As much as you might not like to admit it, when you have a baby, you talk about poop at least once a day. It’s not just that you find literally everything about your precious little one interesting — there is good reason to discuss what you find in their diapers. It turns out, your baby’s poop can tell you a lot about their health.
So many diapers to change
The average child will go through over 2,500 diapers in their first year. Not all of those will contain stool. However, newborns may poop up to ten times a day while older babies will have fewer dirty diapers. While you’re busy changing all these diapers, it’s important to look for any changes.
What is “normal”?
“Your newborn’s stool may vary in color, but in general, it should be yellow and brown,” says Ashish Patel, M.D., of pediatric gastroenterology at Children's Health℠. “Breastfed babies tend to have more frequent and soft bowel movements than formula-fed babies.”
When you first bring your baby home, you can expect to find tar-like stool in their diaper for up to a few days. This is meconium, or amniotic fluid, which will eventually get flushed out once your baby is receiving enough breast milk or formula.
The most common baby poop problem is diarrhea, which is a symptom of an infection of the digestive tract. When a baby has diarrhea, the fluids, salts, minerals and nutrients that their body needs to thrive are lost, which may cause serious problems. In fact, baby diarrhea is one of the leading causes of infant hospitalization.
Look for these signs that your baby has diarrhea:
- A dramatic increase in the number of dirty diapers per day
- Poop that is more water than substance
- A sudden, terrible diaper rash
- Stomach cramps indicated by your baby bringing their knees up to their chest
- Continuous diaper blowouts — poop explosions that soil clothing, bedding, etc.
- Less wet diapers or weakness in your baby (this is very serious)
At home treatment for diarrhea
Mild cases of diarrhea can be treated at home and are usually no more trouble than the extra dirty diapers you’ll have to handle. You can help ensure your baby feels better by following these tips:
- Every hour, give your baby one to two ounces of a rehydration formula designed for rapid absorption (such as Pedialyte)
- Limit the amount of milk-based products you give your baby
- If you breastfeed, offer the breast every hour
- If you formula feed, offer smaller, more frequent amounts of the formula the baby has been tolerating
Always call your child’s doctor if you have any questions.
When to call the doctor about your baby’s poop
For the most part, changing dirty diapers will just become another joyous part of being a parent. However, sometimes a baby’s poop can indicate a serious problem. Look for these signs that you need to call your baby’s doctor right away:
- Red colored stool, which may suggest internal bleeding
- White or pale colored stool, which indicates that bile isn’t being excreted and something is possibly wrong with their liver
- A swollen belly, combined with irritability and decreased appetite
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Dehydration due to diarrhea, including:
- Weakness or lethargy
- Less than six wet diapers in 24 hours or six hours without a wet diaper
- Shrunken eyes and/or soft spot on top of head
- Wrinkled skin
- A lack of tears when crying (after age four weeks)
Learn more about your child’s digestive health from the Gastroenterology specialists at Children’s Health.
Stay current on the health and wellness information that make a difference to you and your family. Sign up for the Children’s Health newsletter.