Constipation in babies when starting solids

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The switch from milk to solids is a milestone for babies and parents. And while it can be frustrating, messy (yet also fun!), introducing solids can also play havoc on tiny digestive systems.

Discovering hard pellets in your baby's nappy or hearing your child strain to pass a motion can be distressing, but knowing that subtle bowel changes are normal can put your mind at ease.

Mum of two Elysha Rogers found neither of her babies were regular while even on breast milk, and solids only made it worse.

"They were still normal consistency for purely breastfed babies – liquid gold – but sometimes with 10 days in between. Child nurses assured me this can be normal for breastfed babies and there's nothing you can do about it," she says

When it came time for solids, Elysha followed the baby-led route. "I introduced one food at a time, a few days apart, with water with each offering. Poos started hardening up and were still a few days or more apart. They were pebble-like but stuck together."

Elysha soon recognised quickly that her daughter, Koa, needed a little assistance to get the ball rolling.

"I did some research and added some prune juice to her water, and made sure she had pear every day, and it sorted itself out. We haven't had constipation problems since."

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Food choices can be a big part of the issue. A popular first food is rice cereal, but some nutritionists, including Emily Yates, do not endorse giving it to new eaters.

Emily recommends giving only vegetables to begin with, suggesting parents give their babies one vegetable at a time for three days with broth (beef, chicken or lamb).

"Constipation can be caused by an immature gut being bombarded with too many foods at once," she says. "It can be a frustrating process but every baby builds an enzyme for the solid food that is introduced over a three day period – therefore if there is more than one food introduced within 48 hours, they can get bound up."

Assistance for constipation comes in many forms, with some parents finding perineal massage helpful when baby is straining. Melbourne mum, Annaleise Connors* finds sphincter massage helpful.

"About 80 per cent of the time my son will start moaning and straining from 4am," she says. "Sometimes he 'sharts' on his own, but if he's still struggling I'll wrap a wet wipe round my finger and apply pressure just outside his anus. It almost always produces gas or a poo. He's such a gassy boy, I can tell it helps."

Although constipation can cause discomfort, general practitioner Dr Nealie Barker assures that a difference in consistency and frequency is nothing out of the ordinary at this time.

"There are plenty of digestive myths around that affect the way parents deal and think about baby and toddler eating," Dr Barker says. "One of the big ones is that it's some kind of criminal offence for your bowel to go on a little strike from time to time. Occasional constipation is not a biggie and shouldn't strike such fear into the hearts of people."

"There is no 'normal' amount of bowel movements. Anything from several times a day to once a week can still be considered within the range of normal function. The key is changes in frequency in an individual – that includes your kids."

You should seek medical advice if your baby hasn't moved their bowels for three days, or isn't moving them regularly, and if there is presence of blood or mucous.

Tips for treating constipation in babies

• Try baby massage or a warm bath to help your baby's muscles to relax. You can also gently move your baby's legs as if she was riding a bike, to help get her stomach moving.

• Offer your older baby high fibre foods: pureed fruits including apple, pear, plums, prunes and berries are all great choices.

• Don't give prune juice – even if it is diluted – to babies under six months, as it can be too strong for little tummies.

• If your baby is still drinking formula, give her extra water between feeds. Don't dilute the formula, as

• Gently move your baby's legs in a bicycling motion to help move the hard poo along her intestine. Continue using the recommended amount of formula.

• Give plenty of fluids to make sure your baby is well hydrated.

• Seek medical advice if your baby hasn't moved her bowels for three days, or isn't moving them regularly, and if there is presence of blood or mucous.