Formula-fed babies are more likely to experience constipation than exclusively breastfed babies. So, parents often want to know whether their baby’s constipation is related to the baby formula they’re using.
The truth is, it’s hard to know when a baby is constipated — a healthy baby can go some days without a bowel movement, while a baby who poops every day may be constipated.
Why formula feeding may cause constipation
The reason is that, unlike breast milk, which is generally easier for babies to digest, baby formula is thicker and harder to digest because it has larger proteins. Thus, formulas take longer to pass through the GI tract, which makes it likely to lead to gastrointestinal problems, including constipation.
However, this doesn’t mean that all babies on formula will be constipated or breastfed babies can’t become constipated.
How to know if your baby is constipated
Some moms think that if their baby hasn’t pooped in a few days or strains while pooping, they’re constipated, but constipation has more to do with the consistency of the stool than the frequency or straining. However, constipation generally manifests with these signs:
- Hard bowel movements that may appear like pellets, rocks, or hard balls and may be large
- Pain while passing bowel movements — since babies can’t talk, this may be manifested as an arched back, tightened buttocks, a red face, and crying while pooping
- Tight belly
- Lack of interest in food
- Infrequent bowel movements
- Blood on the surface of the stool or when wiping
If Your Child is feeding on formula, the number of times your little one poops each day or week can vary greatly from one to 5 times a day to once every 5 days.
Switching formula to ease constipation
Switching your baby’s formula can make a difference in their poop, since their sensitivity to some of the ingredients in the original formula may have led to their constipation. However, changing formula styles or brands can also make things worse, especially if you do it too often. It is, therefore, not a good idea to give your baby one formula for 1 or 2 days and then change to another formula right away when you see that they’re constipated. Instead, give the baby a few weeks to adjust to any newly introduced formula.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, changing the formula does not necessarily help treat constipation. In fact, it could even cause it, as Your Child’s GI has to adjust to the new formula. So, doctors don’t usually suggest changing the formula unless they know exactly what’s causing the symptoms.
Reasons for switching formula
There are situations where pediatricians might suggest a formula change for constipation. These are a few of them:
- The baby is extremely fussy
- There’s a need for more iron in the baby’s diet.
What you must not do
Some moms worry that the iron in the baby formula may be causing constipation in their babies. While this may be possible, iron is extremely important for the baby’s growth and brain development. So don’t ever switch to a low-iron formula.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all infants getting formula (and not breast milk) must receive iron-fortified formula to prevent iron deficiency anemia.
How to ease constipation in babies
If you suspect constipation, the best thing is to consult your pediatrician so the doctor can rule out potential allergies and other underlying causes, confirm that the issue is actually constipation, and find a solution that works for your baby.
Dr. Piyawut Kreetapirom, MD. (13 August 2021)