by Dr. Katy Patrick

Parents of young infants in my practice often have questions about their babies’ bowel movements. Are the stools normal? Are they too loose or too hard? Do they come too often or not frequently enough? What about the color?

Many newborns cry and strain while they are having a bowel movement and parents sometimes worry that this means their baby is constipated. This is actually a normal phenomenon called dyschezia. Basically, young babies don’t know which muscles to contract and which to relax during a bowel movement. This makes them inefficient at stooling and seem like they are having trouble. The consistency of the stool is more indicative of constipation. Constipated infants will have hard, pebble-like poops.

What about the number of stools? It is actually normal for young infants to poop as frequently as they feed or as little as once every few days. As long as the stool s are watery-mushy-soft and some color combination of yellow, green, and/or brown, they are normal.

When should a parent be concerned about a baby’s bowel movements? Delayed stooling after birth or constipation in the first few weeks of life could signal a problem. Blood in the stool can indicate an allergy to cow’s milk or an infection and should prompt a call to the pediatrician. And vomiting (more than the usual baby spit-up) or abdominal distention are also cause for concern. Fortunately, serious problems are uncommon but I always encourage parents to call if they have questions.