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Baby poop: a guide for parents

July 26, 2022 • read

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Baby poop: a guide for parents

Babies can poop almost every colour of the rainbow, which can make opening your infant’s diaper quite a shock.

From broadcasting their diets to alerting us to illness, our babies’ poop tells us what’s going on in their little bodies when they can’t, so it helps to have a newborn poop guide to know how to read the signs. What if your baby’s poop smells sour or like vinegar? What if your baby has smelly gas, but no poop? What if your breastfed baby’s poop suddenly smells bad, or there’s dark green baby poop?

We’ve put together a baby poop primer to help you figure out what your baby’s diaper is saying. If you need additional help, you can always use Maple to see a Canadian-licensed doctor online in minutes, 24/7.

How often should my baby poop?

If you’re a new parent, it’s normal to be worried your newborn poops too much or too little. So what’s the right poop schedule for a newborn?

Newborn poop frequency is a crucial predictor of overall health, especially in the first days after birth. Both breastfed and formula-fed babies should produce about six wet diapers, and one or more poops a day (once your milk comes in if you’re breastfeeding).

For breastfed babies, this pattern typically continues until about the six week mark when colostrum disappears from your breastmilk entirely. At this stage, the rate of what’s “normal” begins to vary widely; one poop a week can actually be normal for a breastfed baby at this point. As long as your baby is gaining weight and producing enough wet diapers, infrequent poops aren’t usually something you need to worry about.

You may also be wondering how babies produce poop at all if they only drink liquids. While newborns mainly ingest liquids, the digestive system can still turn them into waste. That being said, you shouldn’t expect your newborn’s poop to resemble an adult’s poop.

After your little one starts solids, you’ll likely see a much higher number of pooping diapers. So how often should a baby poop after starting solids? A formula-fed infant will generally produce one or two stools per day while a breastfed baby will usually pass more stool as much more of what they eat will be going undigested. Their bowel movements will also be much smellier, and are likely to change colour and consistency depending on which foods they’ve eaten.

What are the different types of baby poop?

There are five main types of baby poop: newborn, breastfed, formula-fed, solid-fed, and partially digested. Here’s an overview of each type:

  • Newborn poop: For the first few days, the poop tends to be tar-like and greenish-black. Some parents describe it as resembling motor oil. The poop then turns a more normal yellow-brown.
  • Breastfed poop: Healthy breastfed baby poop is yellow and appears seedy, but can also appear slightly green. It should have more of a creamy, mushy consistency.
  • Formula-fed poop: Compared to poop for a breastfed baby, poop for a formula-fed infant tends to be browner in color and denser in texture. Some parents compare it to peanut butter.
  • Solid-fed poop: As you introduce solid food into your baby’s diet, you’ll notice a change in their poop. The colour will become darker or browner and the consistency will become thicker.
  • Partially-digested poop: As your baby starts eating more solid food, you may notice chunks in their diaper. These are normal, as your baby’s stomach is still getting used to digestion. Your child may also be swallowing food without chewing it properly, which is also normal.

What does healthy baby poop look and smell like?

Healthy baby poop can vary in appearance. Again there’s a wide range of “normal” here. For formula-fed infants, baby poop consistency tends to be about the same as toothpaste, with a tan colour. But it’s also normal for a formula-fed baby to have green poop.

Breastfed babies typically produce mustard-yellow stool, about the same consistency as actual mustard. Breastfed babies often have white curds in their poop as well, making it look seedy. But depending on what else you give your baby, healthy poop can also be orange, red, green, brown, or even black — more on this below.

As for smell, when babies are still in the infant stage, their stool shouldn’t smell too bad. Once you begin incorporating solid foods into your baby’s diet, you may notice a change with regard to odour.

A colour guide to baby poop

Black poop sounds like it would be cause for an instant trip to the hospital. But actually, this tarry, sticky substance is called “meconium,” and all healthy babies produce it for the first few days after birth.

Likewise, dark green baby poop also isn’t as scary as it sounds. Often it just means your little one has been eating a lot of green things. Even if your baby hasn’t been chowing down on chard and spinach recently, there’s no need to panic.

Iron supplements can also cause your little one to have green poop. Or, the dark green poop might appear as the in-between phase between meconium and “normal” breast milk or formula poop.

Even red poop isn’t always a cause for concern. It’s likely the result of something baby has eaten (hello beets). Breastfeeding issues might also cause your baby to ingest blood from cracked nipples, which would show up as blood in the baby’s poop. There are times, however, when black or red poop can signal something more serious — we’ll cover that in a bit.

Frothy baby poop

Your baby will likely have frothy, foamy poop from time to time, but contrary to what the internet says, it usually doesn’t denote an allergy or intolerance. So don’t cut out dairy, wheat, or caffeine just yet.

In a breastfed baby, frothy poop likely means that your letdown — the way the milk comes out of your breast — is quite forceful in one or both of your breasts. The first milk your breasts produce is called foremilk, and it’s usually more watery and higher in lactose than the fattier and thicker hind milk which follows.

If you have an oversupply or a strong letdown, your baby often ends up with more of the foremilk and less of the fattier hind milk, especially in the first few weeks of breastfeeding. This can be hard on your little one’s digestion and result in frothy poop. Chances are your body will figure out what your baby needs after the first few weeks of nursing. In the meantime, you can try expressing milk into a towel before nursing.

Draining each breast before switching your baby to the other side will also help by limiting future oversupply.

Rarely, green, frothy baby poop does signal an allergy — likely to cow’s milk in your diet. It might also mean, however, that your baby is sick. A milk allergy can affect baby poop, usually with blood streaks or specks that can signal an allergy, so if you’re seeing green, frothy baby poop on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor.

What causes mucus in baby poop?

Finding poop with mucus in your baby’s diaper can be alarming. Luckily this isn’t always a cause for concern. It’s common for infants and newborns to be congested in the winter months when the air is drier, or if they have a cold. Because young babies don’t know how to blow their nose, they often end up swallowing a lot of mucus.

Using saline and a mucus aspirator will help unblock their nose and get rid of much of the mucus in their poop. If your baby isn’t congested, however, and mucus in their stool persists, alert your child’s doctor and bring a sample dirty diaper to the appointment. Sometimes mucus is a sign of intestinal issues.

Frequently asked questions about baby poop

  • How do I clean my baby’s first poop? Some parents find that baby wipes and warm cloths tend to smear their newborn’s poop. To gently remove the mess, one trick you can try is applying olive oil on a clean cloth.
  • Is it ok to let a baby sleep in a poopy diaper? If you see or smell baby poop, you’ll need to change the diaper. If there’s a little bit of wetness but no poop, you might be able to leave the wet diaper alone and wait until morning to change it, unless the diaper is soaked through.
  • How long should I wait before changing a dirty diaper? It depends on whether it’s solid or liquid waste. For a poopy diaper, it’s best to change your baby as soon as you see or smell waste. If it’s a wet diaper, there isn’t too much wetness, and your baby doesn’t seem upset, you might be able to wait a minute. Keep in mind that in general, newborn babies need to be changed every two to three hours.
  • Why is my baby’s poop so smelly? If your baby’s poop is particularly foul-smelling, it could mean they’re allergic to something they’ve eaten. If a strong odor persists for several days, it could be a good idea to check in with a pediatrician or health professional.

When to take your baby to the doctor

While it’s true that a wide range of baby poop colours are normal, there are some notable exceptions. White, grey, or very anemic, pale-looking clay-coloured poops might signal a serious issue with your child’s liver. And while black poop is expected for the first few days of the baby’s life, if it comes back, see a pediatrician immediately.

In an older child, black poop can mean a serious internal stomach bleed. Similarly, if your baby’s poop contains streaks of blood, you should contact their pediatrician. If their stool is hard and your little one frequently strains while pooping, it’s likely due to constipation, so you may want to learn more about foods causing and relieving constipation in babies. Sometimes, however, it can also be the result of an allergy.

Diarrhea in newborns can also be quite serious. If your little one has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, it’s crucial to take them to a doctor. Newborns with diarrhea are at high risk of dehydration. If your baby has diarrhea and has fewer than six wet diapers a day, a sunken fontanelle (the soft spot on their head), a fever, or vomiting, seek emergency care immediately.

Paying attention to your child’s diaper is a great way to monitor their health. Know the signs that can signal trouble, but also keep in mind that food is the most likely culprit of funny-coloured baby poop. So always make sure to check and if you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask.

If you’re wondering if you should take your baby to the doctor or if you need medical advice, you can see a Canadian-licensed doctor on Maple in minutes, 24/7. Health professionals are always available on Maple to help give you peace of mind.

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