When babies start eating solid foods, their digestive system undergoes significant changes. As a result, parents can anticipate differences in their baby's stool consistency, colour, and frequency. Among the common concerns during this transition is constipation, which frequently affects a baby's elimination patterns.
Understanding the causes
There are a number of contributing factors that could be the cause of constipation. It is important to be aware of these so that you can make more mindful and informed decisions to help ease constipation in your little one.
While starting solids is an exciting milestone, parents should begin slowly. Starting with just one solid meal a day at most allows the child's digestive system to regulate and adapt gradually. During the first year of a baby's life, breast milk or formula remains the primary source of nourishment, so breastfeeding or formula feeding should continue regularly. Replacing milk with excessive solid food can easily overwhelm a baby's delicate system, potentially leading to constipation.
The rate at which stool moves through a baby's colon is directly influenced by the diversity of beneficial bacteria present in their gut. Nourishing a baby’s gut health is an essential part of helping them maintain a healthy digestive system.
When ill, a baby may simply not be eating or drinking as usual which can contribute to constipation.
If a baby’s diet includes too many constipating foods then it is likely they will be prone to experiencing constipation.
If a baby is prone to constipation the following foods should be avoided or at the very least reduced.
Unripe bananas contribute to constipation due to their high starch content and lower levels of natural sugars, which can slow down digestion and movement of stool through the colon. Opt for ripe bananas or fiber-rich fruits for better digestive health.
Rice (white rice and baby rice cereal)
Rice and baby rice cereal can cause constipation due to their low fiber content and high starch levels. Additionally, baby rice cereal is typically fortified with iron meaning it contains a poorly absorbed and synthetic version of iron which can contribute to poor digestion and constipation. The Norish Modern day Baby Cereal is a great replacement for baby cereal offering nutrient-dense ingredients to help nourish and support a growing baby’s needs.
Applesauce and cooked apples (eg, baked steamed, pureed)
Cooking apples changes the pectin fibre
Toast (and all white flour foods)
Pasteurized dairy products including cheese and cows milk is very hard for little tummies to digest and is a leading contributor of constipation in babies and toddlers.
Iron is an essential nutrient for babies, especially between the ages of 6-12 months when their iron requirements are more than that of an adult male. However, iron supplements and foods that are fortified with synthetic poor quality iron (such as baby rice cereal), commonly contribute to constipation and digestive issues. Foods that are naturally rich in iron do not pose the same risk and are important to a child’s diet. The Norish product range contains iron-rich ingredients that can easily be integrated into meals. It’s simple to prepare and the freeze-dried technology retains the nutrients found in whole foods.
Foods to include to support and alleviate constipation
Healthy fats help lubricate the bowels, therefore, promoting bowel movements and supporting digestive health. Typically, when starting solids, babies are commonly fed steamed and pureed vegetables with little to no healthy fats. Healthy fats not only help keep baby fuller for longer but they are also needed to help increase nutrient absorption and avoid constipation.
Some excellent sources of healthy fats to include in your baby’s diet are:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Chia seeds
- Nut butter (once they have been safely exposed without any reactions)
Once baby starts solids small sips of liquids can be offered throughout the day. Water or even the Norish bone broth (made up and mixed with water) is encouraged. However, breastmilk or formula still remains a baby’s primary source of nourishment up until 12 months of age, so it is advised to start slowly and offer small sips so as to not fill the baby up with other liquids that may interfere with breast milk or formula.
This recipe contains chia seeds which helps draw water into the bowels with their hydrophilic qualities, pear (a P fruit) known as a constipation-relieving food and coconut oil (a source of healthy fats).
½ tsp cinnamon
1 TBS coconut oil
1 TBS chia seeds
½ cup liquid of choice (breastmilk, coconut milk, formula, water)
- Preheat oven to 180c, peel and roughly chop the pear and place on a lined baking tray with a generous dollop of coconut oil and a pinch of cinnamon. Bake for 10-15 mins until soft and golden
- Use a fork to mash the pear or add it to a blender with a small amount of coconut oil (or a TBS of water) until it resembles a puree consistency
- Meanwhile, add the chia seeds to your choice of liquid and stir well to remove any clumps. Stir through the pureed pear and allow the chia seeds to set and absorb the liquid.
- Can be left and set overnight in the fridge
The thing about fibre
There are two types of fibre, soluble and insoluble.
Insoluble fibre remains undigested and adds bulk to the stool.
On the other hand, soluble fibre breaks down and feeds beneficial bacteria. When mixed with liquids, it absorbs water, swells, and forms a gel-like consistency.
However, the body needs time to adapt to increased fibre intake. A sudden increase may slow digestion, lead to bloating, and potentially worsen to constipation.
Breast milk lacks fibre, but when babies start solids, they often consume high-fibre fruits and vegetables. This sudden change doesn't allow their digestive system to adjust. Therefore, parents should gradually introduce the amount of food their baby eats to give their system time to adapt.
Prebiotics and probiotic supplements
Beneficial bacteria helps babies digest food and directly influences the rate at which it moves through their bodies. Nourishing a baby's gut health is crucial for maintaining a healthy digestive system. In some instances, in addition to the dietary changes mentioned above, supplementation may be required to help further alleviate baby’s constipation.
Baby-specific probiotics promote both digestive and immune health. While prebiotics serve as food for the beneficial bacteria in a baby’s gut, helping to support digestive health.
As you navigate the journey of introducing solids to your baby, encountering constipation is not uncommon. By incorporating fibre-rich foods, ensuring hydration, and implementing gentle remedies, you can ease your baby's discomfort and promote regular bowel movements. Remember to be patient and observant, as every baby is unique. With time, your little one will adapt to solid foods, and the constipation phase will ease. Enjoy this exciting stage and the delightful moments of your baby's culinary exploration!