The Poop on Poop

How many times have you opened up a poopy diaper and wondered, ‘hmmm … is that normal?’ There’s not a mom on the planet who hasn’t worried about the color, consistency, or frequency of what’s coming out of that little behind. Have no fear, I’m going to clean up those messy doubts.

First, some reassurance. 99% of poop is perfectly normal, and it changes as your baby grows.

The look, smell, and amount is a direct result of what’s going IN the other end, and how it’s affected by digestion in the GI tract. The newborn who’s breast-fed-only will probably have poop that’s about the color and consistency of mustard up to several times a day (that’s after they’ve gotten rid of the mucous and dark meconium of fetal life). A babe on a formula diet will go less often, maybe once a day or every other, and it will be darker, stinkier, and firmer. If you see some green mixed in, that’s OK. All nutrition is not digested equally.

A quick note about constipation. The word refers to poop that is very hard or difficult to pass. It’s rare for a breast-only baby to become constipated. Mother nature pretty much takes care of that. Occasionally, formula fed infants will have a bit of trouble, so if it looks like yours is straining to the point of pain (as opposed to pushing and grunting which is normal), check with your pediatrician. There are some simple tricks that can help loosen the log jam. According to Web MD, constipation becomes more common as kids get older, and may reach 10% as children approach school age.

When you start to feed solids (4 – 6 months) things change. Strained fruit and veggies may vary the color and texture of poop a bit, but it’s nothing to worry about. When you add animal products smells get stronger, colors get darker, and diaper rash may become more of a problem. Meat is irritating — no matter how you cut it.

And now, on to the question I hear most often: When babies start finger foods, like bite-sized pieces of vegetables and fruits, is it normal for them to show up undigested in the diaper? Is it harmful? Yes, it’s normal. No harm done. When babies have only a few front teeth, they’re not able to chew food completely and much of it will be swallowed whole. Stomach juices and digestive action will extract a good part of the nutritional value, but you may well see what appears to be whole bites show up in the diaper. Have no fear, this is mostly the fiber ‘shell’ that never got chewed.

Sometime between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2, your little guy will start poopin’ in the potty and your daily examination will come to an end — not a moment too soon. Most of our concern is a result of the up-close-and-personal nature of diaper changing.

That said, here are the poop characteristics that should send you to the pediatrician right away:

Red blood in the diaper in any amount.

Black, tarry stool that’s significantly different than before.

White or colorless stool.

Bulky, fatty stool that persists and floats in the toilet.

Enough about poop! Go forth in peace …

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?

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