Health organizations and the medical community encourage women to breastfeed for good reason. It provides proper nutrition for babies, in addition to lowering their risk for sudden infant death syndrome and other health conditions. It also is also good for their gastrointestinal health, although you may be doubting that fact if your baby's bowel movements have started to decrease. This reduced frequency usually is not indicative of a health issue.
Normal Bowel Movements
As adults, you're told to be on the lookout for black or tarry stools as they can be a sign of serious illness. Stools with this appearance are normal for babies during the first couple of days after birth. Meconium is the term used to refer to these first bowel movements. The frequent breastfeeding during this time helps your baby's body rid itself of these dark stools. This leads to yellowish stools that may be somewhat runny. Your baby may have many bowel movements a day, possibly after every feeding.
A decrease in bowel movements does not mean your baby has an illness or is constipated; in fact, breastfed babies are at lower risk for constipation. It's normal for breastfed babies to begin having less frequent bowel movements over time. This usually occurs about a month after birth, according to the University of Washington Medical Center. Like adults, your baby's body will develop its own normal bowel habits. Babies may go multiple times daily or transition to going just once every few days.
Keep an eye out for sudden changes in your baby's bowel habits. You also should pay attention to the color. Brown, yellow or green hues are common in newborns' bowel movements; however, red or black indicate the presence of blood. White stools may be a sign of liver problems. Although constipation isn't as common in breastfed babies, you should seek medical advice if your child hasn't had a bowel movement in four to five days, according to the University of Iowa Health Care's Joni Bosch, a pediatric nurse practitioner. Vomiting, stools with mucous, abdominal bloating and stomach discomfort also should be reported, Bosch advises.
In addition to reducing the risk of constipation, breastfeeding offers other benefits for your child's gastrointestinal health. Breast milk is easier for newborns to digest in comparison to the cow's milk in baby formula. In addition, breast milk also passes antibodies onto your baby that support immune function. The authors behind a 2008 review in "The Internet Journal of Allied Health Services and Practice" highlight the benefits of breast milk in reducing illness in babies. Some of the milk's components help prevent bacteria and other infectious agents from attaching to the GI tract of babies, the article said.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Breastfeeding -- Tips for Success
- Naval Medical Center San Diego; House Staff and Medical Student's Newborn Care Guide; Mike Dubik, MD, et al.; December 2006
- Womenshealth.gov: Why Breastfeeding is Important
- "The Internet Journal of Allied Health Services and Practice"; Breastfeeding Helps Prevent Two Major Infant Illnesses; Lysa Story, PA-S, et al.; 2008