It can be distressing for new parents to see their baby struggle with constipation, and feeding formula can exacerbate the problem. But don’t worry, we asked pediatricians their thoughts on the relationship between infant formula and constipation to help ease your concerns.
A lot of people ask their pediatricians about poop. A big one: Does my baby have a blocked bowel? After all, it can be hard to tell, and there are many different ideas about what is healthy for a baby’s bowel movements. Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., a pediatrician and spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says that healthy babies can go without going to the bathroom and be fine, or they can go to the bathroom every day but have trouble passing their stools (AAP).
Even so, if you’re worried about your baby’s digestion, it’s natural to wonder if nutrition is a factor. After all, the foods you eat as an adult have a big impact on how well things, well, move along. In some ways, the same is true for babies, and doctors say that breastfed babies are less likely to have constipation than babies who are fed formula.
Why do babies who are fed formula get constipated? Here’s one idea: Formula is thicker than breast milk, so it can take longer to move through the [gastrointestinal] tract. Sometimes the molecules are harder to break down, which can cause constipation and other GI problems.
However, identifying constipation in a baby can be difficult, and formula change will not alleviate the problem in a baby who is being fed formula. There is no best formula for constipated babies.
Read on to find out what pediatricians say about the link between infant formula and constipation and how to spot and treat your child’s digestive problems.
How to Spot a Clogged Throat in Your Baby
It’s easy to think that your baby is constipated if they haven’t gone, but Dr. Williamson says that constipation means they have hard stools.
“Some parents think that having constipation means going to the bathroom less often or straining. But if the stool is soft, straining, or getting red in the face while passing, it can be a pretty normal thing. She says, “The baby is learning how to use their muscles.”
Dr. Dolgoff says babies with constipation have bowel movements less often than other babies. So, what’s regular?
A baby who is breastfed might have to go more than once a day or as little as once every five days, while a baby who is fed formula can go anywhere from once to three times a day to once every few days. Babies who are constipated often have big, hard, painful bowel movements that look like pellets. They might arch their backs, squeeze their buttocks, or cry as they walk.
But keep this in mind: Most babies are not constipated. Your baby could have constipation, but he or she could also just be straining or have colic, which can cause crying and pain. She says that a milk protein allergy, lactose intolerance, or, less often, other health problems could also be to blame.
What’s the best baby formula for constipation?
You probably have a lot of concerns if you suspect your formula-fed infant has constipation. Can babies’ bowel movements stop after switching to powdered formula? If I switch baby formula, will my baby get constipated? Can things like palm olein oil make you have trouble going to the bathroom?
First of all, Dr. Dolgoff says that no one formula has been shown to reduce or stop constipation, and there is no best baby formula for constipation. “The AAP says that changing the formula is not always the best way to treat constipation.”
If you switch formulas too often, you might be focusing on a solution that could be more effective. Changing your baby’s formula could cause constipation and stomach pain because the baby’s digestive system has to get used to the change.
So, doctors usually don’t suggest changing formula unless they know exactly what’s causing symptoms.
When Changing The Formula Could Be Helpful
Even though the changing formula isn’t usually the first thing pediatricians recommend when a baby is constipated, there are some situations in which they might.
Your child is allergic to milk.
If your baby’s stool has blood or mucus in it or if your baby is very fussy, this could be a sign that your baby is allergic to milk proteins. Possible symptoms of milk protein allergy in infants include diarrhea with blood or mucus and extreme irritability. Infants that are fed formula are significantly less likely to develop an allergy to cow’s milk, affecting only about 5% to 7% of these infants.
Even switching to a formula made with soy isn’t always enough. It’s common for youngsters to be allergic to both milk and soy. Experts say that unless your baby has an allergy to soy, it’s unlikely that soy formula is making your baby have trouble going to the bathroom.
Your child is sick with acid reflux.
Dr. Dawkins says that almost all babies have reflux or spit-up, which is often caused by overfeeding or not keeping the baby upright after feedings. Still, there are formulas for babies who have reflux. Most of the time, rice proteins are added to these formulas to make them thicker.
Dr. Williamson says, “The idea is that it will be harder for the formula to go down and come back up.” “This won’t help all babies, but there’s no harm in trying a special formula with the help of your child’s doctor.”
When You Shouldn’t Change Formulas
Here’s another question that pediatricians are sometimes asked about the formula: Can iron in the baby formula make a baby’s stools hard?
The worry is reasonable since adults can get constipated when they take iron supplements. But iron is very important for a baby’s growth and brain development, so Dr. Dawkins says you shouldn’t switch to a formula with less iron.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics has said over and over again that all babies who don’t get breast milk should get formula with iron added to it to prevent iron deficiency anemia.”
How to Help Babies with Constipation
First, if you think your child has constipation, you should always talk to a pediatrician. This way, you can find out if your baby has allergies, rule out other possible causes, confirm that he or she is constipated, and find a solution that works.
You can also do things at home to help the problem, as directed by your baby’s doctor. Dr. Dolgoff says you should start by doing the following:
- Give your kid 100% prune, apple, or pear juice for two weeks if they are at least four months old and your doctor says it’s okay. 4–8-month-old babies should only get 2–4 ounces, while 8–12-month-old babies can have up to 6 ounces.
- Try giving your baby foods that are high in fiber, such as barley cereal, sweet potatoes, prunes, pears, peas, beans, and broccoli.
- Ask your doctor about sorbitol or Miralax (polyethylene glycol), which are safe and effective laxatives prescribed by a physician, if your constipation is more severe.
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