Poop. Poo. Faeces. Stool. Bowel motion. We have all dealt with our own for many years before having children and yet somehow, dealing with our own children’s poop can have us questioning nature like never before. Even the most pregnancy book prepared parent cannot help but be surprised by those first sticky, dark greenish-black meconium stools! But what about the viscous, multi-coloured rainbow of toddler faeces? What is normal when it comes to toddlers and poop?
What is poo?
“The small intestine absorbs food nutrients. The waste is pushed into the large bowel where water is removed. The resulting faeces (poo or bowel motions) are temporarily stored in the rectum before being expelled from the body via the anus. The medical names for the expulsion of faeces include defecation and egestion.
Water makes up about three quarters of faecal content, while the rest is composed of solids, including undigested fibre, intestinal bacteria and dietary fats. Many illnesses and events can affect the colour and texture of faeces.” 6
What colour is normal?
As the mother of two adventurous eaters I have seen every shade of brown, including more than one nappy-full assuming a blue, bright orange or green hue. While poo is brown because it contains bile pigments (stercobilin),6 it is not unusual for the poo of toddlers to be affected by the colour of recently consumed food6 (blueberries make a regular appearance in our home!) Parents should however seek immediate medical attention if their child’s stool is white, maroon, red or black in colour,6 or if it contains blood or mucus.
Oh my, the smell!
Try having a child with food intolerances and you’ll know about smell! Someone in our family (who will remain nameless) can clear a room just by passing gas! While no one’s poop smells particularly pleasant, sour or foul smelling poo can be an indicator of illness or of an allergy or intolerance.3 If you are particularly concerned, or if the smell is accompanied by any of the other symptoms requiring medical attention outlined in this post, a visit to the doctor could be in order.
RELATED: Ready for potty training? Check out our series on how to start potty training.
What about consistency and frequency?
Once our babies start eating solid food their poo generally becomes firmer1 but there is a vast range of normal when it comes to the firmness and frequency of poo in healthy children.7 Some children will poop every day, others one or two times a week.5 What is most important is regularity and your child’s ability to poo without pain or discomfort.7
Poo that is dry and marble like is often an indicator of constipation.1 Unfortunately hard poo can result in pain and bleeding for the child as it causes small tears around the anus as it is passed.2 Constipation can result from diet,2 dehydration,5 lack of exercise5 and from toilet avoidance2 – most common in potty training toddlers and young children too busy to take time to use the toilet.
To avoid constipation, encourage a diet of fresh fruit and vegetables, wholegrains and cereals2 and regular fluids, especially water.5 For potty training toddlers struggling with pooing on the toilet, establish a routine for regularly sitting on the toilet shortly after meals or around the time of day that they usually poop.5 Try to make this time stress free for your child, sing songs or read a book together as they sit to help them relax.
Be sure to visit if a doctor if your child is in pain or bleeds while pooping,2 if their constipation is accompanied by fever or vomiting2 or if your constipated child begins to soil her pants without meaning to.2 For further advice about constipation in young children, I recommend The Royal Children Hospital Melbourne’s Constipation Factsheet.
At the other end of the spectrum, diarrhoea can result from gastroenteritis, food poisoning, lactose or wheat intolerance or other allergy,3 or your child might just be one that has frequent loose stools!
“Some children between the ages of one and five pass frequent, smelly, loose stools that may contain recognisable foods, such as carrots and peas. Usually, these children are otherwise perfectly healthy and are growing normally. Sometimes the doctor can’t find any cause.” 3
It is important to seek medical assistance if your young child experiences severe or continuous diarrhoea, especially if it is particularly watery, if there is blood present, if it lasts longer than two or three days,3 or if they are also vomiting or refusing fluids.4 For further information regarding managing diarrhoea and vomiting in young children, please see the Health Direct factsheet.
Remember, travel and major changes to routine can also effect the regularity and consistency of your toddler’s bowel movements, as can changes in diet, illness, antibiotics and other medications.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this post should NEVER be used as a substitute for the advice of a licensed physician. This information is for educational and informational purposes only. In no way should it be considered as offering medical advice. Please see a physician if you think your child is unwell.
1. Raising Children Network: Poos and Wees
2. Raising Children Network: Constipation
3. Health Direct: Diarrhoea and Vomiting in Children
4. National Health and Medical Research Council: Staying Healthy in Child Care
5. Better Health Channel: Constipation and Children
6. Better Health Channel: Bowel Motions
7. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne: Constipation