Baby constipation should always be cause for parental concern.
Some doctors prefer to chalk up baby bowel movements as within normal parameters even if they are as infrequent as once a week, however, a more holistically minded practicioner who understands the critical importance of gut balance and bowel regularity to overall health would likely come to a far different assessment of the situation.
While there is certainly room for individual variation in the bowel habits of babies, once every two days should be considered a minimum by those parents who seek to ensure that their child’s digestive tract is functioning optimally.
What if your baby is clearly constipated and you do not wish to utilize any medications such as an infant suppository, which should only be a last resort? What natural approaches could prove helpful to relieving the situation?
If Your Baby Is Fed Commercial Formula
Most of the time, if a baby is constipated, the food source is one of the many brands of commercial formula on the market. It’s no surprise that babies fed commercial formula can tend toward constipation due to the worrisome ingredients that make up these products.
Commercial milk based baby formulas are, simply put, dangerous concoctions of denatured milk proteins and rancid vegetable oils which do a number on a baby’s digestive system. Even the organic dairy formulas are not a wise choice as the violent processing is similar even if the ingredients are not as toxic.
Hypoallergenic formulas are even worse as they contain an endocrine disrupting quantity of soy isoflavones that has the very real potential to damage your child’s delicate and developing hormonal system.
The good news is that it is possible to make a nourishing formula for your baby yourself at home with quality ingredients that you source yourself. If you’ve never considered this option before, click here for a video which shows you exactly what to do and why you should consider doing it.
In a good share of cases, the simple act of switching baby off commercial formulas and onto a nourishing and much more digestible homemade formula will resolve the constipation issue.
If Baby is Still Constipated on the Homemade Formula
In those cases where a baby is still struggling to have bowel movements at least once every two days even while on the homemade formula, the following options can be considered and implemented at the parent’s discretion:
- Constipation is more frequent with the homemade goat milk formula than the cows milk formula, possibly because goat milk is low in B12. If you are using goat milk to make the homemade formula, switch to cow milk and see if the situation improves.
- Substitute homemade kefir, yogurt, or buttermilk made with raw milk instead of the sweet whole milk in the homemade formula recipe.
- Add a few additional tablespoons of cream to each 36 ounce batch of homemade formula.
- Reduce the amount of water in each batch of formula by 1/4 cup and increase the amount of liquid whey to 1/2 cup.
- Increase the bifidobacterium infantis, the recommended probiotic in the homemade formula, from 1/4 tsp to 1/2 tsp per batch.
- Coconut oil helps loosen things in some cases so increasing from 2 tsp to 1 Tbl per batch of homemade formula may prove helpful.
- Add 1 tsp of molasses to each batch of homemade formula.
- Give baby a little prune juice in a bottle.
- Give the baby Digestive Tea in a bottle. To make Digestive Tea, a folk remedy for treating constipation/gas in babies, take 2 cups fresh anise leaves and 2 cups fresh mint leaves. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and pour over the herbs. Let steep until the water cools. Strain. Give tepid tea in a bottle to the baby, 4 ounces at a time (recipe from Nourishing Traditions, Chapter on Feeding Babies).
Watch the Finger Foods
One final suggestion is to avoid feeding baby any grain based foods in the first year of life. Amylase, the enzyme necessary to digest carbohydrates, is produced in only small amounts by a baby’s digestive system before age one and so following a conventional doctor’s advice to put rice cereal in a baby bottle (to encourage the child to sleep through the night) or feeding the child rice cereal as a first food is incredibly misguided and a potential disaster for a baby’s developing gut environment.
Also, if the baby is eating any refined grains such as Cheerios, teething biscuits etc (many Moms start these foods as soon as the child is sitting unassisted around 6 months) these should be stopped as these contribute to gut imbalance and perhaps constipation. No bread rolls or salad crackers for baby to chew on while in a high chair at a restaurant either!
If you are looking for an ideal early food, gelatin from homemade bone broths is incredibly soothing to a baby’s digestive tract and is very nourishing as opposed to those undigestible grain based foods. Frequent gelatin in the diet goes a long way toward helping to resolve constipation issues. Click here for a video which illustrates another ideal early food for baby that encourages proper development and balance of the gut.
Constipated Babies That are Breastfed
As little as ten to fifteen years ago, it was almost unheard of for a breastfed baby to be constipated. In fact, the baby books at that time almost universally stated that breastfed babies don’t get constipated.
Nowadays, however, this situation is becoming more commonplace and the continuing decline in the quality of the diet of nursing mothers is a likely reason.
While it is an unpopular position within the breastfeeding community, the diet of the mother clearly impacts the quality of her breastmilk (fats, vitamins and minerals in breastmilk vary considerably based on the mother’s diet although protein and immunoglobulins do not) and studies such as the Chinese Breastmilk Study confirm this.
Suggesting that a lactating mother can eat whatever she wants and still produce quality breastmilk is also irresponsible and defies all common sense and historical study of healthy traditional cultures which put great emphasis on the quality of the diet of nursing mothers.
Generally speaking, a constipated baby that is breastfed is going to have a mother with gut dysbiosis issues, which means that she has an imbalanced gut herself and likely suffers from symptoms like constipation, gas, reflux, bloating, heartburn, IBS, ulcerative colitis or even skin issues such as eczema or psoriasis.
While the best way to remedy gut dysbiosis is, hands down, the GAPS Diet, this diet is not recommended during either pregnancy or lactation.
How to remedy a nursing mother’s gut issues without the GAPS Diet and thereby help her constipated baby? Well, there isn’t an easy answer to this question, but no doubt, getting off of all processed foods and eating a minimal amount of grain based carbohydrates that are traditionally prepared would likely help tremendously. Going completely off grains per GAPS is not a good idea as grains, particularly soaked cereal gruels, are known historically to encourage ample milk supply, so continuing to eat them in moderation is wise during lactation.
Elimination of pasteurized dairy and processed wheat would be a good first step if you are a breastfeeding mother with a constipated baby. I remember when I was nursing my youngest child and she would spit up for an entire day and sometimes two days if I ate any processed wheat at all. The wheat I carefully prepared at home with fresh flour that was either soaked or sprouted did not give her any issues at all, however. Similarly, my firstborn child had terrible gas and digestive problems when I consumed organic milk which is typically ultrapasteurized and hence a very allergenic food due to the denatured proteins from the obscenely high heat processing.
The bottom line if you are breastfeeding and have a constipated baby is to look to improve your diet and you will likely find your baby will have easier digestion and greater ease passing stools. And, once you wean, consider the GAPS Diet as a way to heal your gut once and for all so that your next baby doesn’t have the same digestive issues when breastfeeding.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist