By: Pallavi Vathiar. Consulting Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai.
Constipation is a common problem in children and it accounts for 3% of visits to general pediatric clinics and as many as 30% of visits to pediatric gastroenterologists in developed countries (1). Baby’s clenched fists and red face would make you wonder what you did wrong. Your baby may just be showing the signs of a condition called colic.
Colic in babies basically refers to an otherwise healthy baby crying inconsolably for long stretches of time. Symptoms of colic may include frequent spitting up, poor eating and irritability during and after feeds.
A cross-sectional study provides the first epidemiological data about the prevalence of Functional Constipation (FC) amongst infants and toddlers in a developing country. The prevalence rate of FC in infants (8.3%) was higher than that of toddlers (6.6%). Children aged between 37 and 48 months showed the highest prevalence (13%) of FC (2).
While the exact cause of colic is still unknown, some theories include_
- The immature digestive system of an infant makes it more susceptible to some of the substances in breast or formula milk.
- In the case of breastfed babies, colic may be a reaction to specific foods in the mother’s diet.
- Excessive air in the baby’s gastrointestinal tract (3)
In general 50% of children with chronic constipation will be cured after a year and 65-70% after 2 years, with much higher rates in motivated, adherent families (4)
Cause And Symptoms (5)
Some formula-fed and breastfed infants get constipated once they’re introduced to solid foods. Symptoms of constipation in infants and toddlers include
- Pellet-like bowel movements
- Difficulty passing stools
- Crying during bowel movements
- Hard, dry stools
- Less frequent bowel movements
Treatment And Remedies
Studies indicate that external stimuli such as nutrition and environment play an important role in the development of the infants gastrointestinal (GI) system. As colic is a problem associated with the baby’s gut and that a low amount of good bacteria could be a probable cause for development of colic in the baby, it would be beneficial if ways to increase the count of these beneficial micro-organisms are looked at.
As is widely known, human breast milk is the best form of nutrition for infants, it is also a rich source of oligosaccharides, the third largest component of breast milk after carbohydrates and fat .These oligosaccharides have a prebiotic effect on infant gut health, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli which may help in reduction of colic in babies (3).
In addition to probiotics, dietary changes are often recommended for children with constipation (5).
Home Remedies For Babies and Toddler
Even though constipation is uncomfortable for infants and toddlers, it’s rarely a sign of an underlying condition. Several home remedies can help soften stools and relieve constipation.
- Drink more water
If your baby is at least 6 months old, you can offer 2 to 3 ounces of water at a time to relieve constipation.
- Drink some fruit juice
If your baby is at least 6 months old, you can offer 2 to 4 ounces of fruit juice. This includes 100-percent apple juice, prune juice, or pear juice in addition to regular feedings.
- Add more high fiber foods
- Reduce amount of rice cereal
Rice cereal can also trigger constipation because it’s low in fiber. Reduce the amount of rice cereal you feed your baby to relieve constipation (6).