New babies don't come with an instruction manual, but they do leave clues about the state of their health. Hiding in a baby's diaper is a wealth of information, and many new parents understandably find themselves spending a lot of time and energy trying to decode the messages left for them -- the amount, the color, the consistency -- and what it all means.
So what does the content of a baby's diaper say about his or her health? And when should you be worried about what's in the diaper? Here's expert advice.
"A lot," says Kenneth Wible, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri and pediatrics medical director at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Mo.
"It depends somewhat on diet," Wible says. "Babies who are breastfed generally have more and thinner stools than babies who are formula fed. But five to six stools per day is pretty normal."
While it's a good idea to expect a lot of poop in the early stages of a baby's life, the frequency of bowel movements among children varies widely, notes Barry Steinmetz, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach in Long Beach, Calif.
"Some kids will go up to seven or eight times a day," he says. Other infants may go every other day.
Many parents become concerned when an infant's bowel movements suddenly drop in frequency. But particularly for breastfed babies, this is a common occurrence as a mother's milk becomes more mature.
"The mother's milk is so well balanced and the baby's digestive processes are so good, there's not a lot of residue," Wible says.
The key, Steinmetz says, is that the stool is soft and the child is eating well and gaining weight.
There's often a large amount of liquid content in babies' stool because before six months, doctors recommend that babies get their nutrients exclusively from milk.
"It kind of looks as if you took a jar of mustard and mixed it with cottage cheese, especially for formula-fed babies," Wible says. "With breastfed babies, there is a lot more liquid and the milk curds in the stool are a lot finer and smaller."