The Truth About Baby Poop
Find out what color changes, diarrhea, and frequency may say about your baby's health.
Is It Constipation?
It's not simply the absence of stool but stool that is formed or looks like pellets that should tip you off that your child may be constipated.
Very firm or pebble-like stools require a call to the doctor. This can sometimes indicate that the child is dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration might include decreased tears, lack of saliva, and a sunken look in the eyes and the infant's soft spot. The soft spot, also called anterior fontanelle, is a space between the bones on the top of an infant’s skull. The soft spot can be present until about 2 years of age.
Most parents are concerned that the pained, red-faced look their baby gets while pooping means straining and constipation. That's usually not the case.
"A baby doesn't know how to ... contract the abdominal musculature and push," Steinmetz explains. "Plus, they don't have gravity helping them like when you sit on a commode."
By the age of 1, most kids have it worked out and lose the tortured look.
Signs of Diarrhea
When it comes to diarrhea, parents sometimes have a hard time knowing what they're dealing with because infants' stools are naturally loose. But looking for subtle changes in a baby's poop is often a waste of time, Steinmetz says.
"Blow-out diarrhea that goes up the back is not that subtle," he says. And it's just the kind of outburst that is common when diarrhea strikes very young children.
Call your doctor right away if there is diarrhea, especially with newborns, Wible advises. It can signal something more serious, such as a virus or other systemic illness dangerous for very young children.
What Does Color Mean?
Baby poop changes color and it's a constant concern for parents. But for the most part, it needn't be.
"Color has not much to do with anything except the transit time of food [in the baby's system] and the bile coming through the GI tract," Steinmetz says.
The poop color timeline works like this: Yellow means milk is moving through the baby's system quickly. When the process slows down, poop becomes green -- and can unnecessarily worry parents. Even slower, poop turns brown.
"That's why infants often have yellow stools, because they have a very fast transit time," Steinmetz says.