What is Hard Stool?

Hard stool is any bowel movement that is dry and lumpy, either passing in pieces or a cylindrical-but-lumpy clump—Types 1 and 2 on the Bristol Stool Chart, which are described as constipation.1

Hard stool is indicative of constipation in your little one. Constipation is a common problem that occurs when your little one has infrequent or painful bowel movements or hard, dry stools that may require excessive straining.2

Common Causes of Hard Stool In Babies & Toddlers

The causes of hard stool include:3,4

  • Not enough fibre. Fibre keeps our food moving through our systems. It may seem counterintuitive, but not enough fibre can make stool rough, lumpy, and hard for the body to expel. Certain baby formulas contain dietary fibres that have been shown to soften stools.5
  • Not enough fluids. As food makes its way through the digestive tract, nutrients are absorbed, and fluids and fibre are left over. Fluid is continually absorbed throughout stool’s journey, which means if your child isn’t well hydrated, stool can become hard. Keeping your little one hydrated is key to ensuring their bowel movements are regular and painless. If your child is on a totally liquid diet of breastmilk or formula, and is passing hard stools, you should speak with your healthcare provider.
  • Transitioning to cow’s milk: For some infants and toddlers, transitioning from breast milk or formula may also trigger constipation. If you think this is the case, consider limiting cow’s milk and cow’s milk products or trialing a transition toddler formula.6
  • Not enough movement. When the bowels aren’t moving, it might be because the body isn’t moving. If your little one isn’t getting enough age-appropriate physical activity during the day, the stool in their system might not find its way to the end of the line before becoming dry.

How to Soften Hard Stools In Babies

Making sure your little one’s bowel movements are soft and manageable may be as simple as doing the opposite of what causes hard stools:2,7,8

  • Find ways to add fibre to the menu. Make sure your little one is getting enough of what they need to relieve themself—specifically insoluble fibre. Fresh fruit and veggies are great sources for babies who have started trying solids. If your baby is still on formula, consider a formula that includes dietary fibre.5
  • Push fluids—the right fluids. The clearer your little’s urine, the better hydrated they are. Be careful when offering drinks, though: sugary juices can cause other gastrointestinal problems, so avoid them. Instead, offer 2 to 4 ounces of undiluted 100% fruit juice, like grape, apple, or prune, to infants older than 12 months old.9 Babies who are still primarily eating formula should only be offered water as a supplement to soften hard stools after the age of 6 months.10
  • Make some moves. Digestion responds to physical movement. If your little one is younger than a year, floor-based physical activities are perfect.

Be patient while you work to ease your little one’s hard stool discomfort. If their hard stools persist, check in with your health care provider.