Can Formula Cause Constipation in Babies? (2023)

Formula feeding is a common practice for many parents, but there are concerns about its potential impact on a baby's digestion. One question that often arises is whether formula can cause constipation in infants. In this article, we will explore this topic in detail and provide insights into the factors that may contribute to constipation in formula-fed babies.

Formula vs. Breast Milk: Understanding the Differences

Breast milk is known for its easy digestibility and natural laxative properties, making it less likely to cause constipation in babies. On the other hand, formula is thicker and contains larger proteins that can be harder to digest. This difference in composition can increase the likelihood of gastrointestinal issues, including constipation, in formula-fed infants.

It's important to note that not all formula-fed babies will experience constipation, and some breastfed babies may also develop constipation when solids are introduced into their diet. Each baby is unique, and factors such as individual digestion and diet variations can influence their bowel movements.

Signs of Constipation in Formula-Fed Newborns

Recognizing the signs of constipation in your baby is crucial for early intervention. Some common indicators of constipation in formula-fed newborns include:

  • Infrequent or less common bowel movements
  • Hard bowel movements that resemble pellets or rocks
  • Blood on the surface of the stool or when wiping
  • Pain while passing bowel movements, indicated by an arched back, red face, and crying
  • A tight belly
  • Lack of interest in food

It's important to remember that the number of bowel movements can vary greatly among babies. Instead of comparing your baby's bowel movements to others, focus on their individual patterns to determine if they are constipated. Additionally, the consistency and ease of passing stool are equally important factors to consider.

The Impact of Switching from Breast Milk to Formula

If you have recently transitioned your baby from breast milk to formula, you may notice changes in their bowel movements. It is not uncommon for the poop to become harder or change in color. Additionally, the introduction of a bottle may lead to increased gas in some babies. However, it's essential to remember that every baby is different, and not all infants will experience significant changes in their bowel movements.

Choosing the Right Formula for Your Baby

When it comes to selecting a formula, the options can be overwhelming. There are various types of formulas available, including milk-based (cow or goat), soy-based, and specialty formulas. Some formulas may advertise themselves as easier to digest, but there is no guarantee that any specific formula will suit your baby's digestive system perfectly.

To choose the right formula, it can be helpful to seek recommendations from other parents and caregivers and research the ingredients. However, it's important to consult with your child's pediatrician before making any changes to their formula. They can provide guidance based on your baby's specific needs and any underlying conditions that may be contributing to constipation.

Switching Formulas: When to Consider It

While changing formulas may help alleviate constipation in some cases, it's crucial to approach it with caution. Switching formulas too frequently or without proper consideration can potentially worsen the situation. It is generally recommended to give your baby a few weeks to adjust to any newly introduced formula before considering a change.

However, there are instances where switching formulas may be necessary. If your baby shows signs of food allergies, extreme fussiness, a need for additional iron in their diet, weakness or fatigue, vomiting, bloody stools, or persistent diarrhea, it may be worth discussing a formula change with your child's pediatrician.

Home Remedies for Relieving Newborn Constipation

In many cases, simple home remedies can effectively relieve constipation in babies. For older infants (over 6 months old), offering a small amount of 100 percent apple, prune, or pear juice diluted with water can help. These juices contain sorbitol, a natural laxative that can aid in relieving constipation.

Increasing your baby's water intake can also soften their stool. However, it's essential to consult with your doctor for specific recommendations regarding the amount and types of liquids suitable for your baby's age.

If your baby has started eating solids, incorporating fiber-rich options like peas and prunes into their diet can promote regular bowel movements. Additionally, opting for baby cereals with whole wheat or barley instead of rice can provide more fiber, aiding in digestion.

For younger babies, gentle exercises such as bicycle kicks and infant massage can help stimulate their digestive system. A warm bath can also relax their muscles and facilitate bowel movements. However, if these remedies do not provide relief, it is important to consult with your pediatrician for further guidance. It is not recommended to use mineral oil, stimulant laxatives, or enemas for constipation relief in infants without medical supervision.

When to Seek Medical Advice

In most cases, infant constipation is not a cause for major concern and can be managed with simple interventions. However, there are rare instances where constipation may be a sign of an underlying condition. It is important to reach out to your baby's doctor if you notice consistent issues with constipation despite dietary changes, vomiting, weakness, refusal to eat, blood in stools, or black stools (after the meconium stage).

Your baby's doctor can evaluate the situation and provide appropriate guidance to address the constipation and ensure your baby's well-being.


Formula-fed babies may be more prone to constipation compared to those exclusively breastfed. However, it's important to remember that every baby is unique, and individual factors can influence their digestion and bowel movements. By understanding the signs of constipation, choosing the right formula, and implementing appropriate remedies, you can help alleviate constipation in your baby. If you have concerns or if constipation persists, it is always best to consult with your child's pediatrician for personalized advice and guidance.

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Author: Prof. Nancy Dach

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