milk, formula, or a combination of the two.


Breastmilk vs. formula

Breastfed babies and formula-fed babies have different pooping normals. Breastmilk is highly nutritious and varies on a daily basis to meet the needs of your specific baby. That means that it is quite often almost entirely absorbed leaving breastfed babies to poop less at a time and less frequently.

Baby formula is man-made and does not vary at all. It is as nutritious as possible, but cannot be absorbed as much or as well as formula. That means that formula-fed babies tend to poop more and more often.

Additionally, newborn babies poop far more often as their digestive systems are so small and they are still processing meconium and getting used to digesting their milk. 


What does normal pooping look like?

Young babies often strain to poop and get red in the face while they do it. That’s pretty normal — though it can look alarming if you’ve not seen it before. Those are not in themselves signs of constipation.


What does constipation look like?

Constipation is defined as:

  • Having fewer than one poop at least every 5-10 days.
  • Having hard, pebbly poops.
  • Has an extra difficult time having a poop, taking longer than 10 minutes of trying and sometimes doesn’t succeed.
  • Is having considerably less frequent or more frequent poops than is their norm.

If your baby has very dark, almost black, or bloody poops it is a good time to chat with your healthcare practitioner just to rule out any other potential problems. But if your baby does have constipation, here are a few things you can try.


How to help

If your baby is, indeed, constipated the good news is that you can help! If your baby has just transitioned to formula, expect constipation. Give them a couple of weeks to get used to it, unless they are very uncomfortable. Then switch to something gentler. You can also:

  • Gently rub your baby’s tummy in a clockwise direction.
  • Gently cycle your baby’s legs back and forth to stimulate their digestive muscles.
  • Give your baby a warm bath to relieve any discomfort and relax their muscles.

Constipation is relatively common among babies, especially formula-fed babies. It is generally no cause for serious concern, but if you are worried talk it over with your healthcare practitioner.