The Baby Poop Guide: What's Normal, What's Not
It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta tell you about what's in your child's diapers. Here's a guide to the baby poop changes you'll see over the first year.
The mysteries of a baby’s diaper are endlessly fascinating, especially in the early months of life. “Babies produce weird poo sometimes, just like adults can,” says Adam Hart, Ph.D., professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, in the U.K., and author of The Life of Poo.
If you're a newborn novice, the colors, textures, and frequency of baby poop can really throw you for a loop. But spoiler alert: You're going to spend many waking hours looking at it and cleaning it up, so it's important to know what's normal and what isn't. Consider this your crash course.
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Your Baby's First Poop
When you peel off those first newborn-sized diapers, you’ll be confronted with something that looks like sticky, greenish-black tar. This is your baby's first bowel movement, which is known as meconium, a mixture of amniotic fluid, bile, and secretions from the intestinal glands. Most babies wait until birth to pass meconium. It will usually stick around for hours, and a few days later, the real stuff will arrive.
Baby Poop Color, Explained
"Don't expect infant poop to look anything like yours,” warns Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician and coauthor of Baby 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Baby's First Year. "If you breastfeed, it will probably look seedy and mustard-like, and if you bottle feed, expect something more greenish with the consistency of toothpaste," she explains.
Any variation on the colors yellow, green, or brown is normal. "The only colors that warrant a call to the doctor are red and black, which could indicate gastrointestinal bleeding, and white, which could represent liver disease and/or nutrient malabsorption," says Nanci Pittman, M.D., a pediatric gastroenterologist and assistant professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.
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What Different Baby Poop Consistencies Mean
Since your infant is on an all-liquid diet, soft, squishy poops will be the norm for a while. Baby poop can be as thick as peanut butter or mushier, like cottage cheese or yogurt. Breastfed baby poop usually looks like fancy mustard: yellow, seedy, or curdy. Formula poop tends to resemble beat-up flan or pudding. Excessively hard poop can indicate constipation, while soft poop could point to diarrhea (keep reading for more information on these types of baby poop.)
Deciphering Baby Poop Odor
The scent is most often a reflection of how long the poop was in the intestines—the longer it sits in bacteria, the more it'll smell. However, some babies with very sour- or foul-smelling poop may have an intolerance or allergy. In general, breastfed baby poop doesn't stink at all, while that from formula-fed infants is just lightly odorous. Those early poopy diapers really shouldn't clear the room. However, once you add baby food, and then various protein sources, it's another story. If you think your baby's bowel movements are exceptionally smelly, talk with your pediatrician.
- RELATED: What Causes Green Baby Poop?
How Often Should My Baby Poop?
Babies usually make up to 10 dirty diapers per day for the first couple of months, and then go two to four times per day until around 4 months of age. This is thanks to the gastrocolic reflex, which occurs as the stomach stretches with food and the colon is automatically signaled to empty and make room for more. In babies, the gastrocolic reflex is immature, so each time they feed they usually squirt out a little poop.
Over time, some babies' intestines absorb so much milk that they create extremely small amounts of waste and their colon doesn't empty more than once daily, or even once weekly in some cases. "For a breastfed baby, it can be normal to have only one bowel movement a week," says Dr. Pittman. "It can also be normal to have as many as one bowel movement with each feeding."
Formula-fed baby poop is less frequent than breastfed baby poop. That’s because stool moves through the intestines more slowly with formula, causing babies to go about once or twice per day, every one or two days, after the first couple of months. Note, however, that some formula-fed infants will poop up to three or four times daily at first.
Meanwhile, babies on a combination of formula and breast milk go somewhere between multiple times per day and once per week.
How Baby Poop Changes After Starting Solids
Once your baby starts eating solid food (usually between 4 and 6 months), their poop schedule will start to change. They’ll go less frequently, and the stools themselves will become thicker in consistency. "Certain foods will pass through undigested. This is normal, as babies don't chew their food well and tend to process food quickly through the digestive tract," Dr. Pittman explains.
Because a baby's first food is usually rice cereal fortified with iron, you may notice some constipation: Rice and iron are notorious for backing things up, so to speak. If that's the case, you can switch to iron-fortified baby oatmeal or limit rice cereal intake to once a day and mix in some pureed prunes.
By your baby's first birthday, when they’re eating a wider range of solid foods, poop starts to change its style again. You might notice that the smell, color, and texture of the stool varies throughout the day, depending on what the child has eaten, says Dr. Brown. In general, it will start getting browner and thicker and will look more like grown-up poop.
Is My Baby Constipated?
If your baby seems uncomfortable and is filling their diaper with something that is thicker than toothpaste or that looks like logs or marbles, then they’re probably constipated. This problem occurs for several reasons. In babies under 4 months of age, it's usually because your child isn't getting enough fluids, so remedy the situation by encouraging them to drink more breast milk or formula. Ask your doctor for specific advice and treatment options.
Does My Baby Have Diarrhea?
If your baby's poop becomes thin, watery, or streaked with mucus—and they’re pooping a lot more often than usual— they probably have diarrhea. This can be caused by antibiotics; too much fruit juice; milk allergies (which are pretty rare); or gastroenteritis, a viral illness that results in vomiting and diarrhea.
If your baby has loose stools or mucus in their poop, "it's important to keep them hydrated with breast milk, formula, or pediatric electrolyte solutions," Dr. Pittman explains. But if you notice any signs of dehydration—such as dry lips, sunken eyes, or sunken fontanels (the soft spots on a baby's head)—call your doctor immediately.
When to Call the Doctor
When it comes to baby poop, parents should call the doctor for the following reasons.
- The baby poop is white (a sign your baby isn't producing enough bile), black (which signals blood digested from the stomach or small intestine), or contains streaks of red (it could mean blood from the colon or rectum)
- Your child screams in pain or bleeds while pooping
- You see mucus in baby poop, which can be a sign of an infection or intolerance
- You child's stool changes dramatically after you introduce a new food; this may signal a food allergy
- Your child's poop is still a very runny consistency by age 1 (if your child has diarrhea—watery stools more than five times a day—mention this to your doctor too)