In this Parentalogic episode, hosts Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft get into the bowels of babies’ and childrens’ bowel movements — and try to solve the mystery of diarrhea, constipation, and “poop diaper.” Using a variety of models including paint chips, chocolate frosting and candies, they break down what different poop colors and textures might mean, demystifying everything that could spark curiosity — or utter concern — in a parent or caregiver.
But first, what is poop? Most of its solid material is stuff your or your little one’s body can’t break down: fiber and cellulose. In addition, poop has fats, mucus, tons of bacterial cells (dead or alive), and bilirubin, a molecule that old or broken down red blood cells release. Bilirubin goes through the liver and gets secreted into the gut, where bacteria metabolize it. This is what turns poop BROWN. You may have noticed, however, that kids’ poop can come in many other colors (red, dark green, blue, or white ring a bell?).
Some of these colors aren’t worth worrying about. Anything in the brown or dark green spectrum is A-OK. And sometimes foods, whether it’s healthy stuff like beets or special candy treats, can produce a benignly bright stool. Other colors, like black or white, are generally worth a doctor’s visit. (The shape of poo provides lots of information, too, Alok points out.)
If you’ve ever wondered why your kid’s poop is round, runny, or dolphin-shaped, or what could possibly turn your little one’s stool bright blue (dare we say dolphin-colored?!), Alok and Bethany have your back — so you can keep attending to your child’s rear.
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What Should Your Kids' Poop Look Like?
Published: August 3, 2020
Bethany Van Delft: Do you know how many times I’ve opened my kid’s diaper to find another diaper made of poop?
Alok Patel: Like a poop diaper?
Bethany Van Delft: Yeah, like a poop diaper under the diaper. What is poop?
Kid 1: Fluffy stuff.
Kid 2: Ice cream.
Kid 3: Boki boki.
Ari Daniel: Broccoli?
Kid 3: Yeah.
Kid 4: Red peppers. Green peppers: Yellow peppers. Orange peppers.
Kid 5: When you eat something, it’s poop.
Alok Patel: Most of the solid material in poop is stuff you can’t break down—fiber, cellulose. In addition, poop even has fats, mucus. About a third of the solid material is bacterial cells—dead or alive—that used to reside in our gut.
Bethany Van Delft: So basically, it’s just a giant mess.
Alok Patel: But a giant mess with one more ingredient, and it comes from your blood! Red blood cells, when they’re old and start to break down, release a molecule called bilirubin. This heads to the liver where it then gets secreted into the gut. Your gut bacteria metabolize it, and part of it turns your poop brown. Now you know.
Kid 6: Eww.
Bethany Van Delft: But Alok, all poop is not brown. Like, I’ve seen all kinds of colors coming out of my kid’s butt.
Alok Patel: Well, hopefully not all of them. But you’re right. Poop does come in a spectrum of colors, and to give you a better idea of this, let’s take a field trip. Kids’ poop comes in so many different colors. So I’m at a hardware store and we’re gonna run through some paint colors to help you understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to the color of your kid’s poop. So often, poop color will be determined by what your baby or kid is eating. If your baby is pooping in this range of colors, you’re all good. But other things like candy, fruit snacks, certain medications, carrots, beets can actually change your kid’s poop. Once, when I was in elementary school, I had one of those old school Flintstone push pops for lunch. And turned my poop this color—blue lagoon, and really freaked me out. God, I miss the ’90s.
Kid 7: Yech!
Alok Patel: If you see red poop in your baby’s diaper, or if your kid is like, “Hey, Mom, my poop is black,” call your pediatrician. Cause it could be a sign of bleeding. And also the shade of red from bright red to dark can give doctors a hint as to where the potential bleeding is coming from. Now blood that’s really old might actually look black. But if you see black stool, make sure you take a close look because it could actually just be dark green, which is normal. Now white or clay-colored stool can also be concerning—yes, poop can turn white, or in medical lingo, an acholic stool. Any poop that falls in this creamy spectrum. Now this could mean that there’s a problem with your kid’s hepatobiliary system. By that, I mean the liver or the ducts that secrete bilirubin into the gut. This could mean liver disease or a blockage. Now remember, bilirubin turns poop brown so without it, poop actually looks white. If you see this, definitely call your doctor.
Bethany Van Delft: Did I tell you how much my son loves his poop?
Alok Patel: No.
Bethany Van Delft: He loves his poop. Every time he poops, he looks in the potty. And he names them. He gives them all names. So like, one time he looks in the potty and he’s like, “There’s a dolphin, that one’s rocks, that’s a pangolin.” He’s bougie.
Alok Patel: I’m impressed.
Bethany Van Delft: The pangolin one—I mean, I’ll fight him on that. It wasn’t exactly like a pangolin, but…
Alok Patel: Is he naming them off a whim, or is he paying attention to the consistency?
Bethany Van Delft: He’s looking at the shape.
Alok Patel: Here’s the important part—is that the consistency of children’s poop, and it doesn’t matter if it comes out in the form of a pangolin or a dolphin, gives us a hint as to how long it’s been hanging out in the GI tract. Early on in digestion, things are very juicy. There’s a lot of liquid involved. There’s beverages, there’s saliva, gastric acid, and it all winds up in the small intestine. Here, a lot of the water and nutrients get reabsorbed. Then we move down to the large intestine. And even more water gets reabsorbed. With the right timing, the right pace, poop should come out soft and smooth.
Bethany Van Delft: Um, it’s not always like that, though, right? What about, what about when it’s less like poop and more like oatmeal soup?
Alok Patel: If the poop is accelerating way too fast through the intestine, not a lot of water gets reabsorbed, you end up with more water in the stool, and possibly—diarrhea.
Bethany Van Delft: Okay, so that’s what it is. It’s like food just like bolting through your system.
Alok Patel: Yeah, not enough water gets reabsorbed.
Bethany Van Delft: Can’t catch me.
Alok Patel: Or the food’s not being broken down properly. And the reason why this is a problem, not just because it’s a mess, is because this could lead to dehydration, loss of a lot of liquids, and possibly even shock. There’s actually a lot of different causes of diarrhea. It’s not that simple.
Bethany Van Delft: Nothing ever is. What if it’s moving too slow, like what if the poop is moving like rush hour traffic in Midtown?
Alok Patel: If it’s hanging out for too long, too much water can actually get reabsorbed, it gets really hard, and children can get… constipated. Now in really young babies, constipation is not that common. But once infants start eating solid food, it can happen. It’s not usually a big deal. Your doctor might just recommend you introduce a little more fiber into baby’s diet. This could be in the form of prune juice or apple juice. Because fiber will draw more water into the gut, making poop easier to pass. Now if constipation gets really bad, stool can actually harden and form a ball, and stool will leak around it. Kind of like a rectal plug.
Kid 8: Eee-ach.
Bethany Van Delft: Rectal plug?
Alok Patel: Rectal plug.
Bethany Van Delft: Dude, tell me that there’s a better name for it than “rectal plug.”
Alok Patel: There is. Encopresis!
Bethany Van Delft: That’s better!
Alok Patel: Your doctor might suggest you give your child more fiber or a laxative to clear the plug and help stool flow again. But please, always talk to your doctor before giving your kid any laxatives.
Bethany Van Delft: That’s right. Do not go on the Internet, asking a bunch of strangers about rectal plugs. Call your pediatrician. Dude, you and your use of stool as a verb.
Alok Patel: Uh, because stool’s like the most universal verb. Past tense: Jimmy stooled. Transitive verb: Jimmy stooled his pants. Intransitive verb: Jimmy stools. Adjective: Jimmy has stooly pants. Past participle: Jimmy’s—
Bethany Van Delft: Alright. Alright alright alright.
Hosted by: Alok Patel and Bethany Van Delft
Producer/Director: Ari Daniel
Producer/Camera: Emily Zendt
Production Assistance: Diego Arenas, Grace Berg, Christina Monnen, Arlo Pérez, Madeline Weir
Digital Editor: Sukee Bennett
Rights Manager: Hannah Gotwals
Business Manager: Elisabeth Frele
Managing Producer: Kristine Allington
Coordinating Producer: Elizabeth Benjes
Director of Audience Development: Dante Graves
Director of Public Relations: Jennifer Welsh
Legal and Business Affairs: Susan Rosen and Eric Brass
Director, Business Operations and Finance: Laurie Cahalane
Executive Producers: Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt
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