Diaper Duty: What Your Baby's Stool can Tell You

Health & Wellness, Service Line
January 14, 2020
Diaper Duty: What Your Baby's Stool can Tell You

Changing dirty diapers comes with the territory of being a new parent. What you may not realize is that the stool your baby produces provides important clues about your baby’s nutrition, hydration and general health.

TriHealth pediatrician Robyn Gorman, MD, offers some basic guidelines to put new parents at ease about what’s normal and what’s not.

First Days

Babies typically have a bowel movement during the first 24 hours of life, before going home from the hospital. This first stool a baby passes is called meconium. It’s dark and tarry and doesn’t have much smell, because there isn’t much bacteria yet in your baby’s digestive tract.

Within a few days, your baby’s poop will change in color and consistency, whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding.

First Months

“Several days after birth, your baby’s stool will become lighter and less sticky. It may begin to look brown, green or yellow,” Dr. Gorman says. “These are all normal stool colors for breastfed and bottle-fed babies.”

She explains that in general, stools of babies consuming breast milk tend to look loose or runny, whereas formula stools tend to appear more pasty. Sometimes, the stool contains little “seeds,” which are nothing to worry about.

Also note during this period that it’s not unusual for babies to sneeze, hiccup, cough, snort, cry and strain or grunt when they are having bowel movements.

Introducing Food

Once you begin feeding your baby solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula – at about four to six months – you may see your baby’s stool change in frequency, color and odor due to the change in diet.

Dr. Gorman notes, “Brown, yellow, orange, green or any shade of these are normal stool colors for breastfed or bottle-fed babies. Worrisome colors are red, which could indicate blood; black, indicating old or digested blood; and white, which may be due to a liver problem.

Answering Questions about Constipation

Many parents have concerns about whether their baby is constipated. Your baby is not constipated as long as stools are soft. However, stool frequency can vary greatly from baby to baby.

“Breastfed baby stool ranges from frequent small poops every day to once a week or less often. Formula-fed babies do tend to have daily poops,” Dr. Gorman says.

She continues, “If a baby has a bowel movement less often than once a week, this can be normal for that baby, but we would generally want to evaluate the infant to rule out any problems.”

When to Call the Doctor

Call your baby’s doctor if:

  • You see blood in your baby’s stool
  • Diarrhea is accompanied by vomiting or fever
  • Your baby has abdominal pains
  • Your baby acts sick or listless, or has a rash
  • Baby’s mouth or lips are dry and urinating is less than usual
  • Symptoms persist for more than a week

When you are searching for information online, Dr. Gorman says, “We recommend staying off blogs and social media as much as possible. There is often misinformation online.”

Online resources she does recommend and trust include the American Academy of Pediatrics website for parents, healthychildren.org; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, cincinnatichildrens.org; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov; and TriHealth’s website trihealth.com.

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