Practical advice for new parents

Newborn Constipation

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Newborn constipation is a difficult condition to diagnose for parents as all newborns are different and the frequency of bowel movements will vary greatly from infant to infant. Not only that, but the individual pattern of bowel movements can also change for your baby from day to day, week to week.

Most parents associate newborn constipation simply with the absence of any bowel movements over a period of time, but this absence of bowel movements is not necessarily caused by newborn constipation (although constipation might indeed be the cause). It is perfectly normal for babies to have bowel movements as infrequently as once or twice a week, even if they have had movements more frequently previously. Therefore the main factor you should be looking at when trying to determine if your baby is suffering from constipation is to see if the stools are hard and are (or have been) painful to pass. The stools themselves might be similar in appearance to small rocks or pebbles, and not the runny/semi-solid stools usually present. If your newborn appears to be comfortable when passing stools, even if relatively infrequently, and the stools themselves appear as normal, then there should be little to be concerned about (although by all means talk to your doctor if you have any concerns at all).

Newborn constipation - what can you do?

Obviously, if you feel your baby is suffering from constipation, you should consult with your doctor or health professional as soon as is possible. In the interim you should look first to the diet that you are giving your newborn. If bottle feeding, make sure that you are mixing the formula correctly, with the right amount of water being added. Try increasing the water amount slightly and see if that has any effect. If you are breast feeding your baby, keep in mind that the mother's diet will affect the breast milk that the baby is taking in, so it's vitally important that the mother takes care in what she eats.

If your baby is older (over 6 months), you could try introducing good old-fashioned prune juice into his/her diet. Start with just tiny amounts at first (but you may have to mix the juice in with other drinks in order to get them to take it) and gradually increase the dosage as necessary (up to about 2 ounces / 50 grams). Do this twice a day and monitor the results, keeping in mind that it might take a few days to see any improvement. If you have no prune juice you could try alternatives (such as grape juice, apple juice or pear juice) or by mashing up small amounts of high-fibre fruits or vegetables (some examples are lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, carrots, turnips, carrots, figs and raspberries). Do not give any over-the-counter medications or treatments to your newborn without consulting your doctor first and under no circumstances should you give laxatives to your newborn to alleviate constipation. Also make sure to call your doctor immediately if you notice any passing of blood with the stools, or if there is excessive pain associated with the bowel movements.

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