Constipation in babies is a common condition in which infants experience hard, dry stools that do not pass easily. There are many different causes of constipation in babies, depending on their age, dietary habits, and general health. The most common cause is mild dehydration, which can usually be remedied by consuming more water and juices. Infants under four months old who drink breast milk rarely become constipated, though formula-fed babies are more often subject to digestive problems. Babies older than four months may experience constipation symptoms as they transition from liquid diets to solid foods.
Breast milk is naturally regulated to ensure that infants receive the right amounts of protein, nutrients, and fat. It is very uncommon, therefore, for a breastfed baby to experience digestive problems and resulting constipation. Some types of commercial formula, however, can lead to constipation in babies. Formula milk is generally more difficult for an infant to digest, and most bottle-fed babies produce firmer, less frequent stools than breastfed babies. Passing thicker than normal stools less than once a day may be a sign that a bottle-fed baby is suffering from constipation, and may need to switch formulas according to a pediatrician's advice.
Babies usually begin eating solid foods between the ages of four to seven months. It is very common for babies to experience mild constipation during this time period, as their bodies must learn to adjust to a drastic change in diet. Certain baby foods, such as rice cereal, strained bananas, and carrots often contribute to harder stools and constipation. Foods that are high in dietary fiber, such as prunes, can promote healthy bowel movements as a baby's body becomes accustomed to solids.
An infant whose constipation cannot be contributed to formula or other causes may be a result of dehydration. Infants, children, and adults can all become constipated when they do not intake enough fluid. The body tries to make up for a lack of fluid by absorbing water from the intestines, causing fecal matter to become hard and dry. When dehydration is determined to be the cause of constipation in babies, parents can supply frequent, small amounts of water or juice to restore fluid levels and promote easier bowel movements.
Parents who notice that their baby is frequently constipated should consult a pediatrician immediately. Doctors might suggest dietary changes, over-the-counter laxatives, enemas, or stool softeners. Most infants recover from their symptoms within one to two weeks, though it is possible that constipation in babies is caused by a more serious medical condition, such as hypothyroidism. A knowledgeable pediatrician can check for underlying medical causes and suggest the best remedies for relieving symptoms.