Bowel motions and nappies

In the past, parents and doctors used to worry about babies’ bowels. Now people are more relaxed: children’s bowel habits vary considerably and usually provide little cause for concern. It is practically impossible for a breast-fed baby to become constipated, although he may move his bowels less than once a day. Breast milk is digested so efficiently that little waste matter is left to be excreted. On the other hand, it is also normal for a breast-fed baby to produce a motion after every feed, or even more often. His motions will be soft, often liquid, and yellowish in colour. A baby may sometimes pass greenish motions, containing mucus, but provided he seems well this is not significant.

A bottle-fed baby’s motions are different. They have a more unpleasant odour, are more solid and are brown in colour – more like a normal adult motion. A bottle-fed baby may become constipated and is also more likely to get diarrhoea; but careful attention to the way his feeds are made up, and scrupulous hygiene, should avoid these problems. Once a baby starts on mixed feeding, his motions may change dramatically from day to day. His digestive system takes time to adapt and some of these new foods may pass through undigested to appear in his motions. This does not matter.

Many mothers find disposable nappies more convenient than towelling ones. They are probably no more expensive, taking into account the cost of washing conventional nappies. Place towelling nappies, whether soiled or just wet, in a sterilizing solution for several hours before washing in a mild, non-biological washing powder. The reason that a non-biological washing powder is preferred to a biological one is that the latter contains enzymes. If the nappy is not thoroughly rinsed after washing and some residual enzymes are left, they may harm the skin of the baby’s bottom.

Nappies need changing at least after every feed and whenever the baby is wet or dirty. Remove the nappy and clean the baby’s bottom either with warm water -followed by thorough drying – or with baby oil. Then spread protective cream, such as zinc and castor oil, thoroughly over the dried nappy area before putting on the clean nappy.

Nappy rash, if neglected, can quickly spread so that the whole area becomes inflamed and sore. As soon as nappy rash appears, use baby oil rather than water to clean the baby’s bottom; leave him without a nappy as often as possible.

This method helps to keep the area dry and encourages healing.