Blood in Baby’s Stool

Blood in Baby’s Stool? A discussion on gastrointestinal health, formula supplementation and questioning

Seeing blood in a baby’s stool can be shocking and frightening for a parent.  Is there internal bleeding?  Is something causing damage to your baby’s esophagus or stomach or intestines?  Did baby swallow mom’s blood?  Is baby having an illness or allergy?  It can be quite concerning until a proper diagnosis is determined!

*This blog post is about finding small amounts of blood in diaper or potty and NOT about other more extreme bleeding or emergencies.  If you see copious amounts of blood, your baby is crying in acute PAIN or your baby stops eating, I would consider this an emergency situation and not part of the following discussion. *

I am not a medical doctor and I want to make it clear to encourage a good working dialog with your physician (because I truly feel just like myself with the families I volunteer for, doctors do care about their patients). There are some truly informed and breastfeeding-knowledgeable health care workers and there are others who either don’t know or don’t care about the differences between human breastmilk and artificial formula. When a family collaborates with their physician, many physicians will consider the common concerns and dig deeper depending on the range of symptoms. Sadly, a common theme I hear is that some physicians suggest babies switch from breastfeeding or human breastmilk to formula rather than considering other causes or recommendations first.

First, it is important to know what typical infant stool characteristics are. This is a wonderful resource from the authors of the book The Breastfeeding Atlas titled “Diapers of the Breastfed Baby”.  Notice that the baby’s first stools are sticky and dark… it includes amniotic fluid and blood.  Human colostrums is a wonderful laxative which flushes the infant’s body of the meconium and starts to line the baby’s gut.  It is a true first food and vaccine all in one. I am sure there are yet to be discovered values to human colostrum for the human infant.

The early stools will gradually change from the sticky, dark stools to a greenish and then yellowish coloring.  By day 4 or 5, an exclusively breastfed (only breastmilk) baby will stool somewhere between 2 to 5 times in a 24 hour period.

Babies are meant to eat and grow quickly and that will also mean pooping or stooling.  There is a range of variation but the important word here is volume. Some find a couple of really large stools while others see several small ones 24 hour period.  For the stool to count it should be about the size of a U.S. quarter (2 ½ cm) or the size of an OK sign on your hand.  The poop will be yellow and may sometimes look seedy.

Using the WHO terminology linked above, there may be some slight variation if you are predominantly breastfeeding or human milk feeding.  I make this emphasis because color or consistency will most likely change slightly if you are using some vitamins or supplements.  For example, if you are also using complementary feeding (non-human milk) your baby’s stool will more than likely be darker in color and thicker in consistency than exclusively human breastfed or breastmilk fed stools. Around the 6-week mark, a noticeable change in stool pattern often happens.

Blood in the diaper (or potty for those that are diaper-free) is typically a signal of one of three things… an allergy, an illness or an injury of some type.  There are always so many sites on the Internet so I find the most valuable tools to be specifically medical institutions. In other words, when working with my children’s’ physician, I look to first their own American Academy of Pediatrics to see if they are following their own guidelines. There are multiple reasons that might cause blood in stool in children.  Seattle Children’s Hospital website lists many reasons.

The list includes anal fissures (blood but not diarrhea), strep skin infection (blood streaks), diarrhea from other infections (Shigella, Salmonella, etc), food allergies, red dye in foods, antibiotics causing either bleeding or red colored stools.  This information tells me that families and physicians first should discuss they type of blood they see and what else they see… using their eyes, nose and senses for further detail.  It doesn’t seem that it is enough to state that you see blood but to discuss the full range of symptoms going on.  Are you seeing copious, mucousy stools?  Is the baby using a new vitamin or have either of you been on antibiotics?  Are you seeing large clots (an emergency signal)? Is there a diaper rash?  Is the baby upset by this or content in other ways?  How are weight and length checks?

A wonderful and trusted resource is KellyMom.  KellyMom lists multiple potential causes of blood in stool.  They include anal tears, food allergies, mom’s own nipple damage and blood, oversupply, reactions to other supplements, medications or vitamins, bacterial infections and more.  Read her full post for more information.  Some reasons for blood in stool are limited and short lived while others will require specific attention.

This discussion underscores the importance of taking a good medical history rather than just downplaying the important role that breastmilk plays in gut health.  Taking away human milk from a human infant who is showing signs of distress in their gastrointestinal tract is, in my opinion, not only poor logic but unethical practice to suggest before looking into other causes. If there is one thing that the medical community has known for decades, it is the value of human milk on infant gut health and the important role human milk plays in infant gut development.

It is also well known that babies fed formula can develop allergic colitis from cow’s milk.

So the very idea of switching to formula when a baby has bloody stools seems to defy logic itself.  Exclusive breastfeeding has been associated with less inflammatory bowel issues… less Chrohns, less Celiacs, some studies even suggest less Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

A much healthier course for discussion would be for the mother to be informed about what types of challenges may cause blood in an otherwise healthy infant stools.  She and the physician can discuss the idea of oversupply or meeting with a lactation consultant for more support as well.  There may be dietary changes suggested while continuing to breastfeeding as the most common offending foods are eliminated.

Breastfeeding Benefits; Human Breast Milk Ingredient Adjust to Optimize for Beneficial Gut Bacteria Over Time

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has this protocol on the allergic baby and management of breastfeeding.

The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s protocol guidelines for doctors from doctors, explains not only dietary changes for the mother but the use of enzymes, making a proper evaluation and recommendations for the family as well as testing to be done by the physician.  Nowhere in this protocol is it suggested that human breastmilk be suspended as the food for human babies, rather it is suggested that delaying or avoiding exposure to the allergens is advised. This would be a wonderful resource to take to your pediatrician or other family physician for discussion and dialog.  It would not only help you but help to educate your health care for the next family.

The truth is, there is not enough known on why some babies have blood in their stools. There are truly more questions than answers for parents. It is often considered a self-limiting condition that resolves itself as stated here from Children’s Hospital of Colorado:

“How do I treat this baby?
There are several options. If the baby is happy and thriving and not overly fussy with stooling, in most circumstances nothing need be done. The problem will resolve without treatment by 6-9 months of age as the baby’s immune system changes to the adult pattern. These infants may need supplementation with iron. If the baby is breast fed, having the mother observe a strict milk protein free diet may make the blood streaks disappear. Maternal diet restriction is not 100% effective. Do not tell the mother to further restrict her diet beyond milk and soy. It will not be likely to help and will be very hard on the breast feeding mom. In the bottle fed baby, or in the breast fed baby who fails the first step, hypoallergenic (not a soy) formula can be helpful and results in prompt resolution of the blood. If the gross blood disappears, the occult blood in stool will remain positive in the majority of babies. This rarely results in iron deficiency or anemia. Occasionally I use probiotics with good effect.”

I use this quote as an example of the type of message families hear. Even if it doesn’t include the idea to switch to formula it is one that doesn’t tell or ask for the whole story.   There seems to be a group that will suspend logic and blame breastfeeding or simplify the issue rather than digging deeper.  As I have explained in this post, there may be underlying causes or allergies other than dairy or soy and each situation may be different. Please know that I am not trying to create the feeling of judgment against formula or claim that families are naïve when following medical advice. Rather, I am critical of some in the health care field, who are simply not being supportive of human milk for human babies.   My hope is that information on typical stooling and gut health may further the path to healing, perhaps favorably for both baby and mother.

References and further reading:

Allergies and the Breastfeeding Family


Breastfeeding Saved My Child’s Life

Common Sense Breastfeeding: Gaining, Gulping and Grimacing

Normal, Like Breathing: Red tushies and green poop

Holistic IBCLC: The Gut, Microbes and Poop

Normal, Like Breathing: So, what CAN I eat?

Dr. Jen 4 Kids: Pediatric Myths; Formula Recommendations

Pediatrics:  Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk

Breastfeeding and risk of inflammatory bowel disease:  a systematic review with meta-anaylysis

Best for Babes: Your A Team.

Cronobacter Illness and Infant Formula

Effect of Infant Formula on Stool Characteristics of Young Infants

Diapers of the Breastfed Baby: Barbara Wilson-Clay, Kay Hoover

Jay Gordon, MD: Color of the Day: Solving Bowel Movement Mysteries

Listen to this short podcast on HMO’s (fatty acids) in milk which support good bacterial growth in the infant’s gi tract or gut.

This entry was posted in allergies, Bottles, Breastfeeding, Formula, IBCLC, lactose intolerance, medical advice, Oversupply, stools and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Blood in Baby’s Stool

  1. I hope my comment would help someone! My daughter had blood in her stool at 2 weeks old and after 3 days at the children’s hospital they finally told us it’s just a milk protein allergy. Glad we got a second opinion because the first, smaller hospital we were at said she needed surgery! I stopped eating all dairy and pumped/dumped for 5 days while she was on Similac Alimentum. She hated it. After that we went back to breastfeeding successfully and all was great, she eventually outgrew the intolerance after about 1 year and we slowly introduced yogurt, cheese, and butter into her diet (we don’t drink milk). It was hard, I had to read every single label because milk and whey hide in so many processed foods. For us it was a blessing in disguise because I stopped buying a lot of prepackaged things and started cooking from scratch even more than I already was!

    • Jo says:

      My little one started having blood on nappies since 3wks old. Now it’s been a month and I am really concerned. How’s your baby now? No allergies anymore? 😦 definitely soo hard. so how long did she had bloody nappies again?

  2. Pingback: The best mommy on earth | Red Diaper Diary

  3. Maegan says:

    Thank you for this resource! A great article and list of websites. We are trying to manage our little guys situation and this helps.

  4. Aisha Atif siddiqui says:

    My daughter is 4 months old and she has been having blood in her poo for 3 months now in every other nappy… Mostly in evenings. It initially improved when I quit dairy products but stated again after three weeks of dairy free diet … I quit all allergens from my diet egg, dairy, soy, wheat, fish, nuts… Just eating rice, coconut milk, banana, apple, mutton and chicken cooked in simple spices and with onion and tomato. I am taking calcium supplements and vitamin D… U stopped vitamin D three days back… One day she had no
    Blood next day plenty of micously and streaky blood 😦 her stool is mostly seedy yellow in the morning and yellow curdy type with green hue in the evening. Paedetric says stop breast feeding right away and start an hydrolysed formula if it doesn’t work ten come To us again … My baby is other wise growing and happy and developing physically … She is teething a lot these dad and drooling…. She has this thrush in the tongue as well … I started treating it with nystatin then stopped I don’t know why?? Probably because I don’t want to assume that perhaps nystatin is the cause … I am going mad assuming this might be the cause or that might be … Hoping to get something positive out from here
    Thanks do advice what to do

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