Constipation is a commonly encountered problem in child health. Constipation in children can be due to the same reasons as in adults – diet, fluid intake, illness or medication. But there can be emotional reasons surrounding starting potty training or starting school for the first time. The main thing is not to worry and sort the problem out as quickly as possible.

New born Babies
The frequency of bowel movements of young babies (up to six months) varies a great deal. Stools of breast-fed babies are usually yellow in appearance, while those of bottle-fed babies are often thicker and greenish.

Breast-fed babies are less likely to suffer from constipation than those who are fed on formula milk. This is because breast milk is more easily digestible. Babies’ large intestine has the right bacteria to break down some of the harder-to-process proteins in the milk, making the stools softer and easier to pass. Breast-fed babies also have higher levels of the hormone motiline, which stimulates bowel movement.

How to treat
Constipation remedies should not be used at this young age, unless in extreme cases and only if prescribed by a doctor. Remember that constipation can be caused by dehydration. With bottle-fed babies, check that enough water is being added to the formula, as this varies from brand to brand. The baby’s fluids can also be topped up with boiled and cooled water.

Older Babies
After about six months, or when babies start on solid of semi-solid food, bowel movements become more regular depending on the food they eat. The stools start to look, and smell, more like those of an adult.

At this point, babies may suffer from constipation as their young intestines get used to the nutrients in solid foods. Dehydration can also contribute. As stools accumulate in the intestine, they become harder and more difficult to pass. Any remaining moisture is reabsorbed into the body, making the stools even harder and causing more discomfort.

Laying them on their back and moving their legs in a cycling motion gently puts pressure on the intestine, can stimulate bowel movement. Massaging the baby’s tummy can help. Rub a little baby oil or cream in clockwise circular motions from the navel outwards. This can also make the baby relax, which helps towards relieving constipation. Similarly, a warm bath can also help to put the baby at ease and relieve some of the tension in the bowels.

Of course, prevention is better than the cure. Once the baby starts on solids, start to gradually introduce fibre-rich foods into his or her diet, such as fruits, vegetable purées and cereals like porridge. Fluids are equally important and the baby should be given plenty to drink for example water and diluted fruit juice.