What That Dirty Diaper Says About Your Baby

Mother hands changing baby nappy. Mother putting diaper on her hispanic son lying in nursery. Close up of mother giving baby diaper change at home.

As a new parent, you likely spend more time at your changing table than you might have anticipated. And while this may be your least favorite task, it’s surely one of the most important.

As Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, pediatric gastroenterologist at Texas Children’s Hospital, told Parents Magazine, many parents become concerned about the contents of baby’s soiled diapers. There are signs that can point to health issues and may require you to check in with your pediatrician, but there are also things that may appear weird, but are actually totally normal.

Let’s take a moment to explore the things you can learn from baby’s changing time.

How many changes is normal?

One frequently asked question by new parents surrounds the number of times they should change their little one each day. This is certainly a valid question, as a lack of soiled diapers could point to issues like dehydration and digestive problems, or could even be a sign that baby isn’t getting a sufficient amount to eat and drink every day.

As New Kids Center pointed out, newborns under the age of one month will see as many as 10 to 12 diaper changes a day. Once baby surpasses the one-month mark, and through the five month mark, the number of daily changes will go down to eight to 10. Overall, new parents can expect to use 320 diapers within the first month, and 240 or so for each month through about the first year.

At the same time, though, pediatrician Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann told Parents Magazine that it’s important not to fixate too much on the number of changes a day.

“As long as your baby is eating well and has been growing steadily, parents can relax,” Remer Altmann said.

African American mom with baby on changing table, baby wearing a diaper. Changing your baby’s diaper can actually tell you quite a bit about your little one’s health.

Baby’s waste: What’s normal?

While not the most pleasant of things, your baby’s poop can tell you a lot about his or her health. As Parents Magazine contributor Kaitlin Bell pointed out, parents of brand new babies might notice dark and sticky waste during the first week – this is totally normal and will change as your newborn grows.

Breastfed babies may have yellow, seedy and even runny poop after their first week. Babies on formula, on the other hand, will likely have tan, soft stool. This is all normal and nothing to worry about. Again, baby’s waste will change in color and texture as he or she grows and once your little one starts eating more complex, solid foods.

While green stool typically worries new parents, Bell noted that this is nothing to be concerned about. This is simply a sign of things moving through baby’s digestive tract at a faster pace than usual.

Once baby begins eating solid foods, parents will notice that waste is firmer and will likely have a more pungent smell. This is all normal and comes with the changing of baby’s diet.

It’s also important to keep in mind that different colored stool – including things like orange and yellow waste – could be a result of what foods baby is eating and shouldn’t be cause for concern.


When to contact your pediatrician

There are also certain things that new parents should look out for, and, if spotted, should reach out to their pediatrician to make sure baby is happy and healthy. This includes signs like:

  • Dark red or black stool: Red stool could be a result of baby’s diet – if she ate something with tomatoes in it or drank fruit punch, for example. This, however, could also be a signal of gastrointestinal bleeding or distress or even a milk allergy. If you notice red streaks in baby’s diaper, it’s best to reach out to your doctor.
  • White, chalky stool: As the Cleveland Clinic explained, this type of waste could be a sign that baby is not appropriately producing bile, which could be connected to liver or gallbladder problems. Schedule an appointment with your pediatrician as soon as possible.
  • Constipation: If you notice small, hard poops, or if baby struggles more than usual, it could be a sign of constipation. Infants usually get constipated when they don’t have enough fluids. If you’re breastfeeding, you may want to consider nursing more. Parents should check that formula-fed babies have enough water mixed in and may consider giving more formula than usual to help with constipation.
  • Diarrhea: This can be hard to diagnose, especially in infants, but pediatricians note that if baby’s stool is much more watery than usual, or if baby has more frequent bowel movements, it could be a sign of diarrhea. This issue is serious, as babies can quickly lose fluids and become dehydrated. If you notice signs of diarrhea, or if your baby has a dry mouth, doesn’t produce urine for eight hours or more, or cries without tears, contact your doctor.

There’s a lot your baby’s dirty diaper can tell you. While not the rosiest of tasks, keeping an eye out for certain signs can help you make sure your baby is healthy and content.

Molly Ploe comes from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and enjoys hiking, baking and reading. Her favorite Saturday is rainy with bread in the oven and a new book.