Feeding FAQ: 0-8 Weeks – Breast Feeding

Question – Constipation

My daughter is constipated (it is possibly hereditary as my son was too and apparently my brother and I were as babies). She is not on any medication, but pureed prunes and papaya really helped my son – I just can’t remember at what age I gave them to him. So far my daughter has had pear and apple. We have been weaning for six weeks and are half way through the five to six month plan. Do you think it would be OK to give her prune and papaya as her fruit for breakfast now?

Answer:

With any case of constipation, it’s always a good idea to look at fluid intake first, as the best diet in the world for babies or adults won’t help if fluid intake is too low. You live in a warm part of the world so your baby may have slightly higher fluid requirements and as she is weaning and increasing her intake of solids, she may naturally be cutting down her fluid intake at this time. You could try offering extra breast-feeds if she is breast-fed, or drinks of water to complement her formula. You could also try offering some of her drinks before meals if her fluid intake seems low.

Papaya has a reputation for relieving constipation, but there doesn’t seem to be any scientific evidence for it being any more effective than other fruits. It is safe to give as an early weaning food – in fact, it was my oldest child’s very first food. As with other fruits and vegetables, the fibre it contains will help to some extent.

Prunes, on the other hand, are known to contain a chemical other than the fibre that promotes bowel movement. They contain sorbitol, a form of sugar that is used in some diet foods such as diet chewing gum and diet sweets. You’ll recall that packets of these foods can carry the warning that consumption of excessive amounts may have a laxative effect. This is because the sorbitol is digested very slowly in the body and holds extra water in the bowel, making a softer and larger stool that is easier to pass. In addition, researchers long ago discovered that prunes contained a substance very similar to some laxative medications, though recent studies have not been able to repeat this result. However, this may be another reason why prunes are renowned for helping with constipation, so we must take extra care when introducing them to children’s diets. I’d suggest trying to increase fluid first if intake seems low, then adding just half a teaspoon of pureed prune at a time, first at one then two meals a day. Then increase it by an extra half teaspoon a day until you notice an effect (up to a tablespoon or two a day at this age).

Pears also have a reputation for relieving constipation, and are a fruit your baby is already enjoying. They contain a type of fibre that is different to other fruit and vegetables which helps add extra bulk to stools making them easier to pass. Thus, they may be more effective than other choices.

As your daughter progresses with weaning, you’ll be able to offer her fruit and vegetables chopped as finger foods rather than as a puree. This can help with constipation as the foods are less processed so the fibre remains more intact, and more effective at moving bowels along. Pureed fruit is better than juice, but mashed fruit is better, and chopped fruit more effective again. Of course, as your daughter gets older, you can start introducing some wholegrain, unrefined foods (wheat and rice fibre are among the most effective types) but this is too much bulk for a little baby.

If you find the fluid, prunes and other fruit and vegetables are not helping, I’d suggest you consult your baby’s doctor. However, as with your older child, they will probably have the effect you’re looking for and you’ll both be happier and more comfortable!