The Best Baby Formulas for Preventing ConstipationThis post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure.
When my kids were born, I knew I would eventually have to decide whether to breastfeed, formula feed, or do both, but the idea of any of these options causing my baby digestive issues never crossed my mind. But BOTH of my kids struggled with constipation during their infant years: I remember agonizing over my daughter’s constipation issues which made no sense to me because at the time, she was exclusively breastfed. And my son had similar issues for a short period of time when we switched him to formula. Infant digestive systems are so underdeveloped that constipation is a really common problem, but I remember feeling super stressed about it! Because honestly, there are few things worse for parents that seeing your baby in distress.
The problem is, most commercial, non-organic formulas out there can cause digestive issues for little ones!
Thankfully, there are a number of high-quality, organic formulas that can be hugely beneficial for babies suffering from constipation. After researching the differences between the many infant formulas on the market, I have found the best baby formulas for preventing constipation – ensuring your little one will get the nutrition they need, while also being able to be content and comfortable after feeding.
If you’re interested in learning about why formula feeding can sometimes cause constipation and whether you should switch formulas, you can scroll down to the bottom for an in-depth discussion about this. I’ve also given some general advice to help you determine whether your baby is actually constipated, or simply coming to terms with his or her own unique digestive system.
Here are the best baby formulas for constipation, and below I’ll give a little more detail about why I have chosen these options!
The Best Baby Formulas for Constipation in 2019
Why Is European Formula Better?
- Organic European formulas are subject to much stricter regulations than U.S. formulas, particularly when it comes to restricting the use of refined sugars such as corn syrup, maltodextrin, and glucose syrup.
- Unlike many U.S. formulas, European formulas such as HiPP, Lebenswert, and Holle are lactose-based, just like breast milk.
- European formulas have an optimal blend of fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients such as long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, prebiotics, and probiotics.
- European Union regulations prevent the inclusion of GMO ingredients, hormones, synthetic nutrients, and synthetic preservatives.
- European formulas mimic the quality and nutritional content of breast milk as closely as possible, mainly in terms of the whey:casein ratio — too much casein can cause constipation! In contrast, most U.S. formulas have many of the synthetic ingredients listed above, don’t have an optimal whey:casein ratio, and contain added sugars — all of which can cause both constipation and digestive issues in babies.
How Do I Choose the Best Formula for Preventing Constipation?
There are a few things to look for when choosing the best baby formulas for constipation:
- Look for an organic, lactose-based formula that is free from processed sweeteners, GMO-ingredients, and synthetic preservatives. That is a key first step in preventing your infant from becoming constipated in the first place.
- Look for a formula with high quality pre/probiotics added (unless you plan on supplementing with that separately). Prebiotics such as galacto-oligosaccharides and fructo-oligosaccharides are soluble fibers that help probiotics (beneficial microorganisms like Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus) to thrive in your intestines. In addition to preventing constipation, a healthy gut microbiome in infants has been linked to the prevention of food allergies, colic, eczema, and infectious diarrhea. Research indicates that infants who are fed with these formulas tend to have softer stools, more frequent bowel movements, a lower stool pH, and more “good bacteria” in their intestines than babies receiving standard, non-speciality formulas. Essentially, prebiotic/probiotic formulas are designed to help make the gut microbiota of formula-fed babies as healthy and as similar to those of breastfed infants as possible.
Here are the details for each baby formula listed above!
As a general recommendation for most babies, my top choice is HiPP Dutch Combiotic Formula This nutritionally-complete formula is one of the best on the market and is arguably the closest formula alternative to breast milk. It’s a great choice if you are starting your baby on formula and want to prevent constipation or digestive issues to begin with.
It’s free from starch, gluten, maltodextrin, corn syrup, GMO ingredients, synthetic ingredients, and synthetic preservatives. All HiPP Dutch formulas are made with high-quality organic skimmed milk, organic whey powder, organic vegetable oils, and organic lactose. They contain essential vitamins, nutrients, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. HiPP Dutch Combiotic formula includes both prebiotics (galacto-oligosaccharides) as well as a probiotic (Lactobacillus), thus providing beneficial microorganisms and the dietary fibers that will help those bacteria flourish in the intestines.
HiPP PRE is made in Germany, but is virtually identical in ingredients and in composition to HiPP Dutch, so I’d rank it just as highly as HiPP Dutch here!
HiPP UK Combiotic is very similar to its Dutch counterpart, with the key difference being that it does not contain probiotics. However, it does contain prebiotic fibers in the form of galacto-oligosaccharides from lactose, just like HiPP Dutch, and is a more affordable option.
Lebenswert formulas are made in Germany and are Bioland certified. This means that they adhere to very strict organic standards, exceeding the EU’s minimum requirements for organic certification. Lebenswert formulas are made with organic skimmed milk, organic whey powder, a blend of organic vegetable oils, organic lactose, and a healthy proportion of vitamins and minerals. Lebenswert formulas are great for prevening constipation and have a very simple list of ingredients — they do not contain pre/probiotics, nor omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids such as DHA/ARA. Lebenswert formulas do not contain maltodextrin, corn syrup, or starch and they are always free from synthetic and GMO ingredients and preservatives.=
Holle PRE is another excellent German formula that can help prevent infant constipation. Like Lebenswert, Holle PRE does not contain “extras” such as pre/probiotics, DHA, or ARA. Holle formulas are especially notable because they are made with biodynamic organic milk from Demeter-certified farms. Biodynamic farming standards go a step beyond even Bioland standards in terms of their emphasis on self-sustaining and chemical-free agriculture, ecosystem preservation, and animal health and welfare. Unlike other Holle formulas, Holle PRE uses lactose as its only carbohydrate source, rather than maltodextrin. It also contains more milk fat than most other formulas, which rely mainly on vegetable oils. Holle PRE undoubtedly contains some of the highest-quality organic ingredients in the world and is an all-around excellent infant formula.
Kabrita USA is a goat’s milk formula from the Netherlands that may be helpful for infants experiencing constipation problems, as well as conditions such as gas, diarrhea, eczema, or reflux. One of the main reasons for its success is that goat’s milk protein is easier to digest than cow’s milk protein. Kabrita USA is not suitable for children with a confirmed cow’s milk protein allergy, but it may be appropriate for children with cow’s milk sensitivity and it can be particularly useful during weaning or as a breastmilk supplement. Although it is labeled as a toddler formula due to FDA regulations about clinical studies, Kabrita USA is a nutritionally-complete formula that is safe and healthy for infants under the age of 12 months, as well as toddlers. The whey: casein ratio and the use of lactose as the main carbohydrate make Kabrita USA more similar to breastmilk than many cow’s milk formulas. It also contains a vegetable oil blend, vitamins, minerals, prebiotics, and the fatty acids DHA and ARA. Although Kabrita USA is not designated as organic by the USDA, it is made from non-GMO ingredients and is completely free from pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics.
HiPP HA Germany Combiotic formulas include both prebiotics (galacto-oligosaccharides) and a natural probiotic (Lactobacillus) just like HiPP Dutch. However, there is one major difference: the HiPP HA Germany formula is also hypoallergenic, which means that the cow’s milk proteins are extensively hydrolyzed (broken down into smaller protein chains) and are easier to digest. This makes it a great baby formula option for constipation. This formula also has 0% casein, and is 100% whey. It is an ideal choice for infants with milk protein sensitivity because the hydrolyzed proteins are much less likely to cause an allergic reaction. HiPP HA isn’t technically organic, because you can’t create organic hydrolyzed protein, but it still adheres to the strict EU guidelines and in some cases a hypoallergenic formula may be the best option for babies with digestion problems.
HiPP HA PRE is a identical to HiPP HA, except that it is free of starch, promoting even easier digestion and allowing infants to feed more frequently. Which is exactly why it appears on my list of the best baby formulas for constipation above!
HiPP Comfort is a specialty formula for infants who are already experiencing constipation, as well as other digestive issues, allergies, or colic. It is made with ingredients such as small, easily digestible proteins and a special fat blend that can help soften stool and make infants more comfortable after feeding. Compared to other HiPP formulas, HiPP Comfort contains comparatively less lactose, and it does contain some starch and maltodextrin to promote digestion. This formula includes prebiotics (galacto-oligosaccharides) as well as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Although the use of hydrolyzed proteins in HiPP Comfort means that this formula can’t be officially certified as organic, it contains high-quality ingredients that have been specifically included to help ease your baby’s constipation and promote better digestion. Because this is a specialty formula for managing health issues, I would recommend consulting your physician before introducing your infant to HiPP Comfort.
Whichever formula you choose, make sure to closely follow the instructions for preparing a bottle, especially the proportion of powder to water, to ensure that your baby doesn’t become dehydrated.
How Can You Tell if Your Infant Is Constipated?
Constipation in babies can be a tricky topic. It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether your baby is constipated, even when you are constantly involved in diaper duty! It is normal for some babies to go five or more days without a bowel movement; breastfed babies may need a diaper change after every feed, or they may go for up to a week without a bowel movement. Formula-fed babies may pass stools anywhere from several times a day to several times a week. This usually reduces to one bowel movement a day after solid foods are introduced. It’s also fairly normal for infants to strain somewhat when having a bowel movement, as long as the stool is soft. Constipated babies usually produce dry stools that resemble hard pellets or balls, rather than having a liquidy or pasty consistency.
If your infant is really struggling to pass stools and is refusing to eat, he or she is probably constipated. Hard stools can cause babies distress and they may arch their back, experience bloating, go red in the face, or cry when having a bowel movement.
Why Does Formula Feeding Make Some Babies Constipated?
Infant formula is thicker than breast milk and it can be more difficult for babies to digest. The dietary fibers in breast milk also help to ensure that breastfed infants have soft stools. It takes longer for formula to pass through the gastrointestinal tract and this can make stools firmer, thus causing constipation.
Some babies have difficulty breaking down the proteins in formula, as they are larger than those in breast milk. Constipation can sometimes be a symptom of cow’s milk protein allergy, which is estimated to affect between two and seven percent of infants. However, there are some excellent formulas that contain partially or extensively hydrolyzed (broken down) proteins, which are much easier to digest and are less likely to have an allergenic effect. You can see my recommendations for the best hypoallergenic formulas here.
You may have heard that iron-fortified formula can contribute to infant constipation, but clinical studies conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics have shown that this is not true. On the contrary, iron is very important for preventing anemia in babies and it contributes to the creation of red blood cells.
Your infant could briefly experience constipation if you are switching from breast milk to formula for the first time. Introducing solid foods can also result in constipation. However, this can usually be resolved quickly and naturally by making sure that your infant is eating plenty of fiber and staying hydrated.
When Should You Switch Baby Formulas?
Understanding why your baby is constipated is important before trying to solve the problem. The first thing to do is to make sure that you are correctly following the instructions for preparing a bottle and ensure that you aren’t using too much powder, as this could lead to dehydration. Gently massaging your baby’s stomach in a clockwise direction can also be very helpful for their digestion, as can giving them a warm bath and making sure that they are doing plenty of rolling and moving their legs.
If your baby is experiencing constipation, it may be a good idea to try a new formula, especially if you aren’t yet using an organic European formula like HiPP, Holle, or Lebenswert. It’s important to remember that when you switch formulas, your baby’s digestive system has to adjust to a brand-new composition of nutrients. Be patient after switching formulas, as the change may actually result in short-term constipation.
It’s often a good idea to consult with your pediatrician in order to rule out lactose intolerance or allergies, or rarer medical conditions that could also be the culprit behind the constipation symptoms. It’s also a good idea to discuss your baby’s diet with your pediatriciation, including when you are thinking about changing formula. And for older babies who are already eating some solids, introducing high-fiber foods such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, broccoli, pears, beans, and prunes can help. A small amount of water or prune, apple, or pear juice may also help to ease infant constipation.
No parent ever wants to see their child in distress, but constipation can happen. If it does, try to stay calm and be patient — it usually doesn’t last long. Providing your child with the best formula available will go a long way towards your peace of mind, and will ensure that your baby is getting the closest possible alternative to breast milk.