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 (meconium) that accumulated inside before they were born. The first few stools will be black or tarry and then change gradually 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 one bowel movement every couple of days.

Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your breastfed baby goes more than a week without a bowel movement

  • Your bottlefed baby goes more than a day or two without a bowel movement

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

Normal stool

Depending on whether he or she is breast or bottle fed, the baby’s stool may look different depending on what he or she eats:

  • 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 your baby's healthcare provider if you notice either of the following:

  • 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.

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 containing 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 of 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.