Breastfeeding: Is your breastfed baby constipated?

I'm the exhausted (yet very happy) mother of a seven-week-old son. Breastfeeding is going well -- no pain and by baby's diapers indicate he is getting enough to eat. My question is about breastfeeding and constipation in the baby. We can tell when our little one is going to have a bowel movement because he gets uncomfortable and does a lot of grunting and groaning. Sometimes he even cries or whimpers a bit. I often nurse him to calm him down at these times and sometimes it relaxes him enough that he has the bowel movement. Other times he just struggles through it. Is it constipation? Is there anything I can do to make him more comfortable?

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Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Constipation is not usually a problem for the breastfed baby. It is not at all uncommon though for young babies to seem to have difficulty with a bowel movement, grunting and groaning as you describe.

Have you made any changes in your baby's diet, perhaps offering him any formula? A change in diet can precipitate a change in stooling patterns. If this is the case, return to the old diet (exclusive breastfeeding).

If your baby is otherwise happy and growing well, and does not have any of the traditional signs of constipation, such as dry and hard stools, streaks of blood in the stool, and a distended, uncomfortable belly, I would not be too concerned about his straining to have a bowel movement. And you're right, nursing does often encourage a baby to have a bowel movement, so feel free to put your baby to your breast at that time if it helps him.

In regard to your diet and your little one's gassiness, I don't think it is necessary for a nursing mom to arbitrarily restrict her diet. Young babies are naturally gassy. Most of the time one particular food that you eat, is not causing your baby's gassiness. Often dairy products (particularly in allergic/asthmatic families) are implicated in a baby's fussiness, as well as some other foods (e.g broccoli, cabbage, onions and beans). If you think one food may be causing your baby difficulty, keep a food diary, noting not only the foods you eat, but the times of Ethan's gassiness. Then, see if the two are related. See my letter, Should I avoid certain foods? for additional information.

To help reduce your baby's gassiness, try nursing more frequently, so he will take in slightly less at each feed. Combine this with good positioning and attachment at the breast (no clicking or smacking sounds), and a slightly upright hold, and you may find your baby is not quite as uncomfortable.

If you are still at all concerned, it is very important to discuss this issue with your baby's Health Care Provider. Very best wishes!

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