How Can Formula Cause Constipation in Babies?

September 23, 2023
Writen by:  
Cydney Willoughby
Understanding Constipation in Formula-Fed Babies: Causes and Solutions

Many babies experience constipation, and formula-fed infants are no exception. Naturally, constipated babies deal with a lot of discomfort, so it’s essential to understand what can cause constipation and how to alleviate it.

While there can be several potential reasons behind a baby’s inability to poop, it’s crucial to understand that diet can affect your baby’s digestion. For example, sometimes infants can experience a hard poo due to the ingredients in their formula milk.

So, what is the most effective way to alleviate constipation in formula-fed babies? And how can parents choose the best formula? That’s what we will share with you today. If you are dealing with formula-fed baby constipation, this article is for you!

Understanding the Link Between Your Baby’s Constipation and Infant Formula

Here’s the deal: Breastfed and formula-fed babies have different bowel movements. This is partly because infants fed breast milk receive more proteins and oligosaccharides (carbohydrates with a small number of simple sugars) that are not digested.

As a result, breastfed babies’ stool is typically softer and larger in volume. Additionally, because these babies are fed on demand, they poop more often. However, this starts to change as your baby grows and develops. Once their digestive tract matures, breastfed babies will produce fewer stools in a day.

On the other hand, formula-fed babies tend to poop less frequently, and the composition of infant formula makes the stool move through the intestines more slowly. Therefore, baby formula is more likely to cause constipation.

Your baby’s digestive system can also be affected by the amount of protein, iron, carbohydrates, and sugars in their infant formula. Or, your little one’s constipation may result from their sensitivities.

These factors highlight the importance of being careful when introducing formula to your baby’s diet.

Confused by the list of ingredients on your baby’s formula packaging? Unlock the mystery with our next article: Baby Formula Ingredients Guide: What do They Mean?

How Can Formula Make a Baby Constipated?

Many infants experience constipation when transitioning from breastfeeding to formula. Changes in your baby’s stool are simply a response to their body learning to digest new foods.

Moreover, infant formulas that are high in iron can be more likely to lead to constipation. In this case, switching to a low-iron formula may help your baby have more regular poops.

Moreover, sometimes, parents mistakenly use incorrect proportions when preparing a baby’s formula. When it’s too concentrated (meaning with not enough water used), the formula can make your baby constipated and uncomfortable.

Signs of Constipation in Formula-Fed Babies

The common signs of a constipated baby include the following:

  • Pooping fewer than three times a week
  • Hard, dry, or pellet-like stool
  • Swollen or firm belly
  • Gas
  • Straining and discomfort when your baby tries to poop
  • Irritability or crying when pooping
  • Unusually smelly poo or gas
  • Stomach cramps
  • Your baby is less hungry than usual
  • Some skin may split around the anus when trying to poop, which can cause pain and bleeding

Simple Strategies to Alleviate Constipation in a Formula-Fed Baby

There are several things parents can do to help relieve constipation and discomfort; some of these tricks may even help prevent constipation in the future! Below you’ll find a list of things you can try at home.

At-Home Remedies for Constipation:

  • Preparing the formula according to the instructions exactly (using too little water can cause constipation)
  • Making sure your baby is hydrated
  • Laying your baby on their back and gently moving their legs in a bicycle motion to stimulate bowel movement
  • Giving your baby a warm bath to relax their muscles
  • Trying gentle belly massage (circular motions in a clockwise pattern are best)
  • Burping your baby after feedings
  • Bending your baby’s legs up toward the abdomen when they strain to poop

Parents can try a few more helpful tricks listed below, but only after receiving pediatrician approval.

Remedies for Constipation Your Doctor May Recommend:

  • Trying a different brand of baby formula
  • Switching to a hypoallergenic, lactose-free, or low-iron formula
  • Giving your baby a small amount of apple or prune juice/puree (if they are old enough). Sometimes, doctors recommend diluting it with a bit of water.

Other Potential Causes of Baby Constipation

It should be noted that formula-fed babies often experience constipation for reasons other than formula. Considering these factors can help parents find the right solution to the problem.

Babies often deal with constipation due to natural tendencies. For example, some babies have slower digestion. In other cases, children may develop holding-on behaviors after a painful (or even frightening) pooping experience, and holding on makes the poo harder, leading to aggravated constipation.

It’s also important to mention that infant constipation can result from certain health issues, like metabolic disorders or thyroid deficiency. That’s why it’s crucial to always discuss your baby’s digestion problems with a pediatrician to get to the root of the problem.

When to See a Doctor

While constipation is a common occurrence in infancy that shouldn’t raise much concern, certain special situations require medical attention.

If you notice any of the following signs, reach out to your baby’s doctor:

  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Refusing to eat
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive crying
  • Repeated episodes of constipation
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Fever
  • Excessive bloating

Concerned about your baby vomiting after formula feeds? Get expert advice and peace of mind with our next article: Why is My Baby Vomiting After Feeding Formula? Click here to read it now and find the answers you’re seeking.


Can formula cause constipation? The answer is yes. Baby formula is often slower to digest than breast milk, and certain components in the formula, like iron or protein, may also trigger digestive issues. Babies can also quickly become constipated if parents make errors when mixing the formula.

That being said, baby formula isn’t always the villain, and constipation could result from several unrelated causes. The key takeaway here is to pay attention to symptoms of constipation and consult your pediatrician for help finding a solution.

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