The frequency of a newborn’s bowel movements can reveal important information about their overall health.
Checking diapers can, for example, help a person monitor whether a baby is receiving enough food. This may be especially important when a baby is feeding directly from the breast, which makes it hard to gauge their exact intake.
This article describes how often a newborn should poop at different stages of development. We also look into some digestive signs that may warrant a visit to the doctor.
In the first 24–48 hours after birth, a newborn passes a substance called meconium. This thick, dark green or brown stool contains material that the baby has ingested while in the uterus.
In the following days, the baby will begin pooping and peeing more regularly. Until about 6 weeks of age, most babies pass stool two to five times per day. Some babies have a bowel movement after every meal.
Between 6 weeks and 3 months of age, the frequency of pooping typically decreases. Many babies poop only once a day and some as infrequently as once a week. This is usually not a sign of a problem, as long as the baby maintains a healthy weight.
A 2012 study analyzed stool frequency in 600 newborns under 3 months of age. In the first weeks of life, breastfed babies in the study pooped an average of 3.65 times per day. By 3 months, the average frequency was 1.88 times per day. Formula-fed babies pooped slightly less often at each developmental stage.
One of the main reasons to keep track of a baby’s bowel movements is to ensure that the baby is receiving enough food.
This may be an especially good idea if a baby is feeding directly from the breast, because a person cannot measure how much the baby is taking in.
A 2006 study of breastfed infants found that the number of bowel movements in the first 5 days of life may be an early indicator of breastfeeding success. Babies who produced more stool during this period tended to develop healthier weight.
For this reason, checking diapers may be an effective way of telling whether a breastfed baby is receiving enough food.
Another reason to monitor a baby’s pooping is to check their overall health. Stool with an unusual color or consistency can indicate an underlying health problem.
A baby who is not receiving enough food may:
- not have at least one bowel movement per day
- produce fewer than five wet diapers daily after the first few days of life
- have signs of dehydration, such as dry lips or sunken eyes
- be lethargic
- lose weight
Newborns older than 1 month may poop much less frequently than those who are younger, particularly if they breastfeed.
Overall, it is important to be aware of a baby’s typical pooping pattern because a sudden change can indicate a health problem. Below are some signs to look out for:
Poop that has an unusual color
Healthy poop has a mild odor and is light yellow, brown, or greenish.
It is not uncommon to find specks of black blood in poop as a result of breastfeeding with cracked, bleeding nipples. But if red blood is present, call a doctor.
Also, green streaks throughout poop can be a sign of infection.
If stool is gray or white, this could indicate that an infant is not digesting food properly.
If a baby has finished passing meconium and later passes black poop, this can be a sign of internal bleeding.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), if an infant is passing loose and watery stool for more than 1 day, there is a chance of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration can include:
- a dry mouth, tongue, and lips
- a faster heartbeat than usual
- no tears when the infant is crying
- dry diapers for 3 or more hours
A baby with constipation may also cry or show other signs of straining. Some babies turn reddish.
Gentle exercises may help a baby poop. Try laying the baby on their back and gently moving their legs.
Seek professional care and advice if a baby shows any of the following signs:
Signs of inadequate nutrition
Irregular or infrequent pooping can indicate that the baby is not getting enough food, especially if they are breastfeeding.
A lactation counselor can help increase the amount of milk. Often, this involves nursing more and pumping after each nursing session. Receiving the right guidance early on increases the chances of the baby receiving enough nutrition from breast milk alone.
The FDA recommend calling a doctor if an infant has any of the following:
- signs of dehydration
- diarrhea that lasts longer than 24 hours
- a fever of at least 102°F
- tarry, black stool
- stool that contains pus or blood
- irritability and sleepiness
- sunken cheeks or eyes
- a depression or dip in the soft spot on top of the head
It is important to note that blood may appear in stool as a result of irritation of the rectum. A pediatrician can recommend cream to help reduce the discomfort.
Call a doctor if a newborn has constipation that has not responded to home treatment or is accompanied by any of the following:
- abdominal pain or discomfort
- blood in the stools
Blood in stools
If a baby passes black poop or more than one blood-tinged stool, they should see a doctor.
Sometimes, a baby may have a little blood in their stool from straining to poop. However, two or more blood-tinged stools may indicate a more serious problem.
Babies begin pooping regularly a few days after birth. Most babies younger than 6 weeks poop around two to five times per day. Babies between 6 weeks and 3 months of age typically poop less.
Monitoring a baby’s bowel movements is a helpful way to check on their nutrition and overall health.
Contact a doctor if a newborn has diarrhea, persistent constipation, or blood-tinged stools.
Also seek professional advice if a baby may not be receiving adequate nutrition. A lactation counselor can help, and a group for new parents can provide additional support and tips.