Blood In Baby's Stool: 5 Common Causes And Their Treatment

Blood In Baby's

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You are changing your baby’s diaper and suddenly spot something disconcerting. There are streaks of blood in his stool. Blood in a baby’s stool is not normal, and it invariably alarms you. Moreover, blood can appear in the baby’s stool even in the earliest months when he is exclusively on breastfeed.

So, if your baby is still breastfed and has never eaten anything else, then what caused that blood to appear in the stool? Here, MomJunction explains the reasons that cause this condition, and tell you what you can do to prevent it.

What Does Blood In A Baby’s Stool Look Like?

You can usually spot blood in your baby’s stool in the form of individual red streaks or as a red liquid mixed homogeneously with the stool. In either case, it should be distinctly visible against the white inner lining of the diaper and will stand out from the color of the stool.

What Causes Blood In Baby Stool?

Blood can appear in the baby’s stool in two forms: visible blood that you see in the form of red stains, and occult blood which is discernible through laboratory testing of the stool.

If the bleeding happens inside the stomach (due to stomach infection or allergy), the blood may get digested and give the stool a blackish appearance. All these situations have common causes and here are the conditions that can lead to blood in an infant’s stool:

1. Anal fissures

Anal fissure, a tear in the inner mucous lining of the anus, bleeds a bit leading to blood in the stool and the nappy. Anal fissures are very common among infants, and even experts do not know what causes them in babies as young as newborns (1). It is generally believed that a milk-only diet of breastfed infant causes a more runny stool, which abrades the sensitive mucous lining of the baby’s anus. A baby who has diarrhea is, therefore, more likely to suffer anal fissure that may lead to baby blood in the stool.

Babies may get constipated, making them pass hard stool – almost in the form of large pellets. The baby’s constipation can lead to blood in the stool due the overstretching of the anal sphincter muscle for the passage of the tough stool (2). Harder stools are also abrasive in nature that may aggravate an existing anal fissure.

Treatment: Just like any other abrasion in the body, anal fissures heal on their own. But in case the condition is severe, the doctor may prescribe a topical ointment.

2. Infections

A host of gastrointestinal infections leads to blood in the baby’s poop. If the blood is accompanied by diarrhea, then it can be an intestinal infection by bacteria such as shigella, salmonella or campylobacter (3). These bacteria cause inflammation in the intestines, leading to tiny ruptures that drain blood into the stool. Streptococcus bacteria can infect the skin around the anal opening causing inflammation. This can lead to a fissure and eventually blood in the infant’s stool.

Sometimes, due to infection-induced diarrhea, the stool of the baby may appear green with blood stains. The blood could be a result of infection whereas the green color is due to the improper breakdown of the bile juice. Green poop in diarrhea generally happens with breastfed babies.

Treatment: All these infections are treatable with a scheduled dosage of antibiotics prescribed by the doctor.

3. Colitis

Colitis is the inflammation of the inner lining of the colon, also referred to as the large intestine. In infants and newborns, this condition is called pediatric ulcerative colitis (4). This causes small sores within the large intestine that may or may not be painful but can cause bleeding in the baby’s stool. The reasons for pediatric ulcerative colitis are not known, but genetics is said to play a major role.

Necrotizing enterocolitis is a condition that can cause blood in a premature baby’s stool (5). Premature babies have an underdeveloped immune system, which makes their organs vulnerable to infection. In this condition, the intestinal walls are invaded by bacteria, and the bacterial degeneration leads to inflammation, which ultimately causes blood in the stool of the premature baby.

Treatment: The doctor will prescribe a course of anti-inflammatory drugs to control the inflammation of the bleeding intestinal walls. He will then prescribe other drugs such as antibiotics to regulate the immune response. In the case of premature babies, antibiotics are administered intravenously, and the baby’s condition is monitored.

4. Crohn’s disease

Crohn’s disease is an inflammatory disease of the large intestine, nearly identical to colitis differing only in its physiology and pathology. In babies, this condition is called pediatric Crohn’s disease (6). Just like in the case of colitis, there is no clear explanation for the condition and primarily seems to be caused by genetic mutations. If someone in the family, including a direct relative, has been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, the probability of the little one to develop this disease increases.

Treatment: There is no treatment for Crohn’s disease. A doctor will prescribe a host of medicines to manage the condition, and the nature of the medication depends on the intensity of the problem in the baby.

5. Allergies

Food allergies can also cause blood in stool, which may be accompanied by mucus. The baby can develop an allergy to milk (cow milk and formula), wheat, barley, rye, and oats. This can be a major concern for babies that have started feeding on solid food and also those who take supplements that may contain gluten as an ingredient. For example, vitamin supplements often contain barley malt, which has gluten (7). Therefore, a baby can get blood in stools after consuming vitamin supplements and the bleeding stops once you stop the dosage.

Food allergies can lead to conditions such as allergic colitis and food protein-induced enterocolitis syndrome, which are both caused by the allergic reactions to the protein in the food. Both these conditions can result in vomiting and blood-laden diarrhea in babies (8).

Treatment: Allergy can be a life-long condition but can be managed through various precautionary measures suggested by a medical practitioner.

Note that there is a difference between the bleeding caused by food allergies and the red-colored stool that results from the consumption of certain foods.

Foods That May Cause Reddish Stool

There are foods that may lead to a stool that ranges from red to black in color, thereby, giving a false impression of blood in the baby’s stool. It is actually the color from the food that one sees in the stool and there is no visible or occult blood in the stool. Here are the foods that may cause reddish stools:

  • Beetroots
  • Cranberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Red gelatin

Iron supplements may cause the stool to appear reddish black to tar black in color. This is quite normal. Medicines such as Cefdinir used for the medical condition otitis media can result in red stool (9).

Sometimes, the baby could be suffering from a gastric problem without the presence of visible blood in his stool. But there can be occult blood.

How Are These Conditions Diagnosed?

Blood in the stool, be visible or occult, is not normal for your baby and mandates a medical checkup.

The condition is diagnosed through the following methods that can accurately determine the quantity of blood in the stool:

  • Stool analysis: Your doctor will recommend a pathological analysis of your baby’s stool. This will help determine the presence of bacteria, virus, mucus and the exact amount of blood in the stool of your baby. This test will also detect the presence of occult blood.
  • Blood test: Blood test is a second obligatory test to determine if the baby’s blood-stained stool is caused by an infection.
  • Symptomatic diagnosis: A medical practitioner will make an affirmative diagnosis of the condition after analyzing the various other symptoms that your baby may show, apart from blood in the stool. A biopsy may be conducted in extremely serious conditions, where a sample of tissue is surgically collected to determine the exact nature of the medical problem.

There are certain medical anomalies the little one may face if a serious condition is detected.

Are There Any Complications Of Blood In Baby’s Stool?

If the blood in the baby’s stool is left untreated and the condition gets aggravated, then the baby runs a risk of developing the following medical complications:

  • Scarring around anal opening: Repeated anal fissures can lead to permanent scarring around the anal opening, which will lead to more abrasion due to friction with the stool.
  • Topical infections: Fissures can get infected with skin bacteria, causing inflammation and severe discomfort in passing the stool. Furthermore, the skin infection will spread to the genitals making things worse.
  • Bowel obstruction: Conditions such as colitis and Crohn’s disease can inflame the linings of the intestines so severely that food contents fail to move smoothly. This drastically slows down the process of digestion, thus hampering the feeding routine of the baby.
  • Malnutrition: Since your baby is unable to digest the food properly, he is prone to malnutrition because nutrients from the food are poorly absorbed by the inflamed walls of the intestines. Moreover, the baby is losing blood through stool, thus increasing the risk of anemia.
  • Ulcers: Those suffering from Crohn’s disease are susceptible to lesion-like ulcers anywhere in their digestive tract, including the mouth (10). These ulcers are again prone to infection.

You need not worry about the complications if you are following the remedy guidelines prescribed by the doctor. Also, you can take some precautions to reduce and prevent the chances of blood appearing in the stool of your baby.

Precautions To Prevent Blood In The Baby’s Stool

Here are simple steps to follow to mitigate the chances of seeing the baby’s blood in his stool:

  1. Breastmilk is the best food: Feed your baby only with breast milk for the first six months. Breast milk is best for your baby’s gastrointestinal tract and is laden with antibodies that will help keep infections at bay. It improves the efficiency of his immune system.
  1. Do periodic inspections: Periodically check your baby’s anal opening for any signs of tears or infections. If you find something perturbing and feel that it deserves medical attention, then do not hesitate to take him to the doctor.
  1. Be cautious about allergies: When the doctor diagnoses an allergy, make sure your little one stays away from those allergens. Do not attend to a baby after consuming any of those foods. Food allergies can be managed through epinephrine auto-injector that your doctor will prescribe.

Being watchful to your baby’s stool and bringing any irregularity under prompt medical attention is the best way to avoid blood. Sometimes, a simple solution is all that your problem would need.

If you have any experience to share with us, do leave a comment below.

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