Advice on 'normal' bowel movements for breast fed and forumla fed babies, plus information on constipation and other irregularities.
One of the most common concerns for new parents is whether their baby's bowel movements are normal. While it is important to keep an eye on the consistency and frequency of your baby's stools, this is something that you should try not to become too obsessed about as bowel habits vary greatly between babies and (something you may notice with your baby) even on a day to day basis. Over time as your baby's digestive system begins to establish a routine, you will become attuned to whats normal for your baby.
The first few days
As your baby's digestive system begins to develop and function in the womb amniotic fluid is swallowed. This collects in baby's intestine as meconium ready to be expelled after birth. Meconium is passed as a dark green/black sticky substance in the first few days of baby's life.
After 2 or 3 days you will begin to notice your baby's stools lighten in colour as milk starts to be digested. The colostrum that breast fed babies first receive from their mothers actually helps to expel the meconium from their system quicker.
Over the next few days you will notice your baby's stools become more yellow in colour as the meconium is passed completely.
The first few weeks
After meconium has been passed from baby's system and a feeding routine has been established you will notice that your baby's stools become less sticky and vary in colour along the spectrum of yellow, brown and green. As long as there is no blood in baby's stools you shouldn't be too concerned about the colour as this can vary depending on the mother's diet or on what type of formula milk is being used.
In general, breast fed babies pass stools more frequently, often after every feed during the first few weeks. The stools of breast fed babies tend to be looser than those fed on formula and are often a mustard like colour, have a seedy quality and are less odorous. Babies fed exclusively on breast milk are unlikely to become constipated. However, if stools become very green and watery you should check with your doctor as this may either indicate a sensitivity to a particular food in the mother's diet or that too much foremilk is being consumed (this can happen if you switch breasts often during a feed).
Bottle fed babies pass slightly firmer stools that tend to be of a tan colour and peanut butter consistency. It is common for bottle fed babies to pass 4 - 5 stools a day.
After the first month
Your baby will now begin to have fewer bowel movements and it is common for breast fed babies to go a day without passing stools. The frequency of your babies bowel movements shouldn't be a particular cause for concern unless there is no movement for 4 - 5 days or if baby seems to be in pain. You should check consistency of the stools rather than frequency, as solid, pellet like poos may indicate constipation. Ideally your baby should be passing soft poos about the size of a £2 coin.
Many babies grunt, cry, strain or go red when passing stools - this can be normal and doesn't necessarily mean they're constipated. As long as the stools are soft and reasonably regular it should be fine.
On to solids
Once you start to introduce solids into your baby's diet the frequency and texture of stools will vary widely and they're also more likely to smell. By introducing a range of different types of food gradually into your baby's diet you will be able to detect any irritation in your baby's bowels.
Once the weaning process has started formula fed babies should also be given water to drink to prevent them from becoming dehydrated and constipated, breast fed babies can also be given water but this isn't a necessity as breastmilk is a food and drink all in one.
As long as your baby is passing soft stools reasonably regularly, you should have little cause for concern. However, as always if you are unhappy or unsure about your baby's bowel movements it is always best to seek advice from your health care professional.
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