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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Our 5 month old baby has been on cow milk WAP formula for over a month. He has hard painful stools and after trying different suggestions you’ve made, we see good results when adding 1 tsp molasses to the daily formula. Can you please tell us if we should add this to the formula permanently or only when constipation occurs. Would it cause any issues if we add molasses daily? Thank you so much for all you do.
Hi Sarah, I’m getting back to you after giving it a few months testing. I want to say thank you so much for your advice! Such a small change to make and a lot of issues went away! I started diluting her raw cow milk by about half with water like the homemade formula does. She has not suffered with constipation in months now, the sick “spells” she was experiencing have not surfaced for about 4 months now, and her flaky scalp cleared up too! I have her now to where she is getting about 4 oz milk with 2 oz water. I will continue sloooowwwwwlyyyyy lessening the water over the next few months still until she doesn’t need it anymore and hoping there are no more upset stomachs either! Thanks again so much! I enjoy browsing your blogs and stuffing away tid bits of your information, so much to learn! 🙂