Medical News Today: Why is my kid’s poop green?

Green poop in kids can be alarming, but it usually not a cause for concern. Diet, such as eating leafy greens, often causes green poop. Otherwise, it may be linked to diarrhea or bacterial infections.

Poop is usually brown, but it can change color daily. This is not usually a cause for concern. The reasons for green poop in kids may be different, depending on their age, such as in babies, infants, and children.

Read on to learn about what causes kids to have green poop and when to take them to a doctor.

What causes poop to turn green?

Green child's potty next to roll of toilet paper.
Green poop can be a common occurrence in children.

Poop is usually brown because it contains bile. Bile is a brownish-green fluid that the liver produces. Brown poop generally means that the liver and the pancreas are working normally and adding enough bile to poop.

Because bile is a brownish-green color, it can sometimes make the poop look green. In fact, green poop in babies and kids is not unusual.

Sometimes, the stool might even look yellow or slightly orange because of the way bile has mixed with a baby or child’s diet.

Diet and diarrhea are two of the most common reasons for kids’ poop to turn green:

Diet

Most of the time, a kid’s poop turns green because the child has eaten something green. Foods that contain chlorophyll, which is the substance that makes plants green, can turn our poop green. Artificial food coloring can have the same effect.

Foods that can cause green poop in kids include:

  • leafy greens, including spinach, kale, and lettuce
  • candy, frosting, or cakes that contain artificial coloring
  • iron supplements, which can turn the poop green or black

Diarrhea

Diarrhea is often a culprit in poop color changes. Diarrhea happens when the small intestine cannot absorb enough water, which may often be due to a virus.

Because diarrhea changes the amount of water and electrolytes in poop, and because the material is moving through the digestive system faster than usual, it can change the color of poop.

Some common causes of diarrhea in babies and children include:

Chronic diarrhea in a baby or child could signal an underlying condition, such as:

  • inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • food allergies or intolerances, such as to gluten due to Celiac disease
  • hyperthyroidism
  • cancer, although this is very rare

Parasites can also cause diarrhea. Since children are notoriously bad about washing their hands, they are more vulnerable to parasites.

Giardia is a parasite that spreads through contact with infected bowel movements. People with giardiasis often develop diarrhea and a greasy-looking stool. Sometimes the stool looks green.


Green poop in babies and infants

Person making bottle of baby formula.
Milk formula may cause green poop.

Green poop in infants and babies — which refer to children under 1 year old — is normal, and even reassuring.

Because newborns and infants should only consume breast milk or formula, the color of their poop tends to be more consistent than it is in older children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Breastfed babies typically have a mustard-yellow stool. It may look seedy or have slight hints of green. Poop color may change with the mother’s diet.
  • Formula-fed babies should have tan or yellow poop with traces of green. Sometimes the poop may look more green than others.

While green poop in babies is nothing to worry about, green poop accompanied by diarrhea is dangerous. Worldwide, diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under the age of 5 years old.

The primary risk from diarrhea is dehydration. Caregivers who notice signs of diarrhea in babies should carefully monitor for signs of dehydration. These include:

  • absence of a wet diaper for 3 hours or more
  • crying with no tears
  • dry lips or mouth
  • sunken eyes or cheeks in advanced cases
  • sunken soft spot on top of the head, also in advanced cases

Loose stools are normal in babies under 10 days old. If the baby shows no other signs of illness, loose stools or green stools are probably not because of diarrhea.

Caregivers should bring babies under 2 months old who have diarrhea to a pediatrician.

When a baby develops diarrhea, continue feeding them as usual unless a pediatrician recommends otherwise. Sick children benefit especially from breast milk, and it can prevent dehydration, so feed on demand whenever the baby wants to eat, even if it is more frequently than usual.


Green poop in toddlers and children

As children begin eating solids and eventually wean from breast milk or formula, food becomes a more frequent culprit in green poop. This includes leafy greens and artificial food colorings.

Parents should not worry about green poop as long as a child is otherwise healthy.

Diarrhea in children can be dangerous, however, especially if it lasts for several days. Parents should monitor for signs of dehydration, which include:

  • infrequent peeing or none at all
  • dry, chapped lips
  • dry or itchy skin
  • low energy
  • not sweating
  • lack of tears when crying
  • very dark urine
  • irritability

To prevent dehydration, caregivers can consider offering their child a pediatric electrolyte drink and encouraging the child to continue drinking water.

Most cases of diarrhea clear up without treatment, but sometimes it is more serious. It is vital to monitor symptoms and ask a child to tell you if they begin feeling worse.


When to see a doctor

Doctor in office talking to mother and child.
A doctor should assess a child with very dark or pale poop.

Not all poop color changes are as harmless as green poop.

Pale poop

Pale or clay-colored stool may mean there is a problem with the liver, gallbladder, or pancreas. This is because there is less bile in the stool when it is one of these shades. A person should consult a doctor right away if this happens.

If there are other symptoms, such as pain or vomiting, they must go to the emergency room.

Dark poop

Very dark poop is normal in newborns that are a few days old. This poop is called meconium, and will soon pass.

In older babies and children, very dark poop can mean there is gastrointestinal bleeding. Carefully monitoring symptoms is essential, as is calling a doctor if they do not improve in 12 hours.

If there is blood in a child’s poop or a child poops blood, they must be taken to the emergency room immediately.

Warning signs

See a doctor when a baby or child has diarrhea and any of the following symptoms:

  • signs of dehydration
  • vomiting for longer than a day
  • a fever higher than 100.4°F
  • lack of interest in eating

Outlook

Parenting is full of scary moments. Many parents find themselves becoming highly attuned to change in their child’s poop and will be able to detect early signs of illness.

But green poop by itself almost never means there is something wrong, meaning parents can cross this worry off their list. As with all symptoms, they should contact a pediatrician if something seems particularly untoward, or there is a major change in what is normal for their child.

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