Medically reviewed by Leah M. Alexander, M.D., F.A.A.P.
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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.

foods to soften hard stools in babies and toddlersPin

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.


Mom’s question:
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 does always have one bowel movement a day, but it takes great effort and seems bothersome to her.

What can I give her daily to help soften her stools?

Thanks, Holly


 

Food & Activity Tips To Soften Baby’s Hard Stools

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 more loose. 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 breastmilk 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 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 2 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-rich foods

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!

Liquid

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.

Probiotics

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 with 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.

Dairy products

Excessive consumption of dairy can also harden stools and should be avoided or reduced.  In addition, constipation can be milk protein allergy.

Low-fiber foods

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 with 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.

The following over-the-counter remedies are available which primarily contain prunes or vegetable extracts:

    1. Mommy’s Bliss Baby Constipation Ease (From 6 months)
    2. Wellements Baby Constipation Support (From 6 months)

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,
Paula

Helpful Resources on Baby Poop

If you want more in-depth information and tips on baby poop issues, here are a few books to check out. (Links to Amazon)

Research References

Find the comments below.

Leave a Reply

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Anne

    My 7-month-old baby also had the same problem and I was advised to add pawpaw to her diet and it worked wonders.

    I feed her on pawpaw three to four times a day between meals and give her a lot of water. Try this.

    Anne
    Kenya

  2. Jessica

    My three year old has been struggling since she was 2 months old to have a bowel movement. She starts and then 4-5 hours later finally goes, after pushing really hard and 9 out of 10 times she bleeds.

    She has had a sigmodocskay(sp?) and an endoscopy. They told me she looked normal except for some abrasions but since then they haven’t said anything. I can’t stand to watch her suffer.
    Thanks
    Jessica

  3. Carolina

    My son is 1 yr old and has been having very hard stools for the past few months. Even when they are not so hard, they are very big around. He stiffens his legs and if my husband and I are around we immediately take his diaper off and bend his legs up towards his chest while holding down his stomach. More times than not I have to “help” my son by putting vaseline around his anus or moving it around to make it stretch.

    It’s horrible, he bleeds a little every time and his anus even comes out some. It seems that it’s only the first part of it, after that comes out, the rest is just pushing. Since all of this makes him irregular, his feces are dry, look “old” and is always one very long piece.

    I’m sorry if this is too much info, our doctor did not change his milk and just recommended a stool softener or suppositories.

    Thanks for any help.

    1. Paula @ EasyBabyLife

      Hi Carolina!

      Have you tried to change his diet at all? I would take away all dairy products immediately if I were you and see if it makes a difference.

      Also, try to add to a bit of whole grain bread or porridge to his diet. And dried apricots.

      And lots of liquid, of course.

      Then if this doesn’t help go see another doctor!

      Wish you good luck! Please let me know about your son’s progress!

    2. Elaine

      Hi, gosh this is all to familiar. I’m so confused on what I can do. Did anything help your little guy?

  4. Paula @easybabylife

    Hi Phumue,
    What does your baby eat? Are there any of foods in this post that you can try taking away from his diet or add (the ones that tend to soften stools)?

  5. velibyjane

    I am now free with problems regarding child constipation. No more soft stool no more stool in dark brown. This is bcos I gave my daughter to drink Mamil and all problems are solved.

  6. MARYJANEWONG

    I was like u finding for solution and one of forumer introduced Mamil to me last year and now I nvr encounter such probs anymore. My LO bowel is healthy as good. I know that mamil has prebiotics and contains no sugar at all which is fantastic in preventing children constipation leh. Plus Mamil also has the highest DHA level in the market..try switching la and see the results in a week time

  7. Apa Guna

    Maybe try giving them more fruits and vege! I think it will solve ur problem!

  8. Jensy

    Fruit juice are good for child tat had constipation.. However, u still need to seek for a long term solution to prevent from constipation.. I get to knw that pre-biotic in milk helps to solve constipation..

  9. marleyley

    My DS also faced such issue! Constipated and having hard stool very frequently.. The poo is so hard and very little… So worrying lor, cos whenever he goes for his bowel i can see that its hurting him so badly..

  10. Puan Adidah

    my kid also facing the same issued!