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How to Diagnose and Address Baby Diarrhea

Given that most infant bowel movements are loose, identifying problematic poops can be difficult.

Baby diarrhea is a common concern among parents coming to terms with what exactly is normal for baby poop. After all, a baby’s bowel movement looks nothing like an adult’s bowel movements. For one thing, baby poop seems to change pretty dynamically. The texture changes. The consistency changes. The color changes (though hopefully not too much). So it can be difficult to pin down if a baby’s bowel movement indicates good health or cause for concern. The good news is that baby diarrhea often arrives with other symptoms to help pin down when it’s time to call the doctor.

Importantly, a baby who has a soft stool, in general, is nothing to be terribly concerned about, says Dr. Jean Moorjani, a pediatrician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Florida, particularly for breastfed babies. “We see a wide spectrum of baby poop in exclusively breastfed infants,” she explains. “It’s very normal to have babies that will poop after every time they feed and the poop may be lighter, almost a mustard color, with what looks like a mustard seed consistency, and it may be on the liquidy side. That’s a very normal poop for a breastfed baby.”

How to Tell if Your Baby Has Diarrhea

  • Normal poop for breastfed babies can be light in color and resemble mustard. It may be more watery than expected.
  • Babies who are fed formula will poop let frequently and that poop will have a smoother consistency and a darker color.
  • Diarrhea can be recognized due to its high volume and extreme watery look. It will resemble water more than poop.
  • Watery, large and frequent poops combined with a change in the babies behavior, attitude or feeding are a sign for concern. Call your pediatrician.

Babies who are fed formula on the other hand, typically have fewer bowel movements and those poops tend to be a bit darker. They are also likely to not have the mustard seed consistency and therefore be a bit more smooth as compared to breastfed babies. Because of the variety of normal types of baby poop, Moorjani suggests that parents consider their baby’s bowel movements in light of the baby’s behavior. Diarrhea is, after all, linked to sickness. “As long as they are acting like themselves, and they are feeding well and their belly feels nice and soft, pediatricians don’t typically worry,” she says.

So what does real baby diarrhea look like? It will most likely be closer to water than it is to poop. It will be almost translucent, happen frequently and the volume will be large. If along with these poops a baby seems listless or agitated and will not feed or has trouble feeding, it’s likely time to call a pediatrician.

The danger posed by watery diarrhea is dehydration. So if parents are at all worried about frequent, large-volume, watery poops they should bring a kid in to see their pediatrician. Few babies have ever been harmed by an overabundance of caution.

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But diarrhea isn’t the only baby poop that is cause for concern. Parents will also want to be wary of anything that looks like blood in the stool. Blood in the stool can either be red or in extreme cases, black. This should not be confused with the first poops which are tarlike meconium which persists for the first day or two of a babies life.

“Look for what’s unusual for your baby,” Moorjani says. “Look at the whole picture.”

And, when in doubt, look for help.