Understanding your baby's bowel movements

The first few weeks with your baby’s bowel movements.

As a parent, you’ll learn about poo pretty quickly. It’s all part of having a new baby, and understanding what to expect.  Learning how to identify problems (like constipation) can be really helpful.

What to expect in the first few weeks

A child’s poo will change a lot throughout their early life and can be a good indicator of wellbeing. Their first bowel movement is called meconium, and it’s a green-black colour, thick in texture and will happen very soon after birth. In the next 24 – 48 hours this changes to a brownish ‘transitional’ poo, then by day 3 – 4 it’ll change again to a loose mustard-yellow poo, which is typical for a breast fed infant. Occasionally it might look green or even orange, but this is usually nothing to worry about. If you notice your baby’s poo has blood in it or is persistently green, orange or a white-cream colour then it’s a good idea to speak with a health professional about it.

If you’re breast feeding your baby, they’ll usually poo at least once a day until about 4 weeks of age. As they get older, this can change – they could poo as frequently as every feed, or as little as every 7 – 10 days. Formula milk may take a little bit longer for babies to digest than breast milk, so if you’re feeding your baby formula, they’ll have slightly different bowel movements. They’ll typically poo every 1 – 2 days and it tends to be a bit firmer in texture.

Remember that every baby’s different and it’s totally normal for their poo patterns to change suddenly, especially when you introduce solids to their diet.

Identifying constipation

Constipation can be a common complaint in babies, but the signs are a bit different than they are in adults. Keep in mind, breast fed babies can poo as often as every feed, or as little as once every 10 days – and both are normal. Similarly, formula fed babies can poo as often as three times a day, or as little as once every second day. So the time between bowel motions or the frequency of them, generally isn’t going to be a great indicator of constipation.

What’s more important is the texture of your baby’s poo. If it’s hard, dry and pellet-like, it’s quite possible that they’re constipated. Even if your baby takes a lot of effort and strains to produce a poo, if it’s loose and soft, and they aren’t showing any signs of pain (like arching their back) while they’re doing it, they shouldn’t be constipated.

What to do if your baby’s constipated

If you have any concerns about your baby’s bowel motions, the best thing to do is speak to your health professional. At home, you can try giving your baby warm relaxing baths and gently massage their tummy. Continue to breast feed, and if the constipation persists, speak to a health professional.

If you are feeding your baby formula, here are a couple of things to check:

·         Double check that the formula is being prepared correctly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Formula that’s too concentrated and doesn’t have enough water can cause constipation.

·         Some formulas contain prebiotics (a form of fibre) that help to support digestive function. If your formula doesn’t contain prebiotics then maybe consider changing to one that does.

Constipation can often happen when your baby’s introduced to solids – it’s just their system getting used to digesting whole food. You can make this transition easier by giving them plenty of plain water and including fruits and vegetables that are high in fibre as part of their early diet. Things like pureed peas, kiwifruit, pears, plums, peaches and apricots can work really well – just make sure you always give your baby the type of food that’s appropriate for their age (refer to the Ministry of Health’s resource ‘Starting Solids’) and that it is prepared in a suitable way for their developmental stage (for example soft, peeled, grated or cooked).

Some deeper reading

Ministry of Health. Food and Nutrition Guidelines for Healthy Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women – A Background Paper.  2006.

Ministry of Health.  Constipation – constipation in babies.  Accessed 10th December 2015.

Ministry of Health.  Your baby’s bowel motions (poos).  Accessed 10th December 2015.

National Health and Medical Research Council (2012) Infant Feeding Guidelines. Canberra: National Health and Medical Research Council.