Apr 27, 2012 Post By: Children's Health

Baby Poop: Why Parents Should Pay Attention to It
Daddy blogger for Children's Health interviews a pediatric gastroenterologist to learn what baby poop can tell us.

An honest mother once told me before I became a parent, “When you have a child, you talk about poop at least once a day.” 

It seemed kind of ridiculous to me then. It sounds totally absurd now. My wife and I discuss poop no less than three times a day since our daughter was born last November.

“Hey honey,” I say as I walk through the door after work. “How’s Emmy? Did she poop today?” It’s bad enough that I don’t ask how my wife’s day went, but the badness is compounded by my typically modest wife being eager to answer.

“Craig, you should’ve seen it! It went through her diaper, up her back, through the onesie, through my sweater, ALL the way to my undershirt! Four whole layers! It was unbelievable!”

I wish I could say this exchange is limited to our post-work introduction. But the truth is that poop weaves in and out of many conversations, much like “Are we there yet?” pops up every 30 or so minutes from little kids in back seats on road trips.

Except we’re not little kids. We’re adults. You just may not think it based on our discussion choices.

“Did you see that Robert Griffin III was the second overall pick?” I ask at the dinner table. “Yeah, I really hope he does well. He’s such a great guy,” she responds. Then without a transition or much of a pause: “Will you please take Emmy’s diapers out to the trash after we eat? She had a blowout this afternoon, and the smell is still lingering. It’s bad.”

In comparison, all of our pre-child conversations about celebrity gossip and weekend plans sound like analysis of Foucault and Caravaggio now. But, you know, we embrace the unexpected fixation as part of the total parenting package, which we’re grateful to have. Besides, every other new parent we know does the same thing.

Pediatricians require us all to pay attention to and even track baby bowel movements, particularly for the first few weeks. Why? Well, I went to a more authoritative source for that answer.

The scoop on poop from our expert

Dr. Ashish Patel, who works in the Gastroenterology department at Children’s, is an expert on children’s stomach issues. It turns out that he’s a new father, too. When I called to speak with him, his wife had just sent him a text about their 10-day-old daughter. It was a picture of a dirty diaper with the caption: “Poo poo diaper with yellowish stool. Thought GI doctor daddy would be happy to see.”

So, yes, even the most brilliant of us are vulnerable to the poop craze. Dr. Patel said that isn’t such a bad thing, though. “Poop tells us how a baby is doing with a variety of health issues.”

Below are a few of the reasons he said baby poop is worth paying attention to:

- Poop reveals how much nutrition a baby is receiving. Meconium, the tar-like stool that babies have right after they’re born, is amniotic fluid that a baby is pushing out of its system. The transition from meconium to yellow-brown stool indicates that the baby is receiving enough milk/formula to flush out the amniotic fluid.

- Poop indicates how a baby’s liver is working. “As the nutrition from formula or milk stimulates the GI tract, it stimulates the liver and bile ducts so that they excrete bile into the intestine, which gives poop that yellow-brown color,” Dr. Patel said. He added that the only two stool colors that concern him are red and white. Red suggests internal bleeding, and white or pale “indicates that bile isn’t being excreted and something is possibly wrong with the liver.”

- Poop frequency is (sort of) a sign of how well a baby’s GI tract is working. Dr. Patel said that he expects formula-fed babies to have a bowel movement a couple of times a day and breastfed babies to go at least once every several days. But he said that unexpected frequencies (formula-fed babies may go several days without pooping and breastfed babies may poop a couple of times a day) may simply be caused by GI tracts being immature and going through the development process. “What really triggers concern are the other symptoms like irritability, a swollen belly and decreased appetite in addition to the frequency irregularity,” he said.

So, new parents, if you find poop being a regular topic of conversation, it’s not such a bad thing. Everyone else, please have patience as we gradually climb our way back to “interesting” from “gross” as our children get older.