Everybody poops. That’s an inarguable fact that’s also the title of a cute 2001 kid’s book that introduces children to the point of poop – ridding your body of the waste from the food we eat. As the book charmingly points out, “all living things eat, so everyone poops.”
And while this sweet story offers just enough information for kids, parents need a bigger briefer on bowel movements to know whether their children’s digestive health is as it should be.
Some things to consider are frequency of bowel movements, along with stool color and size.
“There’s a wide range of normal,” says Dr. James Landers of Pointe Pediatrics in Grosse Pointe.
Color of stools and number of daily bowel movements can vary from kid to kid, but Landers says that on average, children should have one bowel movement per day. Poop can vary for infants and newborns, too. Read our guide on baby poop here.
If your kid goes two to three times a day and the stools are solid and pass easily, though, parents shouldn’t be concerned.
However, if your child is constipated often or suffers from diarrhea, take a closer look at the things that could be causing these issues.
Poor diet and lack of exercise can lead to constipation in kids, but Landers points out that kids can actually cause themselves to become constipated.
How? If your child has the urge to have a bowel movement, but doesn’t want to come inside when he’s playing outdoors, for example, he may be inclined to hold it. Holding stools in for long periods of time makes them hard and therefore more difficult to pass. Pushing the hard stool out may cause rectal fissures that bleed and cause pain, which may make your child even more likely to hold their bowel movements.
In an attempt to stop this unhealthy cycle, “establish a routine at that age. It’s sort of an extension of potty training,” Landers says.
The goal is to keep your child on the potty – whether you read to him or play a game. This will help him relax and condition him for producing a bowel movement. Over time, this will become part of his day-to-day routine.
On the flip side, if your child is experiencing diarrhea, Landers first suggests parents determine if the diarrhea is acute, recurring or chronic.
Acute diarrhea is when the body produces loose stools for less than 14 days, and it is usually a sign of infection. If diarrhea persists for more than 14 days, then it is categorized as recurring or persistent. Diarrhea for longer than one month is considered chronic.
“For acute diarrhea, make sure they don’t get dehydrated,” he says.
Drinking lots of water or Pedialyte helps to keep your child hydrated. Putting your kid on the B.R.A.T. diet – consisting of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast – will help to firm stools.
If your child is suffering from chronic or recurring diarrhea, it’s time for a visit to the doctor for an examination, which includes a stool test and a closer look into your family history – specifically regarding lactose intolerance.
Other warning signs
Color and stool size varies just like frequency of bowel movements, but there are a few warning signs that Landers suggests parents look for.
While normal stools are typically light to dark brown, if you’re seeing blood, mucus or grease in your child’s stool, notice fatty bowel movements or foul smelling ones, these could indicate serious problems such as cystic fibrosis or a parasite, like Giardia.
And when it comes to poop, size matters.
“It’s not normal to have such a large bowel movement that you are bleeding when you pass stools,” Landers says.
If your child is experiencing any of these abnormalities, contact his doctor for immediate attention.
“I’m not a big believer in avoiding (certain) foods because they cause constipation,” Landers says. But that doesn’t mean he won’t suggest something like Activia to his patients, which is a pro-biotic meant to replenish or foster the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Landers recommends this to patients, especially if they have been on an antibiotic – which can kill healthy bacteria in its mission to eradicate bad bacteria.
Yogurt with pro-biotics isn’t the only thing that keeps you regular. Healthy eating also keeps your colon on track. Whole grains, fiber, fresh fruit, vegetables and beans are good for digestion.
“All of the stuff that doesn’t come wrapped in a package,” Landers says.
This post was originally published in 2012 and has been updated for 2017.