Baby Constipation and What is "Normal" Poo?

Until I became a parent, I had no idea it was possible to have so many conversations about poo…  I did not expect that a sweet little bubba, with that heavenly newborn scent, could generate so much (and so many varieties) of conversation-worthy poo. 

There’s the exploding poo nappies (you know, the ones that arrive with a blast you can feel and are juicy enough to travel up the back, the front and out the sides).  There’s the surprising colour and content variations (one of my recent favourites were the sultanas that my son just adores and which pass right through seemingly unaffected by their travels).  And of course there’s that infamous parental right of passage: toddler poo painting…

Not only did I never expect to have conversations about it, the last thing I'd ever have believed was that I would be blogging about poo... particularly having been raised in a house where euphemisms were always used instead: a baby was “busy” or was “doing their business”, with “poo” referred to as “biz”.  But putting delicacies aside, given how many parents wonder about this issue and what is “normal”, this is an important conversation to have.

Newborn Constipation?

So lets go back a few steps to newborn days, when for my hubby and I, talking about poo was a bit more unusual.  I vividly remember in those early colic days when our little man wouldn’t stop screaming and we were still trying to figure out what was wrong.  We noticed that his face would go red and he would seem to strain when passing a poo.  We asked each other, could he be constipated? 

After a bit of research I discovered that this is a common concern for new parents and ESPECIALLY for parents of babies who are crying excessively and are trying to find solutions. If you have a colicky baby, who is pulling their knees to their chest, with clenched fists and who also seems to go red in the face and strain to pass a poo, its not a big leap to wonder whether constipation could be your real villain.

Constipation is a condition where it is difficult for a baby to pass a stool (poo). When it occurs it is often because a baby is not getting enough fluid in their diet. Understanding that, it will make more sense to you when I say that constipation is actually fairly uncommon in the age group of babies most commonly affected by colic, from newborn to 4 months (or longer), because these babies are not yet on solids and all their nutrition is coming from milk.

One thing that reassures many parents is learning that lots of healthy babies will go red in the face and strain when they are doing a normal poo.  This is only a sign of constipation if the poo is also hard. Constipated poo is firm, dry and crumbly or pebbly pellets. 

It is quite rare for breastfed babies to be affected by constipation. Formula fed babies could be affected by constipation if their formula is not made up correctly and does not contain enough water.   And some babies can get constipated if a hard poo has caused a tear in the rectum or anus, which hurts them. They instinctively hold on, so the remaining poo gets hard and more difficult to push out.

If you remain concerned that your baby may be constipated please talk about it with your doctor or your child and maternal health care nurse. 

On the other hand, if you’ve now ruled out constipation because your baby’s poo is “normal” (see below), but you’re still worried about how much your baby is crying, you can find more information about excessively crying or "fussy" babies here.

So when it comes to Poo – What is Normal?

The next thing to know is that there is a massive variety in “normal” poo.  There is variation in:

  • How Often: this will start off as several times a day and then may change to a couple of days between poos or anywhere in between;
  • Colour:
    • Breastfed babies: most commonly a mustardy yellow-orange colour (but can sometimes be green, although if you are getting frequent green, please consult your doctor or child and maternal health nurse);
    • Formula-fed babies: can vary in colour from yellow, to yellow-brown or grey-yellow, tan-brown or green-brown.  Changes in formula can also produce changes in colour.
    • Bubs on solids: Will vary considerably in colour, depending on what they’ve eaten.
  • Consistency:
    • Breastfed babies: usually be quite runny;
    • Formula-fed babies: generally firmer (less runny) than for breast-fed babies, but should still be reasonably soft;
    • Bubs on solids: can include solids that appear undigested (this is generally because your baby’s digestive system is still developing).
  • Smell:
    • Breastfed babies: not too bad
    • Formula-fed babies: definitely podgier;
    • Bubs on solids: will vary, but can sometimes have you wishing for a gas mask!

Things to Watch out For:

Please consult your doctor or maternal and child health nurse if your baby has any of the following:

  • Dry poo that is crumbly or has formed pellets (indicator of constipation);
  • Streaks of blood (could be caused by constipation or other issues);
  • Diarrhoea - poo that is runnier than usual or even watery (can be serious as this can lead to dehydration, especially if your baby is also vomiting);
  • Green frothy poo - having some green poo can be normal, but if it seems to happen frequently or if its REALLY green its worth seeking advice (it can have several causes including your baby getting too much lactose, allergy or infection).
Hope this little venture into the yucky has been helpful.  Give me a laugh and let me know what other names you (or your family) use for poo?