Constipation in a baby – what to do? harm the baby?

Constipation in babies occurs for functional reasons, and just a few suggestions are enough so that this situation does not become a tenacious and irritating disorder for the child and the family. During the first few weeks, if the newborn attaches to the breast, his stool is usually semi-liquid, although he retains the stool for a few days. This is perhaps due to the type of lactose that breast milk contains.

On the other hand, if the child is fed powdered milk, the stool may be more difficult, even if it has only been a day since the previous bowel movement. For reasons that are still unclear, powdered milk favors the hardening of stools, producing constipation in babies .

The baby is said to be constipated when bowel movements not only occur at intervals of two or more days between them, but cause discomfort to the little one, which is precisely why he instinctively tries to hold back stool to avoid the discomfort felt during the bowel movement.

What is constipation in a baby?

Constipation in a baby is a pathological disorder that decreases the frequency of stools and becomes more solid and hard. When a child needs to have a bowel movement but is unable to do so with the normal frequency, he or she begins to feel pain and may even be afraid to defecate.

However, the breastfed child rarely lashes out as it is easily digested and promotes intestinal maturation and the growth of intestinal bacteria beneficial for defecation. In the large intestine of infants, these bacteria ensure water retention, so that the stool softens, facilitating bowel movements.

In contrast, bottle-fed children experience constipation more often because they find it more difficult to digest powdered milk. Also, bottle-fed babies typically have fewer bowel movements (peristalsis) than breast-fed babies. Their stools are thicker and have a different greenish color.

What is constipation in a baby like?

The normal frequency of bowel movements in the baby varies between once and several times a day. Up to two or three months of age, the child frequently passes yellow stools and does so after each feeding.

If left untreated, constipation in a baby can cause an intestinal blockage that will require surgery.

In addition, constipation in a baby can also be a symptom of a more serious medical problem. For this reason, it is very important to know how to detect constipation in a newborn and how to treat it.

When is constipation in a baby due to a dysfunction?

Only in very rare cases is constipation in a baby a symptom of more serious problems such as congenital megacolon or hypothyroidism , which is a lack of thyroid hormone. Nowadays, this last dysfunction is diagnosed very soon, precisely thanks to the neonatal examination that is routinely performed in the hospital immediately after birth. Treatment consists of administration of thyroid hormone.

Congenital megacolon (or Hirschsprung’s disease) can be of hereditary origin and involves very great difficulty, and even the impossibility of having a bowel movement. In these cases, the child needs more than 48 hours to evacuate the meconium, a dark substance that occupies the intestine at birth, and the belly swells in the first few days.

The reason for this dysfunction lies in the fact that a part, even if small, of the colon does not contract normally, due to the lack of certain nerve cells in the muscular layer, which prevents the passage of feces and favors constipation in a baby . This problem is usually diagnosed in the first days or months of life and requires surgical treatment.

When is baby constipation due to behavior?

If constipation  occurs in a child around two years old, around the time you usually remove the diaper, it could be a sign of a rebellion against the parents trying to get him used to the potty. In these situations, babies may retain stool for a few days. Usually, parents, for fear that the child will suffer an intestinal blockage, tend to intervene with laxatives, suppositories or enemas, which increases the risk of intolerance.

To solve the problem, you need to be convinced that the retention of feces, even for many days, cannot cause intestinal obstruction and, for that reason, can intervene without the use of coercive means. It is good to never talk about the problem with or in front of the child, administer substances that soften the stool, and hope that the child outgrows the disorder.

What to do in case of constipation in a baby:

Some molecules (such as maltodestrin and lactulose), if added to a child’s diet in sufficient quantity, can facilitate bowel movements. These substances are not digested by the intestine and, by an osmotic mechanism, retain water, softening the stool. Therefore, the pediatrician may suggest introducing very fine powdered malt or lactulose into the baby’s diet, which is an artificial sugar.

Also some medicines based on aluminum hydroxide and magnesium can soften the stool. These medications must be administered under the pediatrician’s control, as they must be used for long periods of time, so that they have an effect and solve the problem of constipation in babies . They are not addictive.

What not to do in case of constipation in a baby:

It is often advisable to feed a constipated child plenty of fruit and vegetables, but there are experts who believe that there is no conclusive evidence that food can have an appreciable impact on this problem. Therefore, you should offer your child these foods, but you don’t have to insist that they eat them at all costs.

On the other hand, laxatives are contraindicated because they irritate the colon and cause addiction.

Complications of constipation in babies:

While constipation in a baby can be uncomfortable, it’s usually not serious. However, if constipation becomes chronic, complications can occur, such as the following:

  • Painful pain in the skin covering the anus (anal fissures).
  • Rectal prolapse (when the rectum comes out of the anus).
  • Stool retention.
  • Avoid defecation due to pain, which causes retained stools to accumulate in the colon and rectum and leak (encopresis).

How to prevent constipation in baby:

Useful links: 

To help prevent constipation in babies :

  • Offer your child fiber-rich foods. Serve your child high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole-grain breads and cereals. If your child isn’t used to a high-fiber diet, start by incorporating a few grams of fiber a day to prevent gas and bloating.
  • Encourage your child to drink lots of fluids. Water is usually the best option.
  • Promote physical activity. Regular physical activity helps to encourage normal bowel function.
  • Create an evacuation routine. Regularly allow time after meals for your child to go to the bathroom. If necessary, place a stool so your child can sit comfortably on the toilet and have enough support to loosen stool.
  • Remind your child of the importance of responding to nature’s call. Some children become so involved in the game that they ignore the need to have a bowel movement. If these delays occur frequently, they can promote constipation.
  • Check Medication. If your child takes medication that causes constipation, ask your doctor about other options.

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