Diarrhea and the Breastfed Baby

What Are the Causes and What Does It Look Like?

Mother changing a baby's diaper. Diarrhea and the Breastfed Baby
How can you tell the difference between diarrhea and normal breastfed baby poop?. Vanessa Davies/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Diarrhea and the Breastfed Baby

Breastfed babies get diarrhea less often than formula-fed babies. Breastmilk is full of antibodies that help protect infants against some of the common childhood illnesses including diarrhea. Plus, if a baby is breastfeeding as his primary source of nutrition, his exposure to organisms in food and water that can cause stomach infections and diarrhea is limited.

And, the more a baby breastfeeds, the more he'll be protected against diarrhea.

Exclusive breastfeeding is better than partial breastfeeding, and partial breastfeeding is better than formula feeding. However, even with breastfeeding, a baby can still get diarrhea. 

The Causes of Diarrhea in the Breastfed Infant

Illness: Viruses and bacteria can cause infections that lead to diarrhea in children.

A Mother's Diet: Some foods in your diet can cause allergies and sensitivities in your breastfed baby. Cow's milk, chocolate, gassy foods, spicy foods, and caffeine are the foods most likely to trigger a problem. You may have to evaluate your diet and try to figure out if something that you're eating could be causing your baby's diarrhea.

A Mother's Use of Laxatives: Stool softeners and some mild fiber supplements or bulk-forming type laxatives are usually safe to take while you're breastfeeding. However, strong stimulant-type laxatives may pass to your baby and cause diarrhea.

Talk to your doctor before taking any kind of laxative when you're breastfeeding.

Travel: Breastfeeding can help to protect your child against traveler's diarrhea, but it isn't 100% effective. Just as adults can develop diarrhea when traveling, so can children. Infants and young children may actually be at a greater risk.

 Use caution when traveling with young infants and breastfeed as often as possible.

Weaning in the U.S. and Other Developed Countries: The introduction of new foods into an infant's diet can lead to stomach issues due to food sensitivities and allergies. Cow's milk is a common irritant that can cause diarrhea in younger children. If you're weaning to a formula, keep in mind that many infant formulas are made from cow's milk.

Weaning in Other Parts of the World: In some areas of the world, health and nutrition are compromised. Children living in these areas are more prone to illness, infection, and disease once they've weaned from the breast and they're no longer receiving the nutrition and protective properties found in breast milk.

How to Tell if It's Diarrhea 

It's normal for breastfed infants to have many bowel movements each day. If your baby's poop is yellowish and soft with small curds or seeds in it, that's typical of breastfed baby poop, and it's ok if you see it every time you change your baby's diaper. The concern is if you notice any changes to your child's normal poop.

Diarrhea in breastfed infants may be:

  • Green or darker than normal
  • Loose, wet, and watery
  • Foul smelling
  • Bloody or containing mucus

    What to Do if Your Baby Has Diarrhea

    • If your baby develops diarrhea, the most important thing you can do is continue to breastfeed. Diarrhea can be dangerous for newborns and young children since it can lead to dehydration and weight loss. By breastfeeding as much as possible, you'll be able to provide your baby with the fluids and nutrition that she needs to replace what she's losing through diarrhea.
    • Exam your diet and your child's diet to determine if a new food could be the cause.
    • If you have taken a laxative, stop taking it and talk to your doctor.
    • If your baby has diarrhea without any other symptoms and it does not go away within 24 hours notify the doctor.
    • If your child has diarrhea along with a fever, signs of dehydration, excessive sleepiness, or poor nursing call your doctor right away.


    American Academy of Pediatrics. (2011). New Mother’s Guide To Breastfeeding. Bantam Books. New York.

    Heyman, M. B. (2006). Lactose Intolerance in Infants, Children, and Adolescents. Pediatrics: 118(3); 1279-1286.

    Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. (2011). Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Seventh Edition.  Mosby.

    Lamberti, L. M., Walker, C. L. F., Noiman, A., Victora, C., and Black, R. E. (2011). Breastfeeding and the Risk for Diarrhea Morbidity and Mortality. BMC Public Health: 11(3); S15.

    Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. (2014). Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning.

    Steffen, R. Epidemiology of Traveler's Diarrhea. (2005). Clinical Infectious Diseases: 41(8); S536-S540.

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