This is sponsored content for Nutricia.
Prior to having children, most of us would cringe at the thought of discussing defecation in any great detail.
But from the moment you start looking for that black meconium in your baby's first few nappies, you're using your little one's bowel motions to provide insights into their health and development – and even their mood.
Here's how to decode your baby's poop and use it as a clue to what's happening in their tiny little body.
Breastfed and formula-fed babies will have quite different looking nappies, with breastmilk leading to soft, sometimes runny or seed-like consistency that is the colour of mustard, and sometimes a bit green.
Formula-fed babies tend to have firmer stools that vary from grey-yellow to grey-blue or brown, and changing formulas can change the appearance and texture.
There is a huge range of "normal" baby poo, with some babies going multiple times a day while others may only go once a week.
"In the early days, newborn babies will quite often have regular bowel motions, and a lot of that is linked to the colostrum, which can actually be used as a natural laxative," says Julyanne Tesoriero from My Birth and Beyond.
"Some breastfed babies will not necessarily go to the toilet every day – it might be once or twice a week and some mums get quite concerned. But as long as the stool is quite loose and soft, it's not a concern."
Once feeding is established
If your baby's stool becomes hard, looks like pebbles or seems difficult to pass, your baby might be constipated. Although Tesoriaro says it's unlikely that newborn babies who are breastfed will get constipated.
"It's generally when they move onto formula or introduce solids that it can occur. [When trying to pass a movement] you'll see that their face goes quite red and they're quite uncomfortable. They may have a loss of appetite or be crying."
As with adults, one of the most important factors for avoiding constipation is adequate fluid intake, so if your baby is on formula, the Raising Children Network suggest you make sure you are using the correct quantities of powder and water.
Gentle movement may also help.
"Giving their lower tummies a little bit of a rub can help to push things through gently," Tesoriero says. "Bicycling their legs or lifting their legs up can sometimes help to pass too."
Some parents find that starting with or changing to a formula that contains probiotics (helpful bacteria) or prebiotics can help soften the stool. "Prebiotics are non-digestible carbhohydrates that feed the probiotics that already live in the gut," says Tesoriero, who recommends trialling any new formula for a minimum of three days in order to determine what works.
When you bring solids into your baby's diet, their poo may become more solid and smellier, and it can take babies a bit of adjusting to excreting this different-feeling faeces.
"A lot of it is learning how to defecate and how to actually pass it," Tesoriaro says. "The digestive system is getting used to moving the solids through the system."
If your solid-eating baby seems constipated, it's often a good idea to re-think what you've been feeding them.
"Is there an opportunity to put in a little bit more stewed apple to see if that will soften the stools?" she asks.
"Protein in the diet might be something that takes a little bit more time for the body's digestive system to get used to breaking down, which is normally why we start them on fruits and rice before moving them onto solid foods [that contain] protein."
Continue to offer more water and continue breastfeeding or formula feeding.
In other cases, Tesoriaro says you might need to cut down the fibre if it's leading to uncomfortable gas.
"I worked with a family recently who had a nine-month-old who was very unsettled and wasn't sleeping and every time I picked him up, he had really bad gas," she says.
"I asked them what his diet looked like and it turned out he was having a lot of broccoli and legumes, and I was convinced that was what was causing the problem because every time he was going down to sleep, he had all this gas building up."
Ask for help
If you've tried increasing liquids, adjusting their diet and using massage techniques and your baby is still constipated or unsettled, it's worth speaking to your GP, who may be able to discuss laxatives.
"I always feel that if in doubt, go and speak to a healthcare professional," Tesoriaro says.
Founded in 1896, Danone Nutricia works with parents, carers and healthcare professionals to educate about early life nutrition through advice and support, as well as products and services. For over 100 years Danone Nutricia has been at the forefront of research in infant nutrition and our pioneering efforts continue today. At the heart of our work is our commitment to stand by mums, dads and caregivers to nurture new lives through science-driven research and development, as well as quality manufacturing. To learn more about our commitment or to talk to one of our experts on Early Life Nutrition visit our website.