Many babies will have blood in their stool at least once during infancy. Straining to poop, small hemorrhoids, and other minor conditions may cause blood streaks in a baby’s stool.
More serious issues — such as bleeding in the intestines — may also cause bloody stool, however. So, while people should not panic, it is a good idea to take the infant to the doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
If a baby’s stool appears red, it does not always mean the baby is passing blood. Certain red foods, such as tomatoes and other fibrous foods, may cause red streaks or chunks in a baby’s stool. So, pay close attention to what the baby ate most recently.
If the red color is blood, the most common causes include:
Babies with constipation may strain to poop. This can cause blood-streaked stools as the poop causes tiny tears in the anus. Doctors call this an anal fissure.
Most anal fissures heal on their own. However, because they cause an open wound in an area exposed to lots of bacteria, they can become infected.
A doctor may recommend antibiotics or cream to ease the pain.
Some babies have very hard or large bowel movements or go long periods without a bowel movement. A baby may also need diet changes to reduce the risk of constipation.
Blood in breastmilk
Sometimes, breast milk contains blood. This often occurs because the person breastfeeding has cracked or injured nipples. When this happens, the baby may swallow some blood. This can cause faint streaks of blood in the baby’s stool or make an entire stool look reddish.
It is not dangerous for a baby to swallow blood, as long as the person breastfeeding does not have a transmittable disease, such as HIV or AIDS. However, it is important to treat the injury to the nipple, since chronic nipple damage can disrupt breastfeeding and cause infections.
Certain infections may cause blood in the stool. Some babies may get diarrhea when they have an infection.
One of the most dangerous infections is necrotizing enterocolitis. This infection is more common among preterm infants and babies with other health conditions. Parents may notice that the baby’s stomach looks swollen or that the baby does not want to eat.
Because necrotizing enterocolitis can be fatal, a doctor needs to evaluate any infants that pass a bloody stool or have other risk factors.
A hemorrhoid is a swollen vein outside or just inside the anus. When a baby poops, hemorrhoids may bleed, causing red streaks of blood in the stool.
Hemorrhoids are less common in babies than anal fissures, so adults should take the baby to a doctor for a diagnosis.
Some hemorrhoids heal naturally, but others require treatment. Usually, a hemorrhoid is a sign that the baby is constipated and is straining to poop.
Bloody diarrhea may signal a bacterial infection, such as salmonella or E.coli. These conditions often clear on their own, but they can cause dangerous dehydration in babies. Babies experiencing bloody diarrhea require medical care.
Food allergies and sensitivities
Babies with food sensitivities or allergies may have bloody stools for days, weeks, or months. If people frequently notice blood-tinged stools, especially after a change in the diet of the baby or the person who is breastfeeding, ask a doctor about allergies. Many babies are allergic to soy in formula.
Upper GI bleeding
Dark blood in the stool or black stools may signify that the upper part of the baby’s gastrointestinal tract, such as their esophagus, throat, or nose, is bleeding.
Sometimes, this happens after a traumatic injury, such as choking. In other cases, upper GI bleeding occurs because of a severe infection or illness.
Upper GI bleeding is a medical emergency.
The following chart details what different poop colors mean in babies, including red or bloody stool.
Not all bloody stools need treatment. Minor hemorrhoids and anal fissures often go away on their own.
However, because babies are more vulnerable to certain infections, a doctor will probably seek to diagnose the cause and treat it.
The right treatment depends on the reason for the bleeding. It may include:
- Pain treatment for hemorrhoids and anal fissures: A doctor may recommend sitz baths or creams.
- Surgery: Some fissures or hemorrhoids do not heal on their own and may require surgery. A blockage in the intestines that causes bleeding could also require surgery.
- Antibiotics: A doctor may prescribe antibiotics for certain infections or to prevent a fissure from becoming infected.
- Fluids: A doctor may recommend intravenous (IV) fluids or electrolyte drinks for a baby whose diarrhea causes dehydration.
- Diet changes: Eating more fiber may help with constipation in older babies. Younger babies may need to switch formulas or drink more breastmilk. Sometimes the person breastfeeding has to change their diet.
Most bloody stools are not immediately life-threatening. However, it is still important to call a doctor anytime there is blood in a baby’s stool. A doctor can diagnose the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.
Go to the emergency room if a baby:
- has bloody diarrhea
- has blood in their stool and a fever or other signs of illness
- was premature and has blood in their stool
- has bloody stools as well as a swollen stomach
- does not want to eat
- seems lethargic, confused, or very sick
Blood in a baby’s stool may indicate a temporary issue, such as constipation. However, it can also signal a life-threatening medical condition, such as necrotizing enterocolitis.
It is difficult for a parent or carer to diagnose the cause at home, so it is crucial to get a professional diagnosis.
Most issues that cause a bloody stool are highly treatable. Even when there is a serious underlying problem, prompt medical care increases the odds of a good outcome and may also save the baby’s life.