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CHKD Blog

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Poop. When is it a Problem?

Author: CHKD Medical Group, Dr. Kristen Simon
Published Date: Tuesday, January 26, 2021

By Dr. Kristen Simon, General Booth Pediatrics

Let’s normalize the conversation about poop. It can be embarrassing to talk about, but it’s an important part of everyday health for both you and your child.

While you don’t need to inspect every bowel movement, you should know what is normal for your child and when you need to contact their pediatrician.


Color of poop

Green, brown, and yellow are all normal and healthy colors to see in your child’s poop.

If you see red, black, or white in your child’s stool, you should call their doctor. Before raising too much concern about seeing these colors in your child’s poop, make sure to take their diet into account.

Red poop: Red stool could indicate blood but eating or drinking things with red food coloring or beets may also cause poop to appear red. Blood in poop is most often caused by an anal fissure, which is a small tear in the anus and is no reason to be alarmed. However, you should take your child to the emergency room if there is a significant amount of blood passed with or without any stool.

Black poop: Black poop could be a sign of bleeding or other injuries within the gastrointestinal tract. But, black stool can also occur from eating black foods or a lot of iron. You should contact your doctor if you suspect that diet is not the cause of black poop.

White poop: White stool is the most uncommon and occurs when there is a lack of bile. This may indicate a serious underlying problem and you should see their doctor immediately. However, do not confuse white poop with pale poop.

Pale poop happens when the movement through the body goes a little quicker, picking up fewer dark pigments. This is completely normal.


Frequency, size, and consistency

Children should have a bowel movement every one to two days. However, their diet will affect this as well, and every kid is different.

Regardless of diet and frequency, poop should be soft and shaped like a sausage or snake. Poop that comes out in hard pellets or is large, lumpy, and dry indicates your child may be constipated.


Constipation

Constipation is a common gastrointestinal problem, but it can cause anal fissures, making it painful to have a bowel movement. This can lead to your child avoiding having a bowel movement which can make constipation worse.

Causes of constipation: A child can become constipated for many reasons. Some common causes include diet, lack of exercise, emotional issues, underlying physical problems, or distractions that cause your child to forget to go, or not be able to go when they need to.

Symptoms of constipation: Symptoms of constipation are different for each child but most commonly they will not have a bowel movement for a few days, pass hard and dry poop, have stomach cramps, loss of appetite, or show signs of trying to hold poop in.

Another sign of constipation is if your child leaves small stool marks in their underwear. This is also known as encopresis in children who are age 4 years or older.

If your child is showing symptoms of constipation, is constipated for two weeks or more, can’t enjoy normal activities due to pain, has hemorrhoids or anal fissures, or is experiencing stomach pain, fever, or vomiting, you should contact their doctor.


Diarrhea

Diarrhea is a common problem that may last one or two days. If it lasts more than two days, you should call your child’s pediatrician. The greatest complication of diarrhea is dehydration, which can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Causes of diarrhea: Children can get diarrhea for a number of reasons including a bacterial or viral infection, food intolerance or allergy, parasites, a reaction to medicines, an intestinal disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or surgery on the stomach or gallbladder.

Symptoms of diarrhea: Symptoms are different for each child and can include cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, upset stomach or nausea, urgent need to use the bathroom, fever, bloody stool, dehydration, or incontinence. Severe diarrhea could be a sign of a serious disease and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

Here are some other reasons that would prompt a call to your pediatrician if your child is showing symptoms of diarrhea: the child is younger than 6 months old, has frequent vomiting, doesn’t want to drink liquids, has dry mouth, loses weight, urinates less frequently, has extreme thirst, has no tears when crying, or develops a sunken soft spot on the top of their head.


Overall

It is OK if your child doesn’t have normal poop every time, and you should expect them to occasionally have harder or softer stool. If your child frequently has issues with their bowels though, it could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome or something more serious.

If you have more questions about your child’s poop, contact your pediatrician.



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About CHKD Medical Group

About CHKD Medical  Group Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters has been the region’s most trusted name in pediatric care for more than 50 years. As members of CHKD Health System, our pediatricians work closely with CHKD’s full range of pediatric specialists and surgeons. They also share a commitment to quality, excellence and child-centered care. With 18 practices in 29 locations throughout the region, a CHKD pediatrician is never far.