It is hard to watch your infant struggle with constipation. Luckily, there are some home remedies you can use to help her. I have used all of these methods with excellent results.
What is infant constipation & how to relieve it
Constipation in infants means that a hard stool is stuck in the colon and needs more liquid to help move it through. Your baby should have nourishing, easy-to-digest liquids to help the constipation. Breast milk is a perfect nourishing liquid. Babies on formula and over 4 months old can have homemade bone broth as well. Exclusive breast feeders can have homemade bone broth at 4 months as well, or whenever they start solids.
Why bone broth?
Bone broth is hydrophilic, which means that it attracts digestive juices to it when it is being processed in Baby’s gut. This will help the stool move through the colon more smoothly. Also, broth has easily absorbed gelatin, magnesium, and lots of fat to ease digestion and soothe the gut. Bone broth is also very easy to make at home. Breast milk is 50% cholesterol, so babies naturally need fat to help digest any food. The Magnesium in bone broth relaxes the intestinal muscles, allowing the stool to pass. As well, Magnesium attracts water, so it will add water to the hard stool. If you’ve been told to give Baby more fiber, remember that fiber requires liquids to pass through the colon. So if the fiber intake is increased, so must the liquids increase.
Weaning and dehydration may be the cause of constipation
Sometimes constipation in infants is caused by weaning and subsequent dehydration. Try to get as much breast milk as possible in Baby, even if you have to get it from a milk bank. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International is a great resource for weaning gently and safely. Try to stay away from soy milk, cow milk, nut milks, and even homemade nut milks. If these types of milk are given before your baby’s digestive system is mature, she can develop food allergies, nut allergies, autoimmune disorders, or eczema. If your baby’s formula is soy-based, get the book The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care by Sally Fallon Morell for making homemade, nourishing formula that is soy-free.
When Baby is over the age of one, she can have coconut water. Only give coconut water in small amounts, diluted, and not before sleeping (because of the risk of cavities). Try to buy coconut water in glass bottles because cans are lined with BPA.
Are you rushing solids?
Make sure that baby is developmentally ready for solids. If your baby has allergies or any type of autoimmune disorder, many Naturopathic Doctors recommend waiting until 10 months to 1 year before starting solids, as these babies are very sensitive to any foreign proteins going into their body. If you’ve started solids before Baby is sitting up on her own or is under 6 months old, try going holding off on solids. Although starting solids is very exciting for us Mamas, we need to curb our excitement by waiting until Baby shows us that she’s ready. Thus, if baby constipation starts suddenly it might be caused by solids. Start your baby with bone broth, which is really easy to digest. But make sure to consult with a Doctor before starting solids to ensure Baby is ready.
Foods for infants already eating solids:
- Coconut oil (yes, all by itself!)
- Fresh papaya
- Homemade Pearsauce (stewed pears + no sweeteners)
- Grass-fed butter with stewed fruit
- Bone broth
- Cooked beets. Sometimes one serving of cooked beets can do the trick!
- Stewed prunes & apricots pureed (see recipe below)
Foods for older babies & toddlers:
- Bone broth, not only for constipation but for bone development, skin health, brain health, and excellent development.
- Soak rolled oats overnight with water + 1TB whey from yogurt. Cook the oats until soft the next morning. Mix with coconut milk, butter, and pureed stewed fruit (prunes or pears). It should be watery, not thick. Remember, lots of liquids!
- Cooked kale, steamed green beans, fresh cucumbers, avocado, or cooked beets.
- Lots of liquids! Water, coconut water, breast milk. Stay away from sugary juices. Juice some carrots/ginger/cooked beets + a little apple juice + 1TB of fresh whey from yogurt (to help with digestion).
Stewed Prunes & Apricots Recipe
½ cup of Organic (no sulfur) dried apricots & prunes
2 cups of warm or hot water
1 cup Organic Apple or Orange juice
Sprinkle of cinnamon
Soak apricots and prunes in 2 cups of warm or hot water for 1 hour or up to 12 hours (warmer temperature will speed it up). Then, simmer them in apple or orange juice with a sprinkle of cinnamon for 25-35 minutes. Puree it until smooth. What a tasty treat for Baby! Prunes have potassium, vitamin C, and are full of fiber to help constipation. You can add a small amount of honey if the end result isn’t sweet enough (perhaps 1 tsp).
Try Eliminating Processed Foods
If Baby is eating solids, cut out processed grain products from her diet.
- Packaged infant rice cereal
- White breads
- Packaged crackers (make homemade whole grain ones!)
Processed wheat products are difficult to digest and leak into the bloodstream causing allergies, reflux, development issues, and stunted growth. Thus, best carbohydrates for children are whole plant foods that are unprocessed and homemade. Factory processing destroys enzymes and vitamins in packaged foods.
Examples of whole carbohydrate foods:
- Boiled potatoes mashed with grass-fed butter
- Soaked (for 12hrs) and cooked quinoa
- organic jasmine rice cooked with plenty of butter/olive oil
- nourishing stews and casseroles with millet, pearled barley or amaranth mixed in
Always pair a starch with 50% fat just like when baby was nursing. Introduce Baby to new flavors of ancient grains and seeds! Even homemade coconut flour pancakes are much better for (an over 1 year old) Baby than packaged cereals. But, you will thank yourself later if you don’t add too many sugary foods to Baby’s diet early on. She will not expect the sweet taste later in her life and will have a healthy relationship to eating.
If my food suggestions don’t help, try putting baby in a warm bath and massaging her belly gently.
What if the constipation is chronic?
If it is chronic or baby is in pain, be sure to see your pediatrician for treatment options. If you think your baby might have a food allergy, see a Naturopathic Doctor who can help guide you through the GAPS diet or an allergy diet. Naturopathic Doctors are holistic practitioners. That means that they can offer treatments with Acupuncture, herbs, diet alterations, allergy testing, lifestyle changes, and can also see Baby regularly for her check-ups. Also, Naturopathic Doctors usually have a list of good foods to start Baby on that are hypo-allergenic and easy on digestion.
Rosemary Hansen is a published author and devoted Mama. She is a self-taught traditional foods chef. Her lifelong dream is to have a flock of pet dairy goats. Visit her blog for more natural baby articles + a Bone Broth Recipe: www.NaturalEczemaMama.com/rosemary-blog
Fallon Morell, Sally & Enig, Mary. Nourishing Traditions (1999). Pages 116-118.
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007). K Murakami, S Sasaki, H Okubo, Y Takahashi, Y Hosoi, M Itabashi and the Freshmen in Dietetic Courses Study II Group. 61, 616–622. 6 December 2006. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v61/n5/abs/1602573a.html