Tummy troubles and bowel movements in babies

I laughed at all my friends that had children before me and their preoccupation with their child’s food and poo. Then I had a baby and retrained as a paediatric dietitian and it all made sense.

How well life functions is dependent on the happiness of a child, and the happiness of a child, is greatly dependent on that fine relationship between food and poo and everything working smoothly and regularly!

So we as parents become very concerned about the frequency, overworking, underworking, consistency, efficiency and functional capacity of our child’s bowel movements. From the moment they are born we are worried about that first ‘big black poo’ and when that will come, to what colour is normal and how many dirty nappies there should really be and whether we should wait to change the nappy now or if they’re really finished. And the explosions, poonami and poonado episodes; we’re right to worry about those messy ones.

But we probably don’t need to worry as much as we do.

Normal Bowel Movements

Normal bowel movements for babies can be 4 times daily to once every 10-12 days without a baby being “constipated”.

Normal colours range from greeny yellow to brown and have the consistency of peanut butter through to well-formed sausages.

If you have baby who only poo’s once a fortnight (umm how lucky are you?! My mum had one of those!) its normal for them to have a large motion that they struggle with for the day and then move on with normal life after.

Their mood and appetite probably decreased while they were concentrating on working things out, and this is completely normal too.

What is a normal consistency?

Things that can change the normal consistency and types of poo from one baby to another in addition to their differing physical makeup is the proteins, fats and sugars in their food:

  • breastmilk or formula
  • changes to their food,
  • swapping formula or starting to co-feed
  • their microbiome (the families of bacteria in their gut),
  • tummy viruses

Breastmilk intuitively changes throughout a baby’s life and even day to day with microparticles of the foods that mothers eat, levels of proteins, levels of water and even levels of carbohydrates like lactose. Having too much lactose at the start of a feed and not enough fats from the end of a feed can cause a baby’s bowel to quicken and may even cause “lactose overload” for some babies.

Your local lactation counselor/consultant, paediatric dietitian can help you work out a feeding schedule to help you through the green explosions your baby is likely having.

What causes bloating

Other particles in foods may cause some additional bloating for your baby as their gut bacteria get used to seeing some different proteins and sugars and produce a bit of excess gas in the process; helping to populate the gut with an extra dose of healthy bacteria via some probiotics can help decrease boating if this is an issue for your baby. 

Breastmilk contains more whey than casein proteins at newborn stage, which gradually changes as the baby gets older causing the poos to ‘thicken up’ and become more paste like. Baby formula has a consistent ratio of whey to casein at each stage formula and the ratio of these differs between different brands and formula types.

Babies on formula normally have more solid stools due to the larger proteins their bowel sees via the formula; probiotics have also been shown to be beneficial for formula fed babies to aid processing of proteins, absorption of important nutrients and building a healthy immune system.

Starting Solids

Starting solids adds an additional layer of complexity to your baby turning into a toddler. If you’ve been breastfeeding exclusively up until this point; you can say good-bye to baby poos!

Bowel motions again can speed up or slow down depending on the foods they’re being offered, they change colour depending on the foods being offered too; so expect a change-up in that area as well.

Some parents are told their child has “toddler diarrhea”, which is diarrhea that occurs without a known bacterial/viral/allergy origin. These motions can upset both child and parent and I find it useful to have a look at how much fruit children are consuming over the day to decrease the movements. It is normal to see large chunks of food passing through children when they start on solids. This eventually stops when they become more efficient at chewing their foods. Except for corn, you’ll always see corn.

When to seek advice

Other times that its important to seek healthcare advice; changes to bowel routines, pain, distress and crying, tummy troubles that are keeping your child and the household awake all night, and motion that are especially foul smelling, motions that are white, motions that have fresh blood or are black or have black flecks in them.

Viral and bacterial infections can completely change how your baby’s and toddler’s belly functions, especially when a course of antibiotics is necessary to knock out the infection, by also taking out the beneficial bacteria. It could take months to get their bowel back to prior healthy function. You can help restore normal function by continuing to breastfeed, offering a lactose free formula while the gut recovers and by actively re-populating the gut with healthy bacteria.

Information contained in this article is designed to be informative but not prescriptive. Please talk to a healthcare professional about whether and which probiotics may be best for you.

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