Parents will meticulously take care of their little ones, from their food and milestones to their poop. A newborn’s poop first poop is usually black and is known as meconium. For babies, black stools typically appear in the first few days after birth (1). The color of your baby’s stool reflects their overall health and digestive system.
According to the food eaten and feeding habits, the color of the baby’s poop varies from green, red, yellow, and other colors. It is entirely normal for the stool color to change with age (2). However, it is not common for healthy babies to pass white or pale stools.
Causes Of White Poop In Babies
The stool color of normal babies is brown-yellow due to bilirubin in the liver. Bile is composed of bile pigments, such as bilirubin and biliverdin, and bile salts. Bilirubin is yellow-green when produced in the liver. However, it turns brown or dark brown in the stool as it travels down the gastrointestinal tract (3).
When you observe your baby’s poop white, it indicates insufficient bile due to liver dysfunction or ducts’ blockage that transports bile.
The causes for white poop in babies can be:
1. Obstructive cholestasis
Cholestasis is the medical term given to slow-moving or static bile. The most common cause is obstruction of the bile duct. This condition is called obstructive cholestasis. The ducts’ blockage in the liver can occur due to the following reasons:
- Extrahepatic biliary atresia; it is the most common cause of obstructive cholestasis in 35%-45% of patients (4)
- Narrow bile duct
- Bile duct inflammation
- Bile duct cyst
- Liver infection
- Neonatal sclerosing cholangitis
- Cystic fibrosis (5)
- Alagille syndrome; a chromosomal disorder characterized by a decrease in bile ducts, occurring in 1 in 70,000 live births (6)
2. Hepatocellular cholestasis
There is little or no bile produced due to damage to liver cells called hepatocytes, or bile cannot leave the liver cells that produce it. There can be many reasons for hepatocellular cholestasis:
- Certain medications
- Genetic diseases, such as short bowel syndrome
- Premature birth
- Metabolic diseases
If your baby is prescribed an antacid containing aluminum hydroxide, or if the medicine contains barium sulfate from a barium enema, they may cause pale or white stools (7).
Symptoms That May Accompany White Stool In Babies
White stools indicate a problem with the baby’s liver. However, the white stool is not the only symptom of cholestasis. Other symptoms that cause white stools in babies include (8):
- Jaundice, yellow skin, and eyes
- Dark yellow urine
- Abdominal swelling
- Itching all over the body, especially palms and soles
- Foul-smelling stools
- Abdominal cramps or pain
Is White Poop In Babies Dangerous?
It can be alarming if you observe pale or white poop in your baby’s diaper because it is not normal. White poop indicates possible problems with the baby’s liver, gall bladder, or the duct system that transports the bile to the intestines (9).
Bile accumulates in the liver because it fails to move from the digestive organ. This may damage the liver and cause liver cirrhosis (8). If your baby passes white stools more than twice, you may need to consult a pediatrician (10). Also, check for other symptoms. If your baby has abdominal pain, swelling or bloating, or diarrhea-like stools, it is recommended that you see a doctor immediately.
Treatment For White Poop In Babies
Before treating babies for white poop, you must identify the underlying cause. The baby will have to undergo certain diagnostic tests to diagnose the cause. Some of these include:
- Blood tests
- CT scan and/or MRI to examine the baby’s duct system associated with the liver
- Ultrasound can give a clear picture of a baby’s abdominal organs
You must consider the following factors in the management of white poop:
- Your baby’s age
- The number and severity of symptoms
- The baby’s medical history
Depending on the cause of the baby’s white poop, your doctor will treat it with medication, and in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary. Before the baby is two months old, you must pay attention to biliary atresia (8). Once the underlying cause of the baby’s white poop is resolved, the color of the baby’s stool will return to normal.
White baby poop could occur due to medications or due to serious causes, such as liver or gall bladder problems. Check for other signs and symptoms, such as jaundice and poor appetite. Consult a doctor for a timely diagnosis and treatment that can ensure a good prognosis and prevent complications.
2. Susan C. Kim, Kathleen Romito & John Pope, Bowel Movements in Babies, Michigan Medicine- University of Michigan
3. The Poop Palette: What Do All of These Colors Mean?, Nationwide Children’s
4. Monica D’Amato et al., Cholestasis in Pediatrics, Revista Colombiana de Gastroenterologia
5. Cholestasis, Boston’s Children’s Hospital
6. Amy G. Feldman, Ronald J. Sokol, Neonatal Cholestasis, Neoreviews
7. Stools- Unusual Color, Children’s Hospital Colorado
8. Cholestasis, CHOC
9. The Color of Baby Poop and What it Means, Cleveland Clinic
10.Stools- Unusual Color, Seattle Children’s Hospital