Bowel and bladder

A newborn can need up to ten nappy changes a day and, although the frequency of changes will decrease, most babies don’t achieve a degree of bowel and bladder control until the second year. Although you can’t speed up this process, your help and support will be very important to your child.

Passing urine

A young baby’s bladder will empty itself automatically and frequently both day and night. As soon as it contains a little urine, the bladder wall stretches and the emptying action is stimulated. This is absolutely normal, and your baby cannot be expected to behave differently, at least until the bladder has developed sufficiently to hold urine for no longer periods.
Bowel movements

When your baby was in the womb, his intestines were filled with a sticky, black substance called meconium. Meconium is passed in the first 24 hours after delivery, and once this has happened normal motions will take over. Once your baby settles into a regular routine, his stools will become firmer and paler.

Number of stools a baby passes varies greatly, and initially most bottlefed babies pass a stool a day or less because there is little waist. The frequently of bowel motions gradually decreases as your baby gets older. It may be that, at the beginning, your baby passes five or six a day. This is quite normal and should cause you no worry. Similarly, the odd loose, unformed stool or totally green stool is no cause for concern unless looseness persists beyond 24 hours; then seek your doctor’s advice.

Changes in bowel movements

Don’t worry if your baby’s stools change in appearance from one day to next. It’s normal for a stool to turn green or brown when left exposed to the air. If you are worried, ask your midwife or doctor, who will be able to advise and reassure you. As a rule, loose stools are not an indication of an infection. Watery stools, however, if accompanied by a sudden change in colour or smell, or in frequency of passing stools, should be mentioned to your doctor, especially if your baby is “off colour”.

Blood-streaked stools are never normal. The cause may be quite minor-a tiny crack in the skin around the anus, perhaps- but you must consult your doctor. Larger amounts of blood, or the appearance of pus or mucus, may indicate an intestinal infection, so call your doctor at once.

The breastfed baby By the third to fifth day, the light yellow stools typical of the breastfed baby will appear. The stools are rarely hard or smelly and may be no thicker tan cream soup. The food you eat affects your baby and anything very spicy or acidic could upset his digestion.

The bottlefed baby A baby fed on formula has a tendency to more frequent stools, which are firmer, browner, and smellier than those of the breastfed baby. The most common tendency is for the stools to be rather hard. The easiest way to put this right is to give your baby a little cooled, boiled water to drink in between feeds.


Diarrhea-loose, frequently, and watery stools- is a sign of irritation of the intestines. In young babies diarrhoea is always potentially serious because of the risk of the dehydration, which can develop very quickly, if your baby refuses food or doctor immediately.

  • Repeat watery stools.
  • Repeat green and smelly stools.
  • A fever of 38°C (100°F) or more.
  • Listlessness and dark-ringed eyes.

If you think your baby is dehydrated, look at his fontanelles. If they are depressed, your baby is dehydrated: contact your doctor immediately. If it is treated early, diarrhoea can be cured quickly.

You can start treating your baby immediately yourself if his diarrhea is mild, and has no other symptoms. Continue to nurse your baby if you are breastfeeding; diarrhoea usually clears up well on breastmilk. If you’re breastfeeding, giving half strength formula to the usual amount of water. He may feed for less time than usual, and be hungry more often. If mild diarrhea doesn’t improve within two days, check with your doctor. Drinks of mineral replacement salts formulated specially for infants may be helpful at this stage. If all goes well, you can return to feeding your baby as usual.

Bowel function

Food passes through the stomach into the small intestine. The waste products of food are stored in the rectum before finally being eliminated as faeces.

Digestion The food is broken down by enzymes. Digestion starts in the mouth, then continues in the stomach and the upper part of the small intestine.

Absorption Once the food is being reduced to be simple molecules, it is absorbed into the bloodstream as it continues its path through the small intestine. It then passes through the intestine, where any water is absorbed by the body. The waste products pass on to the rectum as faeces.

Elimination Faeces are store in a rectum and expelled through the anus. A baby can’t control the reflex that causes the rectum to empty-even for a second. Young babies generally have bowel movements with each feed.

THE BOWEL SYSTEM After food has been digested in the stomach and small intestine, the waist is passed out of the body as faeces.

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