If your baby or toddler is constipated, has hard poop, or their pooping is painful, don’t miss these tips on foods to soften hard stools in babies and toddlers as well as which foods to absolutely avoid.
Nothing is more heartbreaking than a baby in pain. Some infants strain, cry, then eventually pass “pebble-like” hard stools during the first few months of life. Other babies develop constipation after the introduction of the first pureed foods. Stooling difficulties may continue as new foods are incorporated into the diet. During the toddler years, constipation can reoccur due to stool-withholding behaviors and “picky” eating habits.
My baby daughter is having very hard stools. It is also taking her all day to have a bowel movement. She will try several times throughout the day but without success. She always has one bowel movement daily, but it takes great effort and seems bothersome to her.
What can I give her daily to help soften her stools?
Food & Activity Tips To Soften Baby’s Hard Stools
In this article…
The Definition of Constipation
First, let’s discuss exactly what it means when an infant or toddler becomes constipated. Although many parents become concerned if a day or two is missed, this phenomenon can actually be normal.
During the first 24 hours of life, most infants pass a sticky, dark green stool called meconium. Failure to pass this stool often indicates a bowel outlet problem and warrants evaluation before the infant leaves the hospital. This differs from constipation.
Once a baby begins to take formula or breastmilk, the stool color changes, and the texture becomes looser. Typical breastmilk stools are a mustard-yellow color with white curd-like pieces. Formula stools can range from yellow to green to brown; the texture can range from a thick liquid to formed but soft like clay. As long as stools remain this way, your baby is NOT constipated, regardless of how often he or she is passing a stool. In addition, constipation in exclusively breastfed infants is rare due to its unique properties that promote softer stools.
Stooling patterns in one to three-month-olds can range from several each day to only one stool every few days. In general, breastfed infants pass very frequent stools, often after every feeding. Infants who are fed formula tend to stool less often, sometimes only once every three days.
When pureed foods are introduced, stool frequency may change again. After the first birthday, it is normal for a toddler to pass one or two loose or soft stools per day.
When do Babies Often Get Hard Stools
Hard stools can develop when a baby takes an insufficient amount of breast milk or formula. This can occur if there is latching difficulty, when an infant is ill, or in situations that result in dehydration (i.e. hot weather). Stool changes are common when an increasing number of solid baby foods are introduced. In addition, some foods are more constipating than others.
As the baby approaches the toddler years, it is common for them to start eating less fiber and more pasta and bread, both of which lead to constipation. The same goes for cow’s milk.
Most often, the hard stools are due to the baby’s digestive system not really coping with solids, but this may improve over the months to come.
Certain medical conditions are associated with constipation, such as hypothyroidism, cystic fibrosis, and Hirschprung’s disease. Although screening for some of these illnesses occurs during the neonatal period, you should contact your doctor if concerned about such causes of constipation.
What to do then?
For best effects, you should add foods that will soften your baby’s (or toddler’s) stools and, at the same time, eliminate foods that may cause constipation.
Effective Foods To Soften Hard Stools in Babies and Toddlers
There are several effective foods to soften hard stools in babies and toddlers. It really can make a great difference to adjust a child’s diet!
Fruits to mitigate constipation
For infants who are over two months of age, a half ounce of prune, apple, or pear juice diluted in a small amount of water can help relieve constipation. Once the baby is old enough to consume foods, purées of the same fruits may be given. (Do not give her applesauce, though, with actually hardens the stools.)
Kiwis and apricots are also good.
Vegetables to soften stools
Vegetables that are healthy and easy on her tummy are avocado and peas; these are both also great finger foods.
Broccoli and beans may also mitigate constipation.
Fiber can be powerful in mitigating constipation.
Consider giving your baby small amounts of fiber-rich cereals, homemade oatmeal porridge, whole-wheat pasta (if you have already introduced gluten), and brown rice – rice is great for practicing the pincer grasp too!
Make sure she drinks a lot of breast milk (or formula if that does not make her constipated). Water can be offered after the age of six months.
Breast milk or formula will continue to be the most important part of her nutrition for several more months, so if she is formula-fed, do not give her so much water that she drinks less formula.
Read about why young babies should not drink a lot of water here.
Preliminary research indicates that probiotics supplements may mitigate constipation. I have seen success for toddler constipation in clinical practice. Probiotics also help promote a healthy gut microbiome and are completely safe to give to your baby.
If your baby has not yet tried any of these recommended foods, start slowly, maybe with one teaspoon, in case of any allergic reaction. Some babies need to have any of the above fruit purees or juices added to every meal to be able to digest solid foods without constipation.
Foods To Avoid When Baby Or Toddler Is Constipated
Just like some foods will help soften your baby’s poop, other foods will make your baby more constipated. Essentially, these are foods that you would give your baby during a case of diarrhea, so think “binding.” Here are the foods you should definitely avoid if trying the beat baby constipation:
Fruits that can cause constipation
Unripe bananas should be avoided. While apple juice mitigates constipation, applesauce increases the risk, so do not feed your baby apple sauce!
Vegetables that cause constipation are, for example, carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash.
Excessive consumption of dairy can also harden stools and should be avoided or reduced. In addition, constipation can be milk protein allergy.
In general, all low-fiber versions of foods, such as pasta, white rice, and white bread, should be changed to high-fiber versions.
White rice cereal is known to cause constipation and should be used in moderation. Try oatmeal instead.
Other Things to Do to Mitigate Constipation in Babies and Toddlers
In addition to the diet, other ways to mitigate constipation are the following:
- A warm bath
- Baby massage
- Movement! Play with your baby or toddler to make her move around as much as possible! Being still is a surefire way to increase constipation in any person.
- Post-pone toilet training until your toddler is stooling regularly and comfortably. It will help the process go much easier.
- In general, medications for constipation are not recommended for infants. For toddlers, you should consult your doctor regarding options when their constipation is unresponsive to dietary changes and behavioral strategies. In these cases, a polyethylene glycol powder is typically recommended.
I hope this helps! In most cases, constipation in young children can be avoided with a combination of all or some of the above measures.
If you who are reading this have a baby who has not yet been introduced to solid foods, read about constipation in breastfed and formula-fed babies here.
And you can find baby food recipes here if you want to make your own baby food.
I have also added links to some books that deal with baby pooping issues here below.
I hope this helps,
- The Scoop on Infant Poop: Is That Normal?
- Failure to pass meconium: diagnosing neonatal intestinal obstruction
- How Can I Tell if My Baby is Constipated?
- Diets for Constipation
- Defecation patterns of the infants mainly breastfed from birth till the 12th month: Prospective cohort study
- Patient education: Constipation in infants and children (Beyond the Basics)
- Constipation in Children
- Positive Effect of Probiotics on Constipation in Children: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Six Randomized Controlled Trials
- Probiotics and Prebiotics in Pediatrics: What Is New?
- The Role of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Pediatric Chronic Constipation: A Randomized Clinical Trial
Find the comments below.
Paula Dennholt founded Easy Baby Life in 2006 and has been a passionate parenting and pregnancy writer since then. Her parenting approach and writing are based on studies in cognitive-behavioral models and therapy for children and her experience as a mother and stepmother. Life as a parent has convinced her of how crucial it is to put relationships before rules. She strongly believes in positive parenting and a science-based approach.
Paula cooperates with a team of pediatricians who assist in reviewing and writing articles.