A definitive guide to the causes of baby constipation and natural approaches for resolving it whether your child is breastfed, formula-fed, or already eating solids.
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 practitioner understands the critical importance of gut balance and bowel regularity. Such a doctor would likely come to a far different assessment of the situation. It pays to get a second opinion!
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 obviously constipated and you do not wish to utilize any medications? These would include an infant suppository, which should only be used as a last resort anyway. What natural approaches could prove helpful to relieving the situation?
Baby Constipation Usually Linked to Commercial Formula
Most of the time, baby constipation can be traced to one of the many brands of commercial formula. This would include organic formula. It’s no surprise that babies fed commercial formula can tend toward constipation due to the worrisome, indigestible ingredients.
Commercial milk-based baby formulas are, simply put, dangerous concoctions of denatured milk proteins and rancid, cheap, usually GMO vegetable oils. They do a number on a baby’s digestive system. Even the organic formulas are not a wise choice as 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. These phytoestrogens have 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, this article plus video shows you exactly how to make homemade formula and explains 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.
Difficulty Passing Stools if Using Homemade Formula
What if baby is still struggling to have bowel movements at least once every two days even while on the homemade formula?
Consider the following ten options that a parent can implement at his/her discretion in that situation:
- Baby constipation is more frequent with the homemade goat milk formula than the cows milk formula. This is possibly because goat milk is low in B12. If you are using goat milk to make the homemade formula, switch to cow milk or camel milk and see if the situation improves.
- Substitute homemade kefir, yogurt, or buttermilk made with raw milk instead of the plain whole milk portion of the recipe.
- Add a few additional tablespoons of cream to each 36-ounce batch.
- Reduce the amount of water in each batch of formula by 1/4 cup.
- Increase the amount of liquid whey in each batch 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 dark molasses to each batch of homemade formula. Do not substitute dark karo syrup.
- 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. 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.
Moreover, it is a potential disaster for a baby’s developing gut environment. Even Health Canada recommends meat as a baby first food over grains! This is in line with the practice of healthy ancestral cultures.
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 immediately. Refined foods 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. It is very nourishing too as opposed to those indigestible grain-based foods. Frequent gelatin in the diet goes a long way toward helping to resolve constipation issues. It can be mashed with cooked veggies for easy eating. This article plus video illustrates another ideal first food for baby that encourages proper development and balance of the gut.
Can Breastfeeding Babies Get Constipated?
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, this situation is becoming more commonplace. 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. 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. It defies all common sense and historical study of healthy traditional cultures. These ancestral societies wisely put great emphasis on the quality of nursing mothers’ diet.
Generally speaking, baby constipation in a child that is breastfed is directly related to a mother’s gut dysbiosis issues. This means that she suffers from an imbalanced gut and likely exhibits symptoms like constipation, gas, reflux, bloating, heartburn, IBS, or ulcerative colitis. Chronic skin issues like eczema or psoriasis may also be present. Usually, such a mother took the contraceptive Pill, which is highly destructive to the gut environment.
While the best way to remedy gut dysbiosis is, hands down, the GAPS Diet, this protocol is not recommended during either pregnancy or lactation. This is due to the pathogen die-off that occurs from resolving gut imbalance issues. The toxins from this healing process could end up in the breastmilk.
Fixing a Breastfeeding Mom’s Diet
How to remedy a nursing mother’s gut issues without the GAPS Diet and help her constipated baby? There isn’t an easy answer to this question. No doubt, getting off 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, however. Grains, particularly soaked cereal gruels, are known historically to encourage ample milk supply. As a result, continuing to eat them in moderation is wise during lactation.
Elimination of pasteurized dairy and processed wheat is a good first step if you are a breastfeeding mother with a constipated baby. When I nursed my youngest child, she would spit up for an entire day and sometimes two if I ate any processed wheat. Even a single bite from a roll at a restaurant sent her over the edge. 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 had terrible infant gas and digestive problems when I consumed organic ultrapasteurized milk. This is a very allergenic food due to the denatured proteins from the obscenely high heat processing.
The bottom line is that if you are breastfeeding and have a constipated baby, look to improve your diet first. You will likely find your baby will have easier digestion and greater ease passing stools right away. And, once you wean, consider the GAPS Diet as a way to heal your gut once and for all. Then, your next baby won’t have the same digestive issues when breastfeeding.
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Thank you! I will give that a go, I haven’t tried that.
By the way she is nearly 2
Hello! So my baby did fine on the homemade cow milk formula from 10-13 months. I switched her to just raw cow milk after that and she suffered from severe chronic comstipation. The doctors of course never suggested it was milk, just said the usual: no bananas, more fiber, lots of water etc. I changed her to homemade coconut milk tonic because she has a spell every month of throwing up all day for about 2 days. It’s too soon to tell if milk was causing this, it’s only been a few weeks. But her constipation went away completely! I found a goat farm and began trying raw goat milk with her because I know animal milk has more nutrients. I can see she is beginning to get constipated again…do you have any suggestions or advice for me? I don’t know that “remedies” will help if it’s just an issue with milk.
Sarah Pope MGA
I’ve not personally witnessed much benefit to remedies with milk sensitivity. Not saying they wouldn’t work, just that my experience with them isn’t positive. They do work for other things though!
It sounds like you switched her to raw cow milk from the formula at one go. That frequently can cause constipation. It’s better to go gradually. Since she did well on the homemade formula (which is diluted and not full strength milk), my suggestion would be to try smaller amounts of plain raw cow milk and/or mixing with the coconut milk tonic and gradually increase until she is able to tolerate it undiluted.
Constipation is also very frustrating for me as a mom of 1 years old. I hope these ideas are helful. I will try it for my son
Thanks for sharing
Aloha, thank you for the article I found some good information. I have 3 children all whom were breastfed beyond 1 year, I am currently nursing my 3rd child who is 11 months now and has had what we thought was constipation but it turned out to be him withholding his stool. I drove myself insane because I am a healthy 35 year old, I don’t eat dairy or red meat, I don’t eat fast food, and I try to buy all organic plus I am vegetable and fruit obsessed. So maybe in another article you should mention to breastfeeding mothers that it could be stool withholding on the babies part. Like I said I drove myself insane with this because we as moms read these articles and think “it’s gotta be my fault” and that isn’t always right. I went thru baby X-rays, flying my baby to another island to a Pediactric GI dr, crappy miralax and lactulose for months, fiber, goats milk yogurt, probiotics, no dairy yogurt, you name it I did it. Then I found the calm magnesium drink and that is the only thing that has helped him so that he can’t hold it in. Just thought Id share because I found ZERO info on this for a baby so young.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your next write ups thanks
Hello there! First off, thank you so much for the article. It was extremely helpful for me and I took a lot out of it. I’m a holistic mom and don’t like to give baby meds if I absolutely don’t have to. Anyway, my eight month old has been terribly constituted and now I am understanding more why: grains in her diet and my own. I was wondering if you have a separate article or reading anywhere that would recommend a diet specifically for the breastfeeding mother? I do well with lists and guidelines. If you do, that would be great! Otherwise I’ll keep doing my research! Thank you again for all of your time and efforts!
Martha Ayers, Tampa FL
I have 5 month old breastfed twins. One has a bowl movement every 2-3 days and the other about once a week (sometimes more) I follow the weston price diet (raw milk, homemade kefir, soaked grains, bone broth, grassfed beef etc). Now I’m not perfect. I do eat things here and there that aren’t good for me. Any recommendations. The baby that doesn’t have a bowl movement often is also smaller and has a harder time gaining weight.
I would recommend the suggestions in this article above.
Thank you, Sarah. I have ordered the powdered liver from Radiant Life. Hopefully this smooths things out. If not, I will continue to try your other suggestions above.
I have a two month old baby whom I’m giving the goat milk version of the W.A.P. formula. They are my grass fed goats and fed non GMO feed. He is happy, thriving, peaceful and content almost always. (I had to make the painful decision to give up breastfeeding due to a lost battle with his tongue tie issue.). The ONLY struggle I’m having is that his bowel movements are hard, occasionally. He seems to have one hard dry (sometimes painful) bowl movement and then what follows in that same bowel movement is soft and more normal consistency. I have tried some of the variations that you mentioned above – and the molasses seems to help him a lot. Is it okay that I add the molasses each time I make the formula? Any danger there? Can you explain why I might try adding 1/4 cup less water? I’m so worried that I might cause him more trouble. Just curious as to how less water in the formula might aid in resolving this constipation issue. I am not adding the liver to the mixture currently, but following all other things to the “T” and have purchased everything from radiant life. He had belly aches with the cow milk version which is why I started using the goat milk and seems perfectly fine other than the hard BMs. THANK YOU.
You really do need to add the desiccated liver to the goat formula. It is very important to ensure the baby gets enough folate and B12. This can help with the constipation issues too!