Generally, constipation in adults is very common, but it is believed to occur more frequently in babies and children. Many cases can occur mainly during the first months of life because the coordination between bowel movements and the relaxation of the sphincter of the anus has not matured sufficiently yet. Constipation is characterised by difficulty or inability to evacuate, and can be noticed in the baby, who generally presents specific features.
These problems can cause stress for parents, who sometimes need help from a psychologist because of the strain of parenting.
How to recognise if the baby is constipated?
Constipation occurs mainly because babies are not born knowing how to evacuate and their digestive system is not yet fully trained and mature. The process is slow, and must be learned.
The main signs of constipation in babies and children include:
- Pain and bloating in the abdomen.
- Hard or dry stools.
- Feeling of discomfort and constant hiccups.
- Appearance of fluid stains or feces in the nappy or underwear
- Difficulty or discomfort in passing a bowel movement
- Having fewer than 3 bowel movements in a week
- Painful bowel movements.
It is important to stress that if any of the symptoms mentioned are identified, seek a specialist for further evaluation and the choice of a correct treatment.
Generally, the frequency of bowel movements decreases as the baby grows, for instance, after 2 months, he/she starts to have a bowel movement once or twice a day. However, it all depends on the type of diet and its nature.
On very rare occasions, the cause of constipation can be an underlying condition such as Hirschsprung’s disease, a congenital condition such as that resulting from a lack of neurons in the baby’s colon muscles that affects the large intestine (colon), causing bowel problems; or some diseases such as cystic fibrosis (infection affecting the lungs, pancreas, liver and intestines) or hypothyroidism (the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones to meet the body’s needs).
How to prevent or remedy baby constipation?
In many cases, infant constipation starts when solid food is introduced, or due to a lack of fibre. Therefore, changes can be made which include:
Water or natural fruit juice:
It is a good idea to let the baby drink some plain water or juice, regardless of the usual diet. A plum, apple or pear juice that contains sorbitol (a sweetener that acts as a laxative) is also recommended. This will help soften the stool a little and prevent it from being retained in the intestines.
Anti-constipation super milks can be used, indicated to help the baby not to get stressed, easing the problem. Again, under the guidance of a specialist.
Massages can help babies to evacuate. Bend baby’s legs over the abdomen, while making circular movements, place your hand on baby’s tummy (i.e. at the navel) and start to massage deeply horizontally with the base of your fingers and the palm of your hand. You can also massage his back with up and down movements, which will help him to defecate.
Use of suppositories
The use of glycerine suppository is very common as it helps both babies and children to evacuate. However, in babies it can be a risk as the tip does not offer safety and can cause injury.
However, one can supplement the diet by adding foods that help relieve and fight constipation in babies. These foods should be rich in fibre, as they facilitate digestion. It is necessary to consult the paediatrician before adding these new foods to the baby or child’s diet.
The introduction of purées or porridges can be accompanied by:
Remember that you can increase water intake and exercise with your baby or child, this helps relieve constipation. Foods that can be avoided are: bananas, carrots, rice and refined flours.
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