From insufficient nutrition to allergies and infections, so much about an infant’s health can be learned from inside a dirty diaper. It offers a wealth of information, but many moms find themselves spending too much time and energy analyzing and decoding their infants’ stool colors.
Well, moms can let out a big sigh of relief because most stool colors are normal.
“Most of the time stool will change color based on the things a mother’s eating or any medications [she’s taking],” said pediatrician Lisa Light, pointing out beets or red peppers can cause red stool, and Pepto-Bismol has been known to cause black stool. “Also, if the baby is sick and having some diarrhea issues, because there is less time for the nutrients to be absorbed, it can also change the color of the stool.”
Whether an infant is breast-fed or formula-fed, stools can vary in color greatly and still be considered normal. Though poop from breast-fed babies is usually yellow or a mustard color and formula-fed babies will have a more typical tan or brown stool, orange and even green can come from healthy bowel movements.
“Green is almost always a normal stool,” Dr. Light said. “It is most likely from foods or dyes in foods, and it likely comes along with diarrhea and loose stool.”
Though mothers can find a rainbow of colors inside an infant’s diaper that are normal, Dr. Light points to a few that can be a call for concern. Red, black and white stools can be alarming, especially if they can’t be explained by food or medications.
Red stool can indicate bleeding from the lower gastrointestinal tract, whereas black can point to bleeding in the upper tract.
White also can be a concerning color because it can signal an issue with digestion where the body doesn’t absorb nutrients properly.
So after analyzing an infant’s dirty diaper, how can parents tell whether a color is caused by food or something more serious?
“The No. 1 thing is if the child looks ill and isn’t acting right, [call your pediatrician],” said Dr. Light. “If it changes with just one bowel movement and it resolves, usually there’s nothing to worry about. If the abnormal color can’t be explained by any particular foods or medications and it’s persisting for more than a day, then we’d want to see them.”