Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Best ways to Manage Constipation in Infants

Constipation in Infants

Babies from birth time up to one year, are called infants. Breastfed infants rarely face constipation problem. Compared to infants who feed on pure or formula milk, breastfed babies have easier and more bowel movements per day.

How do you identify? – The symptoms

  • He has fewer bowel movements than normal.
  • Absence of bowel movement for days.
  • Stools are hard and dry; expelled with great strain. If the child is very young, you can make out his constipation by his facial expressions and body movements. The twisted expression in his face indicates the strain he is undergoing during evacuation. His face may turn red.
  • Baby cries from pain during evacuation.
  • His body is restless.

Causes of constipation in infants
  • Dehydration. His body needs more water. Less water makes the stool hard and dry – balls like. Difficult to expel. As the stool stays longer in the colon, more water gets absorbed from the stool making it harder. Lack of water causes less lubrication in the colon, which makes stool movement even more difficult.
  • Change of diet from breast milk to formula milk.
  • Introduction of solid food in addition to regular liquid diet.
  • Certain medications – If the child is being treated for other health issues.
Babies do face constipation even otherwise, but change of diet is a major occasion in a child’s life that can upset his tender digestive system.

Managing constipation in infants

Infants below 6 months

If the child is below six months, it is better to take doctor’s help if he has serious symptoms like more pain during defecation, rectal bleeding etc.

But, if the symptoms are not serious, you can try a few things at home to ease his constipation:

  • The first thing is sufficient water intake. If you are giving more importance to his food (depending upon his age - milk, juices and solid foods) and neglecting water, feed him with more water.

    Remember, water is the most important at any age for proper bowel movement -drinking enough water is the first step. If he is already drinking proper quantity of water appropriate for his age, you don’t have to worry. But, it doesn’t happen inmost of the cases. Water is the last thing people think of – some mothers even discourage children from drinking water.

    How much water? - By the time your child completes 6 months, he should be drinking 1 glass of water (250ml) a day. By the time he completes 1 year, two glasses of water is required. You can easily estimate how much water he needs for any age below one year.

    Regular feed and water are two independent issues. Even though breast milk or formula milk contains water, you need to feed water separately to avoid constipation in infants and children.
  • Hard stool can be forced out by a little bit of exercise similar to Pavanmuktasana. Avoid laxatives and stool softeners. Apply some water based lubricant to the child’s anus. Make him lie down on his back with both the legs straight. Gently fold one leg at the knee and bend it such that it presses the abdomen. Do the same with the other leg. Doing it a few times can expel the hard stool.
  • Don’t feed much non-veg in any form. All non-veg foods have zero fiber. Fiber is very important for easy bowel movement. Put more vegetables and fruits in his diet.
Infants between 6 months and 1 year

If he is more than six months, you can try a few remedial measures at home. Mostly he will be alright within a few days and return to regular bowel movement. If the symptoms are severe or didn’t get relief within a few days, it is better to see your doctor.

  • If your child is old enough, encourage him to drink more water. Fresh fruit juices have good amount of water, but they can’t give all the benefits of drinking water. Water has a unique place in our daily diet.
  • In dealing with constipation in infants, you may use some stool softeners. They are less habit forming than laxatives. But, they are not to be used for a long time.
  • Give some fiber rich foods. Flax seeds, whole wheat, prunes and brown rice are some of the very good sources of fiber. Prunes also have mild laxatives that help in making the stool move easily. 

    Flax seeds: You may supplement with flax seed powder. You can powder flax seed easily by drying in the sun or by pre-heating. Mix the powder in milk or fruit juice.

    Pureed prunes: Prunes contain good amount of fiber. Cook them with apple, mash and use a strainer to separate the pulp. If you don’t get fresh prunes, you can use dried prunes too.

    Corn syrup: It is a popular home remedy. It makes the stool soft by drawing some water into the colon. But, the present commercially available syrups are nor very effective. Dosage: One teaspoonful of corn syrup in 50ml of water.

    A little bit of experimentation is required to decide upon the right quantity for your child.

    Fennel seeds: Add one teaspoonful of seeds in 50 oz of water and boil. Strain it and give 2 to 3 oz.                    


Good diet habits

Good food habits help a lot in preventing constipation in infants as well as children of all age groups.
  • Avoid packaged juices. Any packaged product contains many chemicals in the form of preservatives, insecticides (germ killers) etc.
  • Discourage your child form eating packaged foods, junk foods and any item prepared outside. On many occasions, constipation in infants and children originate from outside food.
  • Unhygienic utensils, chemicals used during preparation, adulterated ingredients and over-heated or repeatedly heated oil can cause constipation and numerous other health problems. While eating outside, they may drink contaminated water and soft drinks. Most of what they eat outside is junk food – low or zero fiber, zero nutrition value and empty calories.
  • Once the child gets addicted to junk foods, it is difficult to take him away from them. Avoid stuff made of polished food grains like white rice, flours like maida made out of polished grains. Once the bran is removed and processed to make it white, what is left out is mostly carbohydrates. Whole grains are good sources of fiber. Use brown rice in place of white rice. Go for whole wheat bread instead of bread made out of polished flour.

Constipation in infants, if identified and treated promptly, doesn’t trouble him for more than a few days. It is not correct to keep trying things at home for more days - take doctor’s advice.

Related Topics
  1. Constipation in children - How to deal with child constipation?
  2. What are the benefits of drinking water?
  3. Importance of drinking water.
  4. How much water to drink? The right quantity for different age groups.

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