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Bowel Movements and Diaper Rash

When you have a baby, dirty diapers are a part of daily life. But changing diapers is more than just a chore. It’s also a way to keep track of your baby's health. This sheet will help you know what’s normal and what’s not.

Wet diapers

Your baby should have at least 8 wet diapers a day. More than 8 is OK. But fewer could mean the baby is not getting enough milk or formula. If this happens, call your healthcare provider.

Bowel movements

In the first few days of life, babies need to feed enough to pass the stool that they have been making before birth. This stool is called meconium. The first few stools will be black or tarry. They will then change to brownish-green and then yellow by 5 days of life. If this has not happened, contact your baby's healthcare provider.

For the first few weeks after the meconium has passed, most babies have a bowel movement after every feeding. Eventually this changes. Some older babies have only 1 bowel movement every 2 days. Breastfed babies usually have bowel movements more often than formula fed babies.

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your breastfed baby goes more than 2 days without a bowel movement

  • Your bottlefed baby goes more than 2 or 3 days without a bowel movement

  • Your baby strains to pass hard stools, or seems very uncomfortable

Normal stool

Depending on whether your baby is fed by breast or bottle, the stool may look different. For example:

  • Breast milk results in light yellow stool that looks like watery cottage cheese

  • Formula results in stool that’s darker brown, firmer, and pastier

Signs of a problem

Call the healthcare provider if your baby has any of these:

  • Frequent, thin, watery stool

  • Hard, formed stool

  • Pale tan or greyish stool

  • Bloody stool

Closeup of diaper on baby, partly undone to show diaper rash on inner thigh.
Warmth and dampness against the baby’s skin inside the diaper can cause diaper rash.

Diaper rash

Most babies get diaper rash at some point. The warmth and dampness inside the diaper causes skin irritation around the groin and buttocks. Diaper rash can happen with both cloth and disposable diapers. But a disposable diaper may keep the skin drier. To prevent diaper rash:

  • Change the baby’s diapers often.

  • Gently clean the diaper area and pat it dry before putting on a new diaper. If possible, leave the diaper off for a little while so the area can air-dry. 

  • Use warm water and a soft wash cloth or unscented, alcohol-free wipes.

  • Protect the skin in the baby’s diaper area with an ointment that has petroleum jelly or zinc oxide. This forms a barrier that helps prevent diaper rash by keeping moisture away from the skin. When you change the diaper, gently remove only the top layer of ointment. Then spread more on top of it. (Don’t rub off all the ointment. This hurts the skin and can make diaper rash worse.)

  • If your baby’s diaper rash doesn’t get better, call your baby's healthcare provider.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather Trevino
Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2020
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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