Baby Poop 101: a Comprehensive Guide to Newborn Poop
July 27, 2018
If there’s one thing that’s universal when it comes to parenting, it’s the fact that you’re going to be talking about baby poop a lot. (Cue questions: How often should a newborn poop? How can you help baby poop? What does green baby poop mean?) And while it may not be a typical topic of conversation for the dinner table, it’s essential to talk about it. Baby’s poop—the color, consistency and amount—can provide important clues into the health of your infant, says Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, a pediatrician and executive director of digital health for Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she blogs at Seattle Mama Doc.
Another reason why it’s a constant topic of conversation throughout the diaper years? Because baby’s poop habits change all the time. Here’s what to expect from that first diaper change, all the way up through potty training.
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Unlike many of your child’s milestones, you likely won’t take a picture of baby’s first poop—but it’s an important one. Usually sticky and darkish green-black in color, baby’s first poop is called meconium and is made up of everything baby ingested in utero, including amniotic fluid, skin cells and water. But within the first few days of life, your newborn’s poop should progressively get more watery and lighter in color. If it doesn’t, or if baby isn’t consistently pooping in the first few days of life, it could be a sign that he isn’t getting proper nutrition and needs a follow-up visit with the pediatrician, Swanson says.
In the first four to six weeks of life, regardless of whether your infant is breastfed or formula-fed, you should expect your newborn to poop after nearly every feeding, Swanson says. And depending on whether you’re breastfeeding, formula feeding or combination feeding, the stools will likely look different. Breastfed baby poop is often yellow, seedy and runny, while a formula-fed baby’s poop may be darker and thicker.
After six weeks, as baby’s digestive tract develops, her poop habits may change. How often should a newborn poop? It depends. While one to three times or more a day is a benchmark, it’s common for breastfed babies to not poop as frequently as formula-fed babies.
How Often Should a Breastfed Baby Poop?
Is your breastfed baby not pooping? Don’t panic. Because breast milk is digested differently than formula, it’s not unusual for a breastfed baby to pee regularly (creating six to eight wet diapers a day) but not poop for several days. “It’s common for a breastfed baby to go two or three days without pooping, and it’s possible for them to go up to seven days,” Swanson says. If your breastfed baby is not pooping, it’s more important to watch their demeanor than their diapers. “If he seems content and his belly is soft, he’s likely fine. But if his belly feels rigid or baby seems uncomfortable, it could be a sign he’s constipated.”
How Often Should a Formula-Fed Baby Poop?
Formula-fed babies tend to have poop that’s a bit darker and firmer than breastfed baby poop. Their poop may be the consistency of hummus and color can range from yellow to greenish-brown or tan. Formula-fed babies will likely poop at least once a day; if she doesn’t poop for two or more days, it could signal constipation. Equally important is the consistency of baby’s poop. “Log or pellet-like shapes could indicate constipation,” Swanson says. It’s important to address this with your pediatrician, since constipation could mean an allergy or be a sign that it’s time to try another brand of baby formula.
When it comes to assessing potential health issues, a pediatrician often checks baby’s poop color. Before you panic, remember that what goes in must come out—especially for babies who are beginning to eat table food. In other words, if baby has beets for lunch, you’re probably going to see red in a few hours. Still, pediatricians agree it’s smart to keep tabs on the colors you see. If you do spot something unusual, bag up the diaper and bring it along to your appointment—it can help a doctor make an assessment.
From green baby poop to red, orange, black and beyond, here’s what each baby poop color could mean:
Green Baby Poop
With formula-fed infants, it’s normal for baby poop to be a greenish-tan color. Sometimes the iron in baby formula can cause dark green baby poop and isn’t a reason for concern. Green baby poop can also signal teething or that baby is getting over a stomach bug. If baby has green poop and is also fussy at feedings or seems gassy and uncomfortable, it could be a sign he has a cow’s milk allergy and is reacting to the formula, Swanson says, which means you should consult your doctor about other options. For a breastfed baby, green baby poop might signal something else. “Bright green baby poop in a breastfed infant, especially if it’s frothy, may mean he’s getting too much foremilk and not enough of the fattier hindmilk,” Swanson says. Try keeping baby on one breast per feeding or hand express a bit of milk before letting him latch and see if this solves the problem.
White Baby Poop
If baby is still being breastfed or formula-fed, chalky, whitish or gray baby poop definitely warrants a call to the pediatrician, since it can be a sign the liver isn’t functioning the way it should be.
Orange Baby Poop
Many of baby’s first solids foods can result in orange-colored baby poop (think: carrots and sweet potatoes). A breastfed baby may also have orange-ish tinted stool if Mom has been on medication or been eating artificially colored foods, since the dyes may make their way into breast milk. Orange poop generally doesn’t indicate a problem, but if you’re worried, call your pediatrician, Swanson says.
Red Baby Poop
Flecks of red are no big deal. If you’re breastfeeding, they might be tiny amounts of blood baby swallowed from cracks in your nipple. Red flecks might also appear if baby is constipated and straining too hard to poop. If you’re just starting baby on table foods, you may have to play diet detective to suss out any food culprits. Stools that look genuinely bloody or are bright red may indicate an infection, allergy, GI injury or other medical concern and should be addressed immediately.
Black Baby Poop
If a newborn’s poop is still looking black by day three, it may be a sign she’s not getting adequate nutrition or digesting milk the way she should. If you see black poop when baby’s a bit older, it could be caused by iron in her diet, which is no big deal. If baby isn’t taking an iron supplement and the poop looks black, it could be a sign of GI tract bleeding and should be seen by a doctor. “But it’s not red!” you say? Blood actually turns from red to black as it travels through baby’s intestines, according to Madhavi Kapoor, MD, clinical assistant professor in the department of pediatrics at NYU Langone Medical Center.
Yellow Baby Poop
Mustard yellow is a normal baby poop color for both breastfed and formula-fed infants. If baby’s stool is bright yellow, the color change could be a result of medications or food eaten by Mom.
Gray Baby Poop
If baby is eating solids, poop may be gray depending on what your child ate, Swanson says. If baby hasn’t yet started table food, then it’s important to assess, as it could indicate a liver or gallbladder problem.
Before having a baby, you probably never imagined you’d wish for a dirty diaper. But a poop can provide sweet relief for an uncomfortable baby and a worried parent. There are a few common reasons why baby is not pooping: Dehydration, eating starchy foods like bananas, a time shift due to traveling or occasionally an allergy or intolerance. In older babies, especially those on the cusp of potty training, withholding poop can be psychological—they may be afraid of the potty or upset over an external issue, like a caregiver change or thrown-off schedule.
Luckily, many at-home remedies to help baby poop are simple, effective and recommended by pediatricians—but it’s best to use them only occasionally. “I warn parents not to become dependent on a ‘trick’ to make a baby poop,” Swanson says. “If it’s a persistent problem, it’s something I like to see in the office.”
Here are some ideas on how to get a newborn to poop, as well as what to do when an older baby is not pooping .
• Bicycle Legs. Peddling an infant’s legs to and from his chest, as if he was riding a bicycle, can be a gentle way to stimulate your child’s digestive system, Swanson says. Older babies generally don’t need this trick, since crawling, climbing and pulling up to stand help keep things moving.
• Warm Bath. The warmth and stimulation of the water can relax muscles and help baby poop.
• Rectal Stimulation. For occasional use only, Swanson suggests gentle rectal stimulation by gently inserting a rectal thermometer or using a gas-relieving product, such as Fridababy’s Windi ($15, Fridababy.com). However, Swanson cautions this shouldn’t become your go-to trick. “If used too often, the baby may become reliant on rectal stimulation to poop.”
• Water or Juice. Constipation can be a sign of dehydration. If baby has started eating solids, offering a few ounces of water or pear juice may help move things along. Constipation may also be a sign baby needs to nurse more or be offered a bottle more regularly. If you’re at all concerned, talk to your pediatrician.
• Glycerin Suppositories. Another occasional-use tool, Swanson says glycerin suppositories can be helpful for constipation. Ask your doctor first, especially if baby is younger than a year.
• The Four Ps: Prunes, Plums, Peaches and Pears. These four fruits are a great natural way to help baby poop. If baby has started solids, add a serving or two into your child’s daily diet to keep things moving.
• Veggies. The high-fiber content in vegetables makes them all-stars when it comes to dealing with constipation.
• Whole Grains. When planning baby’s meals, try incorporating some whole grains: Brown rice, whole-wheat pasta and multigrain cereals or bread maximize bran intake, which can help soften stool and make it easier for baby to poop.
While it’s normal to get a teeny bit less obsessive over every single diaper change as baby grows, it’s still important to keep an eye out for potential problems and warning signs. While some odd consistencies may have a simple explanation (hello, raisins!), others may need to be discussed with your doctor. Here are some types of baby poop to watch out for:
In infancy, loose stools can be a sign of an allergy, either to the milk proteins in formula or, if you’re breastfeeding, to something you ate. As baby gets older, watery stools may be a sign of teething (baby is swallowing more saliva, leading to runnier poop), but could also be a sign of a stomach bug. In that case, keeping your child hydrated with plenty of water or milk is essential. If the diarrhea is accompanied by a fever of 100.4 or higher, or baby is younger than 3 months old, it’s a good idea to call your pediatrician, Kapoor says.
Blood in Baby Stool
While a few flecks can be normal, anything more than that should be brought to your pediatrician’s attention. “Blood in the stool could be caused by constipation, infection, injury or allergy, so going to the doctor is essential,” Kapoor says.
Mucus in Baby Stool
A common sign of teething or a cold, occasional mucus is no big deal. However, “if you notice it frequently or in large amounts, it could be a sign of a GI tract issue and should be discussed with your pediatrician,” Kapoor says.
Stringy Baby Poop
A cousin to mucus, stringy baby poop could be a sign of a cold or teething, or just the result of something baby has been eating. If it shows up frequently in baby’s diaper, it’s a good idea to call your pediatrician.
Foamy Baby Poop
“In a breastfed infant, foamy stool may be a sign that baby is getting too much foremilk,” Kapoor says. For an easy solve, try completing a feeding on just one breast. In a formula-fed baby, frothy baby poop could indicate an infection or allergy.
This is a classic sign of constipation or withholding stool in older babies. Try some home constipation cures and go to the doctor if baby doesn’t poop within the next 24 hours.
Doctors agree that if you see anything unusual, spot a baby poop problem accompanied by a high fever or if baby is crying inconsolably, you should call the doctor, who can help guide you through possible causes and next steps. And don’t be shy about bagging the diaper for your doctor’s inspection. “We see it all the time, and we aren’t disgusted,” Kapoor says. “It can help us best figure out what the issue may be.”