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On Call: The Poop on Poop

Q. My baby's bowel movements vary widely in color and consistency. What's normal?

A. How about we start with what's not normal?

* Blood in stool (Note: Blood can look black and tarry as well as red)

* Hard, small stools accompanied by pain, which can mean constipation

* Watery or mucus-y stools more than eight times a day  -- either one could signal infection

* Pale or chalk-colored stools (while rare, this can be a sign of a liver problem)

* Stools that consistently look oily or greasy, which can indicate a problem with nutrient absorption

If you see any of these signs, or if your baby has a change in her bowel movements that's accompanied by fever, vomiting, or what seems to be pain (especially a tummy ache), you should check in with your pediatrician.

Pretty much anything else you see in her diaper, though, is fine. Once the greenish-black meconium has passed through a newborn's intestine  -- this usually takes a few days  -- baby poop will vary widely in color and consistency, depending on what you've been feeding your child. Exclusively breastfed babies, for example, tend to have mustard-colored, sometimes greenish, seedy stools, though the exact color can change with the mother's diet. In general, breastfed babies have looser bowel movements than formula-fed babies  -- who usually have browner, more formed stools  -- because breast milk is digested more quickly and easily than formula. But there can be individual differences, too.

Once babies get started on solids and juice, their bowel movements become even more formed (and foul smelling), and will sometimes take on the color of whatever they've been eating or drinking. Case in point: I recently saw a baby who had bright-pink poops in his diaper from fruit punch!