Baby development

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequency

From newborn to solid-food-eater: What to expect from each baby poop milestone.

By Today's Parent

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequency

Illustration: Dave Quiggle

Whether it’s sticky black or foamy green, your baby’s first poops should be a happy sight. “One of the most important things for newborns is that they’re passing stool,” says Bob Issenman, chief of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ont., as it means the digestive tract is working as it should. While many new parents leave the hospital with a baby poop chart in hand—a place to record their baby’s wet and soiled diapers—“almost anything is normal,” he says, “except failing to pass in the first 24 hours.” So as you try to muster gratitude for what looks like mustard, here’s a rundown of what you can expect with baby poop.

Stage: Meconium Age: Within the first 24 hours of your baby's life. Colour/Texture: A sticky black-green or brown tar-like substance that's hard to wipe off, meconium is made up of matter (fluid and cells) baby ingests in utero. Smell: It's oddly scent-free, since it hasn't yet been colonized by the bacteria she'll naturally pick up during and immediately after birth. Timing/Frequency: In the first 24 hours, there should be at least one bowel movement as mom’s high-sugar colostrum acts like a laxative to push the meconium out.

Stage: The first 12 weeks Age: In these first few months, your baby’s digestive system isn’t absorbing nutrients as effectively as an adult’s does. Undigested milk and sugar act like natural laxatives, leading to loose, irregular poos. As her system matures, poos may become more predictable and less watery. Colour/Texture: Breastfed babies’ stools can be yellow and seedy, slightly runny and sometimes bubbly. As babies’ digestive systems begin to absorb nutrients more effectively, stools become firmer and less watery. Formula-fed babies’ stools are typically pasty, and lighter in colour and firmer than breastmilk poos. Smell: Breastfed babies’ stools tend to have a sweet smell, while formula-fed babies’ poo has a more pungent aroma. Timing/Frequency: Breastfed babies can have anywhere from one to eight bowel movements a day, with an average of four. Depending on their digestive system, some breastfed babies can go seven to 10 days between bowel movements. Formula-fed babies average two poops a day, but could have many more.

Stage: Starting solids Age: Somewhere between four and six months, depending on how ready your babe is. Colour/Texture: Get ready for some adult-like turds: firmer, darker and smellier. Colour and texture are largely influenced by what baby is eating—it’s entirely normal for strong pigments (beets, blueberries, carrots) to colour the stool. It’s also common to find bits of undigested blueberry or tomato skins or corn, as babies aren’t able to grind food down effectively until their molars come in. Smell: Without a doubt, poo becomes stinkier when your baby starts eating solid foods. Timing/Frequency: Varies depending on diet.

Is green poop normal? Here's a guide to your baby's poop colour:

Mustard yellow

Why: Mustard yellow is a very standard colour for breastfed babies. The "seed" texture is from partially digested fat and calcium (entirely common). What to do: Keep doing what you're doing!

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

Yellow-brown

Why: Formula-fed babies commonly have pasty yellow-brown poos. "Seed" texture is common here, too. What to do: Keep doing what you're doing!

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

Black

Why: Sticky, tar-like newborn poops are meconium. Though alarming, black stool could also be dried or digested blood from mom's cracked nipples. What to do: Meconium will pass. For new breastfeeders, heal your nipples (check your latch, use your own milk to soothe and give the ladies plenty of air time). If you're concerned, your doctor can perform a quick test to see who the dried blood belongs to. 

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

White

Why: Poo gets its colour from bile, so an absence of colour—chalky white poo—means there isn't enough bile. This may signal a problem with the liver or gallbladder. What to do: If it's a one-off, don't worry. But if it's more than one bowel movement in a row, chalky poo should send you to the doctor.

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

Red

Why: Unless your baby has been gorging on beets, the red in your baby's poo may be blood. Red specks or streaks may be a sign of a reaction or allergy, which affects both breastfed and formula-fed babies. It may also indicate an intestinal problem. If your baby is constipated–passing hard, pellet-like stools–blood could be coming from small anal tears. What to do: See your doctor if you've ruled out constipation as a source of blood in your baby's stool. 

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

Green

Why: A very common colour, green means stool is passing through the gut more quickly than usual. What to do: If your baby is feeding well and happy, and shows no signs of discomfort, don't sweat the green stuff. 

Baby poop: Guide to texture, smell and frequencyIllustration by Dave Quiggle

A version of this article appeared in our January 2016 issue with the headline, “You vs. Poo,” pp. 51-56.

Read more: Newborn: Guide to infant poop
Causes and treatment for baby diarrhea What to do when your kid is afraid to go poo

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