What is Your Child’s Poop Telling You?
If there’s one thing every parent deals with, it’s poop. If you are like most parents, you have probably spent a considerable amount of time inspecting your child’s poop. You’ve gotten through the crazy infant poops, the stubborn toddler years of picky diets and toilet refusal, and you successfully have your child using the bathroom on their own. Strong work!
In the blink of an eye your child has become pretty self-sufficient when it comes to eating and using the bathroom. The days of hearing “Come wipe me!” are over, which means you are no longer always there to see if your kiddo’s poop is becoming large or hard.
We are here to answer any poop questions you or your child may still have and answer the biggest question of all – “What is your child’s poop telling you?”
Healthy guts start with food
From the time your child transitions to solid food, you will notice more formed stool. Some days your child will feel adventurous and agreeable and will try new things; other days they will be very picky and stubborn with their choices. In general, if you offer healthy choices, then even picky eaters will take what their body needs over the course of a few weeks. With changes in diet you will probably notice another shift in your child’s poop.
Remember if it starts with “p” it makes you poop– peaches, pears, prunes and pineapple are classic “pooping” fruits. If your child is struggling with poop, focus on incorporating these options, along with melons and berries to help keep poop soft. A great way to sneak in some of these fruits is by buying frozen versions and making a delicious smoothie for your child to enjoy!
If fruits that start with “p” aid in digestion, foods that are white typically have the opposite affect and can make your child’s poop too hard. If the poop seems too large or hard, then start to limit cheese, bananas, white rice, white pasta, white sugar and white bread/buns. Milk is great for kids, but you should also limit milk to three servings daily if your child’s poop is getting hard.
If the frequency of your child’s poop seems normal, but the consistency could use a little softening, try darker whole grains like brown rice, brown pasta and brown bread. Raisins and oatmeal are other foods that can help to keep poop soft.
It is also important to hydrate. Limit the amount of milk you give your child to three servings daily and otherwise offer water only. Ideally, your child should consume eight ounces of water for every year old they are, up to 64 ounces on average for teenagers and adults. Bring water bottles any time you are on the go to help keep your child hydrated and promote softer stool.
Consistency is key
Poop that is soft means that your child is happy and healthy. If you feel your child’s poop is too soft, first eliminate all juice and sugary beverages. Often times viruses, like stomach bugs, will cause soft or even watery poop. Excessive watery poop can lead to dehydration. If the poop is truly watery and your child’s amount of urine is decreasing, then you should call your pediatrician or come in for a check-up. For watery stool occurring more than two to three times daily, you may offer 3 ounces of Pedialyte to drink after each watery stool that passes. Be sure to stop giving Pedialyte once the stool is no longer watery. Otherwise, encourage water and frequent meals and snacks. Most viral diarrhea will resolve on its own within 10 days.
If your child’s poop is too hard, this could signal constipation. Constipation in children means the poop is too hard to pass normally; it is not related to the frequency of bowel movements. Try the foods mentioned above to soften your child’s poop.
At times of stress and change most humans “hold in their poop.” This is especially important to watch for when on vacation, starting a new school year, moving houses or changing daycares/babysitters. Both happy and sad changes tend to affect children's pooping. Most children get in the rhythm of pooping a few hours after each meal. When your child goes off to school, they may feel uncomfortable using the unfamiliar school bathroom or announcing that they need to go in front of their teacher or classmates. In this stressful situation, a child might hold their poop in, causing it to become larger and harder as it starts to stretch out the gut.
What happens when your child holds their poop?
Imagine a long skinny balloon, the kind they use to make balloon animals. Now, say you put a few golf balls or tennis balls in that balloon and leave them there for a day, a week or more. When you take those balls out, the balloon has now stretched and taken the shape of the balls. The balloon is stretched out, thin and has lost its elasticity in those areas. It’s the same idea with the rectum/colon when a child holds their poop. But, unlike the balloon, the colon is alive and with some adjustments it can become healthy and regain its functioning.
To help avoid this situation, focus on diet changes until your child has “pudding poop” for a month while also trying to help them find ways to establish a convenient time of day for bathroom breaks. Encourage your child to use the bathroom before leaving for school and try to make bathroom time at school less scary by talking to them or their teachers about their concerns. After school, most kids do best with having pooping time between dinner and bedtime – this will be convenient all the way through middle and high school when they will not be home until they are done with after-school activities (i.e. sports, band practice, a job, etc.)
When to call us
Trust your parental instincts. If you feel that something is wrong our team of pediatricians are here to examine your child and go over any concerns. While most changes in your child are nothing to worry about, here are a few instances where you need to contact your child’s pediatrician:
- If your child is refusing all food or drinks
- If your child is urinating less than three times daily
- If your child is experiencing severe abdominal pain
- If your child’s vomit is “tennis ball” green, or has blood
- If your child’s poop contains blood or is tar-like
Still have questions? Talk to one of our pediatricians.