ERIN PUSHMAN, CHARLOTTE, NC USA
Originally published August 2016, republished here with the express permission of the author.
What to expect—and learn—from baby’s diaper for the first six weeks.
Five days into my second child’s newborn life, I opened his diaper and found what I had been waiting—no, hoping—to see: a mustard-yellow poop smeared on the inside of his diaper. I was delighted and relieved. For the first ten days, I continued to watch my son’s diaper for signs that he was getting enough to eat.
I was not the first mother to glean important information from her baby’s poopy diaper. Knowledge is power in the baby poop department. A diaper-savvy mom can look for important signs about her own milk supply, the baby’s nutrition, and even potential problems like allergies.
So what should you expect from baby’s diaper?
During the first day of life, your little newborn is going to make a blackish, tar-like mess called meconium. Meconium is a baby’s first stool, the one she made by ingesting mucus, amniotic fluid, and other materials in the womb. The good news is that your breastfed baby isn’t going to poop a lot at the very beginning. In the first postpartum days, a baby is pulling colostrum from mother’s breasts. That early, nutrition-packed milk comes in miniature servings that are just right for baby’s miniature stomach—and somewhat laxative to help get rid of the meconium. Those small servings of mom’s colostrum won’t lead to lots of dirty diapers, but moms can look for specific signs that mean baby is getting enough to eat.
During the first 24 hours, your baby should produce at least one meconium stool. During the second 24 hours, baby should have at least two poopy diapers. When the baby is three to five days old, she should make at least three poopy diapers each day. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding says, “The number of wet and poopy diapers should increase day by day through the first week to ten days.”
Size also matters when it comes to baby poop. During the early days, mom can keep an eye on the size of baby’s poop to make sure breastfeeding is going well. According to the authors of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, baby’s poop should be “at least as big as the ‘okay’ circle you make with thumb and forefinger.”
Meconium can be hard to clean from a baby’s skin. Fortunately, midwives, doulas, and natural-minded mamas have found that olive oil is an easy and effective way to clean meconium from your baby’s tender skin. As an added bonus, olive oil also acts as a barrier to protect the skin and make clean-up easier after the next poop. Some moms even apply olive oil before their baby’s first poop.
Moms in the know also watch for gradual color changes. Poop should change color each day, and there are many versions of *normal*. This LLLGB post has clear pictures of changes you might see.
What about texture?
Once baby’s poop turns yellow, it is often described as seedy, or, as the authors of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding put it, “small curd cottage cheese.” It’s also going to be soft and fairly fluid, almost like pancake batter or even more runny. Small amounts of mucus are normal too.
When changes are happening in the baby’s diaper, they are happening in mother’s breasts too. Mom’s colostrum gradually becomes transitional milk, and then mature milk. Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, writes in Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple, these types of milk “reflect a continuum of changes that occur after birth as the mother’s hormones shift and her breasts begin making more milk.” For the first seven to ten days, changes in the diaper tell moms that everything is going according to plan.
When all is not well in baby’s diaper
If your baby’s poop does not move through a color change during the first five days, or if your baby is not pooping enough, she may not be getting enough to eat. The bottom line is that she should be making at least three, “okay” sized, yellow poopy diapers every day by day five. Baby should continue to poop more and more through the first week or so, and continue with frequent, daily poops through the first six weeks.
The most likely cause of scant or infrequent poop (or poop that does not move toward yellow by day five) is that baby is not getting enough milk. If you notice all is not well inside your baby’s diaper, seek breastfeeding help as soon as possible. Problems leading to a baby’s low milk intake can vary from the structure of a baby’s mouth to mother’s milk supply. There are nearly always breastfeeding solutions to breastfeeding problems. A lactation consultant, health care provider, or LLL Leader can help you work out what the problem is.
What if your baby’s poop is green after the first three or four days of life? If he is gaining weight and usually seems content, most experts say not to worry. Green poop may have several causes: naturally green or artificially colored foods in mom’s diet; baby or mother taking antibiotics; or baby feeling sick with a cold or stomach virus. The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding explains that the phototherapy used to treat jaundice can give the baby’s poop a distinct “creamed spinach” hue. It’s also possible that green poop might just be normal for some babies.
If a baby is not gaining weight or seems unhappy much of the time, mom can take a closer look at the green diapers. Frothy, plentiful green poops can be caused by an overabundance of mom’s milk. If overabundant milk is the issue, baby will probably be fussy and may not gain as much weight as expected. If frequent green poop is coming from a baby who is also fussy or develops other allergy symptoms, like a rash or runny nose, the cause may be an allergy or sensitivity to a food in the mother’s diet. Talk with a La Leche League Leader or lactation consultant for ideas to help with overabundant milk or food allergies.
Infrequent green poop in small amounts (less than the okay circle) may be a sign that your baby isn’t getting enough to eat. Especially if he is not gaining weight, seek breastfeeding help as soon as possible. A lactation consultant can help find ways to increase milk supply. Moms with low milk supply benefit from knowing they are not alone, and La Leche League can provide community and support: find your local group here.
Time to relax about diaper contents
Once a baby’s diaper shows “a solid track record,” as The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding puts it, you can stop watching the poop content so closely. More changes will come as your baby continues to grow and gain weight. After the first six weeks or so, many breastfeed babies will slow down in the poop department, and you will be cleaning that tiny, soiled bottom much less frequently. Until then, happy diapering.
Mohrbacher, N. Breastfeeding Answers Made Simple. Amarillo, TX: Hale Publishing, 2010; 403.
Green Poop – When Should you Worry?
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th edition. LLLI. New York: Ballantine Books, 2010; 94, 108-109, 396, 451.