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Newborn and Infant Care

Frequency of bowel movmements in formula

07/25/2005

Question:

What is considered a " normal " number of BMs for a formula fed newborn ? ( 3 weeks old )... he has only 1-2 now..

Answer:

This is a frequent concern of new parents. The answer is that what is normal varies widely among children as the intestinal tract becomes populated with normal bacterial flora and function matures. There actually have been studies on this topic, and researchers indeed found that stool frequency in normal babies varies from once every few days to as many as 6 stools daily. In general, frequency of stooling often does decrease over time.

The best key to "is it normal?" lies in the consistency of the stool. If it is soft and easy to pass it is normal. If it is hard and pebble-like, it is constipation.  Breastfed babies may stool only once weekly and as long as the stool is soft and easily passed, even once weekly is normal. Many babies turn red and grunt with the effort to pass stool, and this is not a cause for concern as long as the stool itself is in the realm of soft and either formed or unformed in appearance.

When infants begin consuming foods other than formula or breastmilk, ideally not before 6 months of age, stool color and consistency also change. Most notably, if highly colored fruits and vegetables are eaten, such as beets, spinach, or carrots, stool may appear red, green or orange.

Normal stools do not contain blood, mucous, or undigested food. If it is large in quantity, foul smelling, and greasy in appearance, it is not normal. Otherwise, it probably is a quite normal variant of stool.

Whenever you have questions for your health care professional about changes in bowel habits or stool appearance, it is a good idea to take the soiled diaper with you in a ziplock bag. That way your health professional can quickly identify whether the change is within the very wide range of normal or not. 

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Response by:

Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN Mary M Gottesman, PhD, RN, CPNP, FAAN
Professor of Clinical Nursing
College of Nursing
The Ohio State University