New parents often wonder what’s normal when it comes to their baby’s urination and bowel movements. For newborns especially, there’s a range of what’s considered normal for color, consistency and frequency. Guidelines can help you know what to expect and what’s cause for concern.
In a healthy infant, urine is light to dark yellow in color. Sometimes, as highly concentrated urine dries on the diaper in the first week of life, it creates a chalky, pinkish color, which may be mistaken for blood. This is called urate crystals. This is normal and not a cause for concern. Keep in mind that concentrated urine is different from blood in that it dries to a powder, and it’s not as red in color.
By the time a baby is 3 or 4 days old, he or she should have at least 4 to 6 wet diapers a day. As your baby gets older, he or she may have a wet diaper with every feeding.
Your baby’s first soiled diaper will probably occur within 24 to 48 hours of birth. During the first few days, a newborn’s stools will often be thick and sticky — a tar-like, greenish-black substance called meconium.
After the meconium is passed, the color, frequency and consistency of your baby’s stools will vary depending on how your baby is fed — with breast milk or formula. Once solid foods are introduced, the frequency and consistency of stools may change also.
If you’re feeding your baby breast milk, your baby’s stools will likely resemble light mustard with seed-like particles. They’ll be soft and even slightly runny. The stools of a formula-fed infant are usually tan or yellow and firmer than those of a breast-fed baby, but no firmer than peanut butter.
Occasional variations in color and consistency are normal. Different colors may indicate how fast the stool moves through the digestive tract or what the baby ate. The stool may be variations of the colors green, yellow, orange or brown.
The color isn’t that significant unless the stool has blood — shown as red or coal-black streaks — or if it is a whitish grey color instead of closer to yellow-brown. A whitish-grey color could be a sign that the stool is lacking bilirubin products, which are normal byproducts from the body breaking down excess red blood cells. These very pale stools could indicate that your baby’s body isn’t eliminating waste properly. If you see blood or whitish-grey stools, contact your child’s health care provider.
Mild diarrhea is common in newborns. The stools may be watery, frequent and mixed with mucus. Constipation isn’t usually a problem for infants. Babies may strain, grunt and turn red during a bowel movement, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re constipated. Constipation may develop in some babies when solid foods are introduced.
The range of normal is quite broad and varies from one baby to another. Babies may have a bowel movement as frequently as after every feeding or as infrequently as once a week, or they may have no consistent pattern.
If your baby’s stools appear to contain blood — whether you see red or coal-black coloring, streaks, flecks or otherwise — contact your child’s health care provider and have the problem checked out. Actual blood in stools is always a cause for concern, but don’t panic; sometimes the problem isn’t serious.
For example, newborns may have ingested some of their mother’s blood during delivery, or they may be taking it in while breast-feeding if the mother has cracked or bleeding nipples. Flecks or streaks of blood in stools may also be a sign of an allergy to the protein in cow’s milk, which may be found in formula or breast milk. For older babies, red or black in stools could be from certain foods, including tomatoes, beets, spinach, cherries and grape juice.
If you notice that your baby’s stool becomes more watery than normal and you observe a gradual or sudden increase in how often or how much he or she is pooping, contact your child’s health care provider.
There are many possible causes of diarrhea. Some foods may cause diarrhea. Diarrhea may also be an indication of an illness. And antibiotics are a common cause. Antibiotics wipe out both the good and bad bacteria in the gut.
If antibiotics are the culprit and your child is 9 months or older, you might consider feeding your child foods that contain probiotics, such as yogurt. Probiotics, found in certain fermented foods, are microorganisms that contain “good bacteria.” Probiotics may help bring a healthy bacterial balance back to your child’s gut and improve digestion. Probiotics are also available as over-the-counter supplements. If you have questions about probiotics, talk to your child’s health care provider.
Constipation in infants is defined by consistency of stools rather than by frequency. A baby is constipated when bowel movements are hard and perhaps even ball shaped. Babies may become more prone to constipation once they start eating solid foods regularly.
If your baby’s stools are hard and formed, you can offer a couple of ounces of water in a sippy cup with meals. This water doesn’t replace breast milk or formula but can help give your baby a bit of extra fluid, which can help with constipation.
Adding more fruits and vegetables to your baby’s diet can also help. Prunes, pears, and peaches are frequently used to help soften stools, either as purees or a small amount of juice. If these changes don’t lead to softer stools, talk to your baby’s health care provider about other possible causes and treatments.
You might occasionally notice a surprising but often harmless substance in your baby’s diaper. These substances may appear as:
- Gel-like materials — Clear or yellow-tinted beads or particles may come from diaper materials that have become overly wet with urine.
- Small crystals — A newborn baby’s kidneys may make clear crystals if baby is relatively dehydrated. This can also leave a tinted orange or pink stain in the diaper.
- Pink or small bloodstains — A newborn baby girl may have some pink or bloodstains in her diapers in the first few weeks. This is generally from exposure to her mother’s hormones right before birth. It isn’t usually a problem, and it goes away with time.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second EditionShop Now
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