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kids and poop

What is my kid’s poop telling me? | Ask the Pediatrician

Poop is just a fact of life. Dr. Susanna Block walks us through what to look for and when to seek help.

Let’s face it: Parenting comes with dealing with poop. It’s just one of the facts of parent life. While there are some kids, especially toddlers in toilet training, who are fascinated with poop, I get questions from parents all the time about their kid’s stool. One of the most common questions I get is, “What’s going on with my child’s poop?” Today we’ll talk all things poop and get to the bottom of it.

 

What kids eat will affect the color and consistency of their stool. (Stock image)

Kids and poop: what parents should know

What is poop? Your child’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract’s main function is to break down food and absorb nutrients and fluids. The work of the GI tract has an impact on growth, the immune system and development. Stool can be affected by many things including type of food, exercise, stress, infections, food allergies and underlying medical disorders.

What is normal poop? Should my child go poop every day? Like many things in life, what is normal for one person may be different than what is normal for someone else. Some children poop one to two times per day, and others poop every few days. The most important thing is the softness of the poop. The goal is to have stool that is soft, pain-free and without abdominal pain.

What color should poop be? I get a lot of questions about poop color. Poop color can be affected by what foods are eaten, how fast food is moving through the digestive system, child’s age and illness. Stool that is white, black or red is concerning and needs to be evaluated by a doctor. Generally, stool that is yellow, brown or green in a happy and well child is simply a reflection of what has been eaten.

Newborns are their own special entities in every way and have their own stool story: Infants in the first few days of life pass black, sticky stool called meconium. Breastfed infants have soft mustard yellow-seedy stool and may poop anywhere from one time every three days to eight to 12 times per day. Once pureed or solid foods are introduced, stool turns brown and is less frequent.

Kids and poop: constipation

What is functional constipation? Functional constipation is the most common type of constipation and occurs when children hold back their bowel movements. Stool withholding behavior can happen when children are too busy to stop and use the toilet, are afraid that it will hurt, do not like to stool in public toilets, after a stomach infection or simply because they are trying to take control around potty training. For whatever reason, stool withholding behavior can lead to abdominal pain and cramps and nausea, and decrease appetite and increase anxiety around stooling.

If stool withholding goes on for a long time, it can lead to encopresis, which is stool backup leading to dilation of the bowel and overflow diarrhea. If you are worried your child has encopresis, it’s important to talk to your doctor for treatment.

What is organic constipation? Organic constipation is constipation secondary to a medical problem. It is very rare compared to functional constipation and has a variety of reasons including celiac disease or thyroid disease.

Is my baby constipated? Babies can look very alarming when they are pooping: They often get red in the face and cry. Combined with the fact that babies can poop multiple times a day to once every two to three days, and it’s natural to wonder if they are constipated. For babies over one month of age who have hard stools or seem very uncomfortable, it may be reasonable to try a small amount of prune juice. The rule of thumb is one ounce a day for every month of life up to about four months (a 3-month-old baby would get three ounces). Once babies are taking purees it is reasonable to give them prune or fruit puree.

Exercise can help ward off constipation in children. (Stock image)

Constipation: symptoms and treatment

What are signs of constipation?

  • Abdominal pain and cramps
  • Decrease appetite
  • Hard painful stools
  • Anal fissure (small tears in the skin around the rectum and anus from passing a hard stool).
  • Fecal streaking

Constipation treatment for kids:

  • Increase dietary fiber: It’s always a good idea to make sure your child is taking enough natural fiber from fruits, vegetables and other high-fiber foods.
  • Stay hydrated: If the body does not get enough water, it will pull fluid from the intestines, making stool harder and leading to constipation.
  • Change in toilet posture: Some children have slumpy posture on the toilet. One way to improve toilet posture is with a potty stool, which improves toileting posture by relaxing the muscles and straightening the anorectal angle to make pooping easier.
  • Being active: Being active and moving helps everything including preventing constipation.
  • If you’ve tried these and your child still has signs of constipation, it makes sense to go to your medical provider to talk about next steps.

 

More from Dr. Block and Kaiser Permanente

Pediatrician’s tips for dealing with picky eaters

Do toddlers need “toddler milk”? Here’s what a doctor says

Tips for talking to kids about tough topics

About the Author

Susanna Block

Dr. Susanna Block, MD, MPH, is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente in Seattle and lives with her family in Queen Anne.