Worried about constipation and weaning? 6 easy ways to keep things moving!
Is your baby struggling to poo? Or have you heard that constipation can be a problem during weaning?
Don’t be surprised by your baby’s poo when you start solids!
Be prepared for some changes to your baby’s poo when they start weaning as your baby’s system gets used to processing new foods. Remember, solid food causes solid poo! If you’re used to the ‘liquid gold’ typical of the breastfed baby this will be a bigger shock!
There’s no normal when it comes to your baby’s nappies- there is no magic number or schedule. Like their parents, your baby’s bowel movement patterns vary, and poo can change in texture from day-to-day. However, constipation is common in babies and often due to the types of foods offered (or not offered).
Six foods (and drinks) to offer your baby during weaning to prevent and help with constipation
Fibre-rich foods, together will fluid, helps your baby’s poo to move more easily and quickly through their bowel. Here are some easy ways to increase the fibre in a baby-friendly way.
1. Keep your baby well hydrated
Your baby may refuse milk when she’s unwell or teething. Or may not be drinking enough water with solid foods. Whatever the reason, if your baby isn’t getting enough fluids, she may become dehydrated. This can cause dry, hard poo that is difficult to pass. Make sure to continue breastfeeding on demand, makeup formula milk correctly and offer cooled, boiled water from an open cup with meals.
2. Offer a variety of fruits every day
All fruits are excellent fibre providers, and the best approach is to offer your baby a variety every day. Processing of fruits such as fruit puree pouches changes the nutrients in foods, making them lower in fibre and higher in free sugars. A wiser option is to offer your baby suitable ‘real’ fruit like ripe peeled fingers of pear or kiwi or mashed cooked or ripe fruits like raspberries and blackberries. Once your baby has gotten more confident with finger foods, you can offer these as finger foods too. It’s also OK to add dried fruits to foods like porridge, pancakes and muffins- and don’t just think raisins, and there’s a whole world of dried fruits to try like apricots, figs, prunes, cranberries and even dried blueberries.
3. Don’t forget about veggies!
Veggies are also bursting with fibre but are often overlooked in favour of fruits. Again, don’t just rely on a few staples. Weaning is a golden opportunity to expose your baby to all the wonderful flavours and textures of vegetables. We know that having an adequate intake of vegetables will affect your babies gut health now and in the future. To achieve this, you need to train your baby to like vegetables from the start, and you can do this by following a vegetable led approach to weaning and continuing to offer a variety of vegetables every day.
4. Introduce whole grains slowly
While adults should eat mostly wholegrains for good gut health, it’s important to remember that babies are not mini-adults. Wholegrains can be too filling for babies who need lots of energy but have small tummies. So introduce these gradually to your baby. You can do this by offering a variety of cereals like porridge, Ready Brek, Weetabix or Shredded Wheat or any of these breakfast options. And when it comes to breads, pasta and rice, alternate between white and wholegrain varieties. Here’s some advice on when and how to introduce these gluten-containing foods. Never add bran to your child’s diet.
5. Make use of pulses
Pulses like beans, lentils and peas are a source of iron as well as being high in fibre. Use these as an alternative somedays to meat, chicken or fish at lunch or dinner. Try baked beans on wholegrain toast, hummus on an oatcake, lentil soup with toast soldiers. Or add alongside meat in dishes like stews, bolognaise and curries. You can either use tinned beans or lentils or the dried varieties. You can add a few fistfuls of dried red lentils to curry or bolognaise, and they will cook in the sauce.
6. Introduce your baby to seeds and nuts
Although your baby can’t eat whole or chopped nuts or seeds, they can eat these in ground form or as smooth nut butter. Use smooth nut butter in porridge, Weetabix, yoghurt, on toast/crackers or add to dishes like curries and soups. You can use ground nuts or milled or crushed seeds (like ground almonds, chia or flaxseed) in yoghurt, cereal, in pancakes and muffins. Keep flaxseed to ½ tsp per day. Babies over 12 months can have whole flaxseed or seed mixes containing honey.
Other things that can help if your baby is struggling with constipation during weaning
As well as being a good source of fibre, specific fruits and juices made from these like pears, prunes and apples contain carbohydrates (Sorbitol) that increase stool movement and frequency. You can use either pear, prune or apple purée or juices made from these. We don’t generally recommend fruit juice for young children, but in this case, it can help. You can offer this twice per day when your baby is struggling with constipation. For babies, 3-12 months dilute 2-3 teaspoons in 50mls water. For toddlers mix one to two parts water with one part juice.
Movement speeds up digestion, which can help move things through the body more quickly. If your child isn’t walking yet, leg bicycles may be helpful.
Gentle stomach and lower-abdomen massages may stimulate the bowels to pass a bowel movement. Do several massages throughout the day, until your child has a bowel movement.
A relaxing warm bath may help their stool pass more easily. During or after the bath, try gently massaging the tummy. I’m not sure you can call yourself parent until you’ve fished out poo from the bath!
Talk to your GP
If you’re doing all of the steps above and your baby is still struggling with hard, infrequent poos then speak to your GP. Some babies may need laxatives to help them.
Other things you might hear about constipation and weaning
Bananas cause constipation
There’s no strong evidence to suggest that banana cause or contribute to constipation. However, if you find that bananas do make your baby constipated then take them out and then gradually add back in at a later time.
Cows milk causes constipation.
Constipation can be a symptom of a delayed Cows Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA). However, it tends to be straining to pass a soft poo rather than the typical constipation poos. And it’s unlikely to be the only symptom of CMPA. If you’re worried about a possible delayed CMPA, then please see a registered dietitian for advice on proper diagnosis. On the other hand, some formula-fed babies will appear to get constipated when they switch from formula to whole cows milk at age one. This is unlikely to be an allergy and just a symptom of your baby getting used to this change. Babies, especially older babies who drink large amounts of milk can become constipated as the milk leaves no room for the foods mentioned above!
Brown sugar in water is a good ‘cure’ for constipation
This combination works like the fruit juices above by drawing water into your baby’s bowel. However, it’s no longer recommended for the treatment of constipation.
You should offer a probiotic
Although this is an exciting area of research, we don’t yet have enough evidence to say which strain of bacteria or what dose and duration is beneficial for preventing or treating constipation. The best advice to encourage healthy gut bacteria is to breastfeed, offer a varied diet, including lots of foods that bacteria like such as fruits, vegetables and pulses. Yoghurt with live cultures and kefir may contain healthy bacteria, and they’re all round nutritious foods anyway, so it makes sense to offer either of these foods in your child’s diet.
Going puce in the face always means constipation.
Sometimes babies under six months strain and grunt, or go red in the face when they’re trying to poo– but they pass normal, soft poo. This is usually because babies under six months haven’t worked out how to relax the pelvic floor during while pooing and when they feel the urge to go they often stretch out their legs, which tightens the pelvic floor. Parents frequently say they have to ‘help the poo come out’ by bending and holding their babies legs up. Been there, done that, worn the t-shirt! This problem is sometimes called ‘infant dyschezia’, which just means uncoordinated defecation. It will typically correct itself with time (after six months) and does not require treatment.
As you can see, there are lots of simple ways that you can make your baby’s transition from milk onto solids as ‘gut-friendly’ as possible.
For more evidence-based advice on starting solids and feeding your baby up till their first birthday then check out my Ready, Steady, Wean my online course that will take you from confused to confident in no time at all.