Real Mom Talk: The Scoop on Poop
Baby Constipation Tips and Tricks for Little Ones
I don’t think I ever used the word “poop” more than a few times a year before I had kids. Then suddenly I had babies and found myself telling my husband about the day’s poop as soon as he walked in the door at night. While my babies never suffered much with constipation, I’m rather familiar with constipation in the slightly older human form, having carried a screaming child clutching their tummy to get abdominal-rays at the ER and to a whole series of doctor’s appointments to get the problem cleared up. Turns out some mom had been letting her offspring eat too much refined junk food and not enough fiber. Yes, even I, your crunchy organic veggie-loving blogger, had given into the endless demands for things made with white flour.
This week we got an inquiry from a mom about a new product on the market from Wellements® called “BabyMove.” She wanted to know if we’ve ever tried it and if we had any other tips about handling constipation in babies. I’m happy to say that we have on our team a pediatrician (Dr. Auxier of Gilbert Pediatrics in Gilbert, AZ), a pediatric nurse (JoAnn Street, LPN), and a whole community of moms who were only too happy to sit down and talk poop with us. So if this is a problem plaguing your little ones, read on.
First of all, the first person to talk to about constipation in your babies is your doctor. There are a few (rare) scenarios in which constipation can indicate a serious medical problem. If your baby is constipated in their first two weeks of life, this warrants an immediate call to your doctor. Also if they are bloated, throwing up all their feeds, inconsolable or unusually fussy, call. If they are constipated and lethargic, it could be a case of infant botulism which is definitely an emergency. Remember that warning on the honey jar not to feed to infants under one year? That’s one way they can get infant botulism.
Scary scenarios aside, let’s look at some average, run-of-the-mill hard poop problems. The medical definition of constipation is literally (according to Dr. Auxier), “hard poop.” So it’s not just that your baby hasn’t pooped in a while (breastfed babies can have no bowel movements for up to a week without undue concern, except you know you’d better be ready for the coming poopcalypse). Real constipation refers to hard poop that they are straining to get out and is blocking those little pipes. Note: most babies make interestingly comic and sometimes horrific faces and sounds while having a bowel movement, but if it comes out soft, you’re not dealing with constipation. We’re talking hard little rabbit pellets rolling out of the diaper and onto the floor, or worse, big pellets that are very painful to pass.
Solutions to Try
Neither of our medical professionals nor any of the moms we polled were familiar with BabyMove, but Dr. Auxier had a look at the ingredients and said that since prune concentrate is the first ingredient, it’s probably going to do the trick. I like the fact that it doesn’t have a lot of extra unnecessary chemicals and artificial colors and flavors in it. However, Dr. Auxier also mentioned that just going to the store and buying prune juice will have the same effect. Apple juice can also help; whichever you choose, give it to them straight, not diluted.
Here’s some other tips you can try:
For babies exclusively breast feeding or drinking formula:
- For formula-feeders, try out different varieties and see if that helps. One of our moms, Sahra Affleck at Gentle Arrivals Doula Services in Highland, Utah, has seen goat milk formula to work well for some babies. For breastfeeding babies she suggests cutting dairy out of your diet for at least two weeks. Other things you might need to try cutting out are gluten, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables.
- Sahra also suggests finding a pediatric chiropractor: “Look for someone ICPA certified,” she says. “If the sacrum or hips are out of alignment it can cause intestinal torsion and blockages.”
- A warm bath, tummy massage, cycling the baby’s legs, and taking the baby’s temperature with a rectal thermometer (which can jump start things rather quickly, be warned!) are all popular techniques in our mom community.
- Prune juice concentrate in their bottle once a day can really help, but this is something you want to definitely discuss with your doctor before trying with a baby who hasn’t had any solid foods yet.
For kids and older babies eating solids:
- If they are just transitioning to solids, don’t go heavy on the rice cereal, which can contribute to constipation. Introducing smooth-pureed fruits and veggies first may be better.
- Feed them whole grains and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Avoid refined foods with low fiber as much as possible.
- One mom found that giving her child chopped canned pears or peaches (packed in water with no sugar or syrup) every day totally solved the problem, but she notes that she has to stay on top of things and do it consistently. One of our Nepali moms uses raisins for this purpose. Soak them in warm water or juice to make them soft and not a choking hazard. You can do this with prunes and dried apricots as well, soaked and chopped into small pieces.
- If you’re going to try the prune or pear juice method, soak some ground flax seeds or chia seeds until soft in the juice for them to eat. That will really give it some extra kick. Note: I have (unintentionally) proved the worth of chia seeds for loosening things up when I was on a chia-seed chocolate pudding kick, which might be your answer if your child refuses other methods. What kid is going to say no to chocolate pudding?
- We’ve had several moms refer us to essential oils for constipation issues; apparently there is an oil blend called “Magic Fairy Poop.” No doubt you know who your EO mom-friends are and they’d be happy to help you whip up this remedy.
- Most doctors will recommend MiraLax® to clear out backed up poop and your child may need to be on it for a while to allow the bowels to return to their normal shape. Bowels that have been stretched by compacted stool can leave areas where poop can stick around, harden, and start the whole process over again. Your pediatrician will share with you their Constipation Protocol on how to administer the MiraLax®, usually with some extra-heavy doses at the beginning and then a maintenance dose while things return to normal. This is a several day process and your child is going to have to stay close to the potty. Don’t send them to school during the beginning stage, embarrassing accidents are almost guaranteed and it’s not likely to be very comfy for them either.
- Finally, it’s easier to solve this problem if you act fast. It can be hard to keep tabs on the bowel movements of a child who can wipe themselves, so if constipation is a chronic issue, you may need to tell them not to flush until you have personally seen what is in the toilet bowl (I’m tellin’ ya, the things we never imagined we’d have to do before kids). If it’s big, hard, or turning into round pellets, you need to kick into gear and get rolling with your remedy. The longer you wait, the harder and more backed-up it’s going to get. Also, kids that deal with constipation all the time start losing the sensation that they need to poop, or get scared that they might have a painful bowel movement and wait even longer. As soon as I notice the signs in our house (usually here it’s complaining of pain in the lower left abdomen- a classic symptom), I start making them drink Natural Calm + Calcium, which comes in a Raspberry-Lemon flavor that my kids get excited about. You could just as well use MiraLax®, but my kids are more ready to jump at “Yummy Raspberry-Lemon Drink!” and it works well. The main active ingredient in Natural Calm + Calcium is Magnesium Citrate, which gives it the yummy citrus flavor.
I hope we’ve covered absolutely everything you need to know about hard poop today, but if we’ve forgotten some miracle remedy you think we should know, leave a comment! We’re always ready to talk more poop here at Mommy Medicine!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (5/26/2017) Jessica Merz (Flickr)