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How to Diagnose and Address Newborn and Baby Diarrhea

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

Baby diarrhea and newborn diarrhea can sometime be hard to discern from baby poop. After all, baby poop seems to change pretty dynamically. The texture and consistency of baby poop can be incredibly soft, cottage cheese like, or as firm as play dough.

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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 or newborn diarrhea arrives with other symptoms that can help determine that it’s time to call the doctor.

In general, soft baby stool isn’t immediately a cause for concern, 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.”

Is it Baby 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. These poops tend to be a bit darker and a bit more smooth, lacking the mustard seed quality that breastfed baby poop is known for. 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.

What does real baby diarrhea look like?

It will most likely be closer to water than it is to poop. Diarrhea will be almost translucent, happen frequently, and in large volumes. If, along with these watery diarrhea poops, a baby seems listless or agitated and refuses or has trouble feeding, it’s likely time to call a pediatrician. Few babies have ever been harmed by an overabundance of caution, even as it relates to poop.

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

And, when in doubt, look for help.