Parenthood changes people in countless ways. You discover an intensity of love you never knew you were capable of. Your priorities get completely rearranged as your focus turns to your new baby. And you get very comfortable discussing poop. And that last one is especially important because your child’s poop — the color, consistency, smell and frequency — can tell you a great deal about their overall health and well-being.
The color of your baby’s poop matters
Obviously, when it comes to poop, the primary factor is what the baby is eating. For breast-fed babies, that means what mom is eating. Because of that variation, the poop from a breast-fed baby will be far less regular in terms of color and consistency than that from a baby who is exclusively formula fed.
Poop should be brown, yellow or green. Any variation within that spectrum is normal. If your baby’s poop is red, black or white that could be a sign of a serious medical issue. Newborns will have black, sticky stool for their first few days of life and that’s perfectly normal.
Before you call your child’s pediatrician about a concerning color, though, review what your baby has recently eaten. Foods with artificial coloring (candy, frosting, Jell-O, juice), some fruits and vegetables (beets, blueberries) and even certain medications (Pepto-Bismol, iron supplements, antibiotics) can turn your baby’s poop a rainbow of different colors.
If you are able to eliminate all those potential causes, then it’s time to call the doctor. Red poop could be a sign of intestinal bleeding; black poop could mean bleeding in the stomach; and white poop could be a sign that your baby isn’t producing enough bile due to a blockage in the liver.
Frequency of bowel movements
Frequency of bowel movements is actually less important than most parents realize. For kids under 2, pooping anywhere between twice a week and daily is fine. Anything beyond either end of that range could be a problem. Too frequent bowl movements can mean your child isn’t absorbing enough nutrients during the digestive process while infrequent movements are a telltale sign of constipation.
Signs and causes of constipation
Constipation is fairly common in children for a variety of reasons. Most frequently it’s caused by a diet that includes too much dairy and not enough fiber. There are also psychosocial causes like anxiety or shyness. If you suspect your baby is constipated, try decreasing their dairy intake while increasing high-fiber foods, such as fresh fruits and veggies. Also be sure they’re getting plenty of liquids. Most cases will resolve themselves after a few days with simple nutritional tweaks.
Another sign of constipation is poop that is hard and dry. Baby poop should be pretty soft in consistency — somewhere between peanut butter and pudding. If your baby is breast-fed, don’t be alarmed by a seedy or grainy appearance.
Smelling baby poop
Perhaps the one good thing about baby poop is that for the majority of breast-fed babies, it doesn’t smell — formula fed babies might have a slight odor. Of course that all changes once solids are introduced. If your baby’s poop is especially foul-smelling, however, it might mean they’re allergic to something they’ve eaten. If a strong odor persists over several days, it’s best to contact your child’s pediatrician and see if an allergy test is necessary.
While I understand it can be uncomfortable to talk about, your child’s poop really is a window into their health. And besides, as the good book says, “Everyone Poops.”
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices conveniently located throughout southeast Wisconsin, including River Glen Pediatrics located in Glendale, Wis. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Amit Bajaj, MD.