When you’re a mom, you deal with more poop than you know what to do with. There’s poop in eyebrows, poop on your hands and poop in crevices and nooks and crannies you probably will never be able to get totally clean.
It’s gross. It’s smelly. But poop is also a part of life and it can tell us more than you might think about a baby’s health.
Interestingly enough, even as recently as a decade ago, doctors thought that newborn poop was sterile. We now know that not only is the newborn digestive tract ripe with bacteria but the bacterium in our guts as babies pretty much sets up our health for life.
“Researchers from the University of Valencia in Spain found that newborn meconium does contain a few common gut bacteria,” explains Bridget Boyd, MD, director of the newborn nursery and assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. More recent research has focused on the newborn gut colonization and how it can differ for breastfed and formula-fed babies, with breastfed babies showing more diverse colonization that may be important for lowering the risk of serious medical conditions, such as asthma, allergies and type 1 diabetes.
Beyond the bacteria that actually may be the source of life for us humans, a baby’s poop is also a great indicator of your baby’s health. “The color of newborn stool can be anywhere from light to dark brown,” explains Dr. Stan Spinner, chief medical officer of Texas Children’s Pediatrics. “Foods or liquids often affect color and older babies tend to have light to dark brown stools.” A newborn’s poop could even signify if the mother had been abusing alcohol during her pregnancy, with a chemical that could indicate the potential for learning disabilities down the line.
And that’s just the beginning of what you can tell from a baby’s bowel movement.
The colors of your baby’s poop will change quite a bit in the first months, from the first meconium poops immediately after birth — which are black and tarry and can last three to four days — to an army green color and then to a yellow soft substance that appears to have little seeds in it.
As solid foods are introduced, stools can range in color from yellow to green or brown, but Dr. Boyd encourages parents to not focus on color of poop so much as the consistency. “The most important part of baby poop is [that the] consistency should be soft,” she says. “Babies may go several days without stooling but just as long as they are comfortable and stool is soft, there is no reason to worry. After about 4 to 6 months, a breastfed baby may only stool one time a week, and this can be normal.”
The only real worrisome colors for poop are red, black or white:
Red indicates a fresh source of blood and needs to be addressed ASAP. “Stools with blood or an appearance of ‘jelly’ in an infant with acute extreme irritability or vomiting are cause for concern, as this could represent an intestinal obstruction and should warrant immediate evaluation,” says Dr. Spinner. He also recommends that parents who may suspect a milk allergy in their child inspect their stool for blood, as that can be a common complication.
Poop which appears black looks that color because of old, dried blood. “Dark black stool may represent blood from the upper gastrointestinal tract and should be addressed quickly,” explains Dr. Spinner.
If your baby has white in his or her poop, Dr. Boyd says it could mean a problem of the biliary system and it needs to be checked out by a healthcare provider.