Poop: why parents should pay attention to it

What are you writing about, Daddy?!?!

An honest mother once told me before I became a parent, “When you have a child, you talk about poop at least once a day.”

It seemed kind of ridiculous to me then. It sounds totally absurd now. My wife and I discuss poop no less than three times a day since our daughter was born last November.

“Hey honey,” I say as I walk through the door after work. “How’s Emmy? Did she poop today?” It’s bad enough that I don’t ask how my wife’s day went, but the badness is compounded by my typically modest wife being eager to answer.

“Craig, you should’ve seen it! It went through her diaper, up her back, through the onesie, through my sweater, ALL the way to my undershirt! Four whole layers! It was unbelievable!”

I wish I could say this exchange is limited to our post-work introduction. But the truth is that poop weaves in and out of many conversations, much like “Are we there yet?” pops up every 30 or so minutes from little kids in back seats on road trips.

Except we’re not little kids. We’re adults. You just may not think it based on our discussion choices.

“Did you see that Robert Griffin III was the second overall pick?” I ask at the dinner table. “Yea, I really hope he does well. He’s such a great guy,” she responds. Then without a transition or much of a pause: “Will you please take Emmy’s diapers out to the trash after we eat? She had a blowout this afternoon, and the smell is still lingering. It’s bad.”

In comparison, all of our pre-child conversations about celebrity gossip and weekend plans sound like analysis of Foucault and Caravaggio now. But, you know, we embrace the unexpected fixation as part of the total parenting package, which we’re grateful to have. Besides, every other new parent we know does the same thing.

Pediatricians require us all to pay attention to and even track baby bowel movements, particularly for the first few weeks. Why? Well, I went to a more authoritative source for that answer.

The scoop on poop from our expert

Dr. Ashish Patel, who works in the Gastroenterology department at Children’s, is an expert on children’s stomach issues. It turns out that he’s a new father, too. When I called to speak with him, his wife had just sent him a text about their 10-day-old daughter. It was a picture of a dirty diaper with the caption: “Poo poo diaper with yellowish stool. Thought GI doctor daddy would be happy to see.”

So, yes, even the most brilliant of us are vulnerable to the poop craze. Dr. Patel said that isn’t such a bad thing, though. “Poop tells us how a baby is doing with a variety of health issues.”

Below are a few of the reasons he said baby poop is worth paying attention to:

- Poop reveals how much nutrition a baby is receiving. Meconium, the tar-like stool that babies have right after they’re born, is amniotic fluid that a baby is pushing out of its system. The transition from meconium to yellow-brown stool indicates that the baby is receiving enough milk/formula to flush out the amniotic fluid.
- Poop indicates how a baby’s liver is working. “As the nutrition from formula or milk stimulates the GI tract, it stimulates the liver and bile ducts so that they excrete bile into the intestine, which gives poop that yellow-brown color,” Dr. Patel said. He added that the only two stool colors that concern him are red and white. Red suggests internal bleeding, and white or pale “indicates that bile isn’t being excreted and something is possibly wrong with the liver.”
- Poop frequency is (sort of) a sign of how well a baby’s GI tract is working. Dr. Patel said that he expects formula-fed babies to have a bowel movement a couple of times a day and breastfed babies to go at least once every several days. But he said that unexpected frequencies (formula-fed babies may go several days without pooping and breastfed babies may poop a couple of times a day) may simply be caused by GI tracts being immature and going through the development process. “What really triggers concern are the other symptoms like irritability, a swollen belly and decreased appetite in addition to the frequency irregularity,” he said.

So, new parents, if you find poop being a regular topic of conversation, it’s not such a bad thing. Everyone else, please have patience as we gradually climb our way back to “interesting” from “gross” as our children get older.


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6 Responses to Poop: why parents should pay attention to it

  1. Erin Calaway November 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    My 4 year old daughter has not had a BM in well over a week. However, she has lots of dirty panties….she needs to go badly, but refuses. She screams on the potty, straightens her legs and back, and holds it in as long as possible. Any advice? Thank you.

    • Children's Med Dallas Editor
      Children's Med Dallas Editor November 24, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

      Erin, Your daughter sounds like she’s in a lot of pain and that must be stressful for both of you. Our best advice is to talk with your daughter’s pediatrician to determine the cause. If your pediatrician recommends a specialist, we have GI doctors at Children’s locations in Dallas, Southlake and Plano. -Janet

  2. Faith August 26, 2013 at 9:19 am #

    The advise our naturopathic pediatrician gave us to help both our (10 month old) baby’s rash and regularity was to introduce kids probiotics garden of life as directed on the label and increase olive oil until he has a bowel movement every day. In addition the general rule of thumb as we start drinking water is to drink half your weight in ounces, avoid white breads/rice.

  3. Becca May 19, 2012 at 12:16 pm #

    What about toddler poop? My son is 3 and we seem to have battled the poop issue since he came off the bottle. From constipation to exteme runs. I cannt get a good poop. I know for a fact that it is not Encopresis because he will sit and push with his whole heart, until he is red in the face and we are both frustrated there is only a streak in his pull-up. He pee’s in the potty no problem but we keep a pull-up on for poop. I have tried multiple diet plans and we are now on Miralax. He will have one ‘good’ poop and then back to constipation. HELP! His dr told me we have to be on Miralax for 2months straight before she will try anything else. I feel so bad for him because I know that he is going to start holding it in because it hurts him so bad to push :(

    • Craig Foster May 22, 2012 at 11:56 am #

      Thanks for posting, Becca. I’m sorry to hear about your son’s difficulties. I asked Dr. Patel about his case. His advice was to continue what you’re already doing – following the advice of your pediatrician. If the pediatrican recommends he see a specialist, Dr. Patel said the GI staff at Children’s would be happy to help.

      • Becca May 25, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

        Thanks. We will probably be in to see a GI within the month seeing as it is getting worse. We now have flakes, I am guessing that is the looser stool coming around what is stuck up there. Trying a glycerin suppository to help this weekend and then to his pediatrician for referral after the holiday. My question is though can a childs body become dependant on a Bulk-Forming laxative such as Miralax?

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