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FAQ: the color of baby poop

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  January 31, 2013 08:01 AM

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I hear it all the time: "My baby's poop is (insert color here). Is that okay?"

It's very true that the color of baby poop can be startling--and changeable. Usually the color of poop is affected by what babies eat and drink--makes sense, as what goes in, um, eventually comes out. For breastfed babies, sometimes it's what the mother ate or drank that affects the color. Sometimes it's illness that changes the color--but sometimes, truly, the color is different for reasons that are completely unclear.
So here's what I say when I am asked this question (I got asked it twice last week alone):
There are only three poop colors I worry about:
  1. Red. That can be blood. Although not always--I've had patients with red poop from drinking red juice or eating red foods. But I want to know about any red poop--we can do a quick test to see if it's actually blood. It's not necessarily a serious thing if it is blood--sometimes something as minor as a little cut on the anus can do it--but I want to see those babies.
  2. Black. That can be blood too--that's the color it can turn as it passes through the intestine. Again, it might not be blood, and I'm talking real black here, not dark brown. But those are babies I want to come in and get checked out too.
  3. White. That can be a sign of a problem with the system that produces bile, an important chemical that your body uses in digestion. It's rare that this happens--and I do mean white, not light brown or light yellow--but when it does, we need to hear about it.
Other than that, I don't worry about any color of a poop. I'm good with any shade of green (I think I've seen just about every shade there is), yellow or brown. Most weird colors, like blue or orange (I've seen those too) come from blue or orange foods. 
Obviously, call your doctor if something worries you, especially if your baby is constipated or having diarrhea or seems uncomfortable--you should always do that. But if your baby seems fine, and the poop is the normal consistency for your baby and isn't red, black or white, chances are all is absolutely fine.

I will be doing more of these FAQ's--questions I hear again and again in my practice. If you have one for me, send me a message on my Facebook page.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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