Meconium: Your Baby’s First Poo

A lot of the time in pregnancy is focused on preparing and learning about labour and birth – the big main events that understandably everyone wants to be informed about in order to have a positive experience.  What’s not so often planned for is what happens after – in the immediate postnatal period, with yourself and baby.  And yet, its often the first few days and nights after birthing your baby when you are tired, sore and achy and have a brand-new baby that relies completely on you when you need support and have so many questions that need answering.

In our fourth trimester series we’ll answer some of those often-asked questions by new parents and of what to expect.  And of course, our range of classes cover all things postnatal baby and mum related with expert advice from our midwives.

Newborn poo

Whilst the first few hours and days after your baby’s birth can be a magical time as you finally get to hold and gaze at your newborn, there are also much messier and less photogenic aspects of newborn life you’ll need to be prepared for too.  Your baby’s first few poos fall firmly into this category – and despite not being a dinner table conversation, it’s important and actually quite fascinating! Us midwives are obsessed with your baby’s bowel movements and get especially excited about their first poo.

What is all the fuss about the first poo?

Your baby’s first poo is called meconium. It’s a nearly odourless, greenish-black, gooey substance that’s passed during your newborn baby’s first few bowel movements, usually during the first 24 hours after birth.

Meconium looks and smells very different from the regular baby poo you’ll be finding in your little one’s nappies before long, which will usually be a lighter colour with a less gooey consistency.

What is meconium made of?

You may be wondering why your baby even needs to do a poo at this point, given that they have hardly had a meal yet.

Interestingly, your baby starts ‘eating’ whilst they are still in your uterus! From about 14 weeks of your pregnancy, or perhaps even a little earlier, your little one started sipping the amniotic fluid that surrounded him or her in the amniotic sac.

Practicing these swallowing motions helped your baby’s digestive system to develop in preparation for life outside the uterus.

A lot of this fluid is passed out again as urine, but some — along with a bunch of skin cells, fine downy hair that covers your baby called lanugo and various other particles floating around in the amniotic fluid remain in your baby’s intestines, until your baby has their first poo soon after birth – the gooey, tar-like poo known as meconium.

How to deal with your newborn baby’s first poo.

Meconium – your baby’s first poo – comes soon after your baby is born, usually within the first 24 hours. This may well happen before your baby has even had a nappy put on – often during that wonderful ‘Golden Hour’ of skin-to-skin contact after birth with you, so be prepared for getting a little messy!

Meconium is viscous and sticky, thick, and a super-dark greenish black and has a tendency to stick to things, so – no matter how careful you are – you might get some on your clothes or your newborn baby’s first bodysuits, especially if you’re still getting the hang of changing your baby’s nappy.

Because of its tar like consistency, you’ll need to wipe well and thoroughly to make sure it’s all off and baby’s skin is nice and clean.

All midwives will advise using warm water and cotton wool for cleaning baby’s skin where possible and especially so in the early days.  Keep wipes for trips out and emergency middle of the night cleans when your baby is older.

How many meconium poos are normal?

In the first week, an average of three or four poos a day is normal. It can take a few days for all the meconium to pass out of your newborn’s digestive system. You’ll know when this has happened, because your baby’s poo will turn a lighter colour.

When will your baby’s regular poo start?

It can take a few days for the meconium to pass out of your baby’s system. You’ll know when this happens, because your newborn baby’s poo will start to get runnier and lighter in colour.

For a day or two, your baby’s stools may turn a brownish-green as the meconium mingles with the first poo made from breast milk or formula.

After that, if you breastfeed your baby, his or her poo will eventually take on a yellow, mustard-like hue.

If you give your baby formula, your newborn’s regular poo may turn a darker, brownish shade (although some formula-fed baby’s poo can be dark green).

Keep in mind that the exact colour and consistency of your baby’s poo may vary, even from day to day.

When to seek help or advice

Meconium is usually harmless, if a little messy sometimes. However, on rare occasions it can cause complications, so it’s best to be aware of these just in case. Here are some examples of when to see your baby’s doctor:

  • No bowel movements. If your baby doesn’t have a bowel movement within the first 24 hours of being born, chances are this is just due to a meconium plug, which is just a bit of poo that has got stuck, but it’s important to rule out a very rare complication known as meconium ileus (which occurs when the meconium is too thick to pass), as this could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
  • Red poo. Traces of red aren’t necessarily blood – for example, harmless urate crystals, formed from concentrated urine can stain the poo red or orange – but it’s still important to have it checked out, just to be on the safe side.
  • White or pale poo. If you ever notice that your baby’s poo is white or clay-coloured, tell your baby’s doctor immediately so he can investigate the cause and rule out any rare conditions that might need urgent treatment.