managing changes in bowel movements

Jessica Penner, RDUncategorizedLeave a Comment

Before starting your baby on solid foods his bowel movements had most likely settled into a routine. There isn’t one ideal bowel movement to strive for. Each person has their own “normal” frequency. Breastfed babies, especially, are all over the map. Some may poop several times a day while others will easily go seven to ten days between bowel movements.

Just when you figured out that all was okay with your baby’s poops, you start her on solids and everything changes! This is very normal. The stool might become firmer, softer, change colours, and you might see some intact food make its way all the way through!

Let’s define some conditions.

Constipation: a true constipation is characterized by the consistency of bowel movements more so than the frequency. If your baby’s stool is small & pellet-like, or large & hard, and difficult to pass, then your baby might be constipated. Talk to your baby’s doctor for treatment recommendations.

Managing constipation:

A proper diagnosis by a physician should be undertaken before attempting to treat constipation. The best course of action may depend on whether the constipation is short-term or chronic.

What you can do:

  • Increase fluid intake: for children under 6 months of age offer breastmilk or formula more often throughout the day. For children over 6 months, offer water frequently.
  • Increase fibre intake: for babies who have already started solids, you can offer foods higher in fibre: vegetables, fruit, beans, and whole grain foods.
  • Offer a small amount (less ½ cup total per day) of apple, pear, or prune juice. The sorbitol sugar in these fruits may help to soften the stool.
  • Offer stewed prunes. Start with 1 tablespoon at a time. You can mix it in with infant cereal or yogurt or feed it as is.

Note: there isn’t any scientific evidence that any ONE food will cause constipation. It’s important to look at the overall diet. You may have heard that cheese causes constipation. As part of a healthy, balanced diet, cheese will not be a problem. But if your child is eating an unbalanced amount of cheese and not enough fibre or fluid containing foods, then this could be a problem.


Dyschezia: Some babies will grunt, strain, cry, or turn red in the face for up to 20-30 minutes but then end up passing a stool of soft consistency. This is alarming for parents to witness but the good news is that there isn’t anything actually wrong with the child. You may not realize this since you already know how but defecation takes some muscle coordination. Babies that experience dyschezia are figuring out how to coordinate contracting abdominal muscles while relaxing the pelvic floor. It’s like learning how to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time… it takes concentration, coordination, and practice!


Diarrhea: very watery and loose stools with or without mucus. If a baby has these type of stools he could become dehydrated so its very important to get into contact with your baby’s doctor for treatment recommendations. The most likely cause of diarrhea is a viral or bacterial infection but it could also be a sign of a food sensitivity. If you have recently introduced a new food into your baby’s diet, stop feeding her this food and try again in a few weeks.

Managing diarrhea:

A proper diagnosis by a physician should be undertaken. The best course of action may depend on whether the diarrhea is caused by a bacterial or viral infection or other cause.

What you can do:

  • Ensure your baby is taking in a lot of fluids to replace the losses from diarrhea. Babies and children are at a higher risk of becoming quickly dehydrated while experiencing diarrhea. This is because babies and children have a higher percentage of body water than adults.
  • Your doctor may recommend that you offer your baby Pedialyte to replenish any electrolytes lost from the diarrhea. Electrolytes are key minerals in the body that control fluid levels in the body’s different compartments. Proper metabolic functioning depends on adequate fluid and electrolyte levels.


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