Few new parents are prepared for how weird baby poops are. For starters, there’s the almost extraterrestrial first poop—meconium. (Robin Williams described its tarry consistency as a cross between Velcro and toxic waste!) Within days, meconium’s green-black color changes to light green and then to bright, mustard yellow with a seedy texture. (The seeds are miniature milk curds.)
In breast-fed babies, poops then turn into runny scrambled eggs that squirt out four to twelve times a day. Over the next month or two, the poop gradually becomes thicker, like oatmeal, and may only come out once a day or less. (The longest period I’ve ever seen a healthy, breast-fed baby go without a stool has been twenty-one days. However, if your baby is skipping more than three days without a stool, call your pediatrician to make sure he’s okay.)
For bottle-fed babies, poop may be loose, claylike, or hard in the first weeks. The particular formula a baby drinks can affect this consistency. Some infants get constipated from cow’s milk formula, while others get stopped up by soy. A few are even sensitive to whether the formula is made from powder or concentrate.
Babies grunt and frown when they poop because they’re working so hard to overcome these two challenges, not because they’re in pain! (For more on infant constipation, see Chapter 14.)
“Overactive” Intestines—Crying, Cramps, and the Gastro-colic Reflex
Does your baby cry and double up shortly after you start a feeding? This twisting and grunting may look like indigestion, but it’s usually just an overreaction to a normal intestinal reflex called the “gastro-colic reflex” (literally, the stomach-colon reflex).
This valuable reflex is the stomach’s way of telling the colon: “Time to get rid of the poop and make room for the new food that was just eaten!” If you’ve noticed that your baby poops during or after eating, this is why.
How Your Baby’s Tummy Works
A baby’s digestive system is like a long conveyor belt. At one end, milk is loaded into the mouth five to eight times a day. It is quickly delivered to the stomach, and then is slowly carried through the intestines, where it is digested and absorbed. Whatever milk isn’t absorbed gets turned into poop and is temporarily stored in the colon.
When the next meal begins, the stomach telegraphs a message to the lower intestines, commanding them to squeeze. The squeezing pushes the poop out, making room for the next load of food. This message from the stomach to the colon is called the gastro-colic reflex.
Most infants are unaware when this reflex is happening. Others feel a mild spasm after a big feeding or if they’re frazzled at day’s end. But for a few babies, this squeezing of the intestine feels like a punch in the belly! These infants writhe as if in terrible pain.
As you might imagine, the gastro-colic reflex can be even more uncomfortable if your baby is constipated and his colon must strain to push out firm poop. However, most babies who cry from this reflex have soft, pasty poops. They cry because they are overly sensitive to this weird sensation.
The Reasons Why Tiny Tummy Troubles Cannot Be the True Cause of Colic
It’s not what we don’t know that gets us into the most trouble, it’s what we know … that just ain’t so!
Josh Billings, Everybody’s Friend, 1874
Despite the fact that many people think gas causes colic, it and the other Tiny Tummy Troubles (TTT’s) don’t explain this terrible crying because:
Most colicky babies burp and pass wind many times a day without a whimper.
Adults double up when they have stomachaches, but babies snap into this fetal position whenever they are upset, regardless of the cause.
Many babies shriek even when they only are experiencing a minor discomfort.