Healthy infant poop across the rainbow spectrum
In the early weeks, you’d like to say that conversations with your partner were about how to effectively contribute to the 529 Plan, how to establish healthy sleep habits or how to encourage baby’s muscle-building activities with tummy time, But they weren’t. They were about poop.
You came prepared. You’d set up the Diaper Genie with specialized organic, fragrance-free wipes. You’d diapered dolls, teddy bears, and on one occasion, a cantaloupe.
What you simply couldn’t have prepared for were the colors. The prism settling in throughout a single day’s worth of newborn poop. Mustard with flecks of light yellow in the morning, neon orange midday, and then . . . lime green?
From the first hours of parenthood, you are told to care deeply about poop. So how is it, that something as pure, white and unsullied as milk goes in, only to produce a mysterious mix of colors on its way out?
Pediatric gastroenterologists sometimes call this new-parent obsession with their baby’s bowels “stool-gazing” instead of stargazing. No parent ever forgets meconium — the black, tarry sludge — that seeps out like liquid asphalt during the first days. Meconium is a combination of the many secretions — amniotic fluid, cellular debris and blood — that have been manifesting within the intestines while in utero.
A few days after birth, healthy newborn poop suddenly changes colors ranging between yellow, yellow-orange, yellow-green, green and numerous shades of brown. So here’s how digestion works: Milk, once swallowed, travels to the bottom of the stomach, where digestive juices make it small enough to migrate to the small intestine. Needed nutrients are absorbed here, and those that are not needed are passed on into the large intestine or colon.
Enter bile. Bile is made in the liver, stored in the gallbladder, and then secreted into the small intestine in order to neutralize stomach acid. It’s this very substance, along with gut bacteria, that gives the poop its yellow or green color.
For formula-fed babies, it’s normal to have light brown poop similar to the consistency of peanut butter, according to the Mayo Clinic. And orange? It’s probably a combination unique to the infant: their particular bile, plus their particular bacteria, plus the addition of milk.
Needless to say, color is a good thing. It’s poop without color that concerns doctors. Pale, clay or ivory-colored stool may indicate problems processing bile. When bile is not getting secreted effectively into the small intestine, this “acholic stool” symptomatically points to types of liver disease or problems with the systems that carry bile down into the small intestine.
Red or black (or any combination of the two) can also indicate bodily trauma. If there’s an injury in the higher gastrointestinal tract — the stomach for example — the blood may have become black by the time it ends up in the diaper. If an injury occurs father down in the small intestine or colon, it’s more likely to appear bright red in the diaper.
What kinds of problems might produce blood in the intestinal tract? The most common cause is an ulcer or a sore in the lining of the intestine. Other problems may be inflammation from allergies or the baby’s immune system improperly managing proteins in the diet.
But stool changes immensely in the first year of your baby’s life. Newborns will produce as many as 12 bowel movements in a day, slowing down by about two months as the gut acclimates to absorption over time.
When your baby is fourth months, you’ll soon enter the world of solids. Which means an entirely new color spectrum to get acquainted with — blues, purples, gobs of undigested foods. But by that time, you’ll be poop veterans.