Why is my toddler’s poop white?

A one-off pale poo in a toddler is usually nothing to worry about but very pale or white stools can indicate a serious medical condition.

white poop toddler
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Why is my toddler’s poop white? What causes light-coloured stools in toddlers? The colour of stools can change according to what we eat, a slight variation in colour is normal. A one-off pale poo in a toddler is usually nothing to worry about but very pale or white stools can indicate a serious medical condition. So when should you worry?

Dr Juilet McGrattan explains what might be causing your toddler's white poop, and when should you see a doctor.

Why is poop brown?

Stools get their colour from bile pigments and from the action of 'friendly' bacteria in the gut that break down food residues.

Bile breaks down the fat in the food we eat. It’s made in the liver, stored in the gall bladder and squirted into the small intestine when fatty food is present. Bile is initially a yellow-green colour but during digestion it turns brown and is responsible for the brown colour of faeces.

Why is my toddler’s poop white?

If the production of bile is reduced or there is a blockage stopping bile reaching the intestine, then there is no pigment in the stool and it will appear white. A white stool indicates that there is a problem with the biliary system which includes the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

A yellowish or pale brown stool is normal in a breast fed baby. Pale brown stools can also happen after infections of the bowel such as diarrhoea and vomiting bugs (gastroenteritis). If you have a gut infection, the balance of the healthy bacteria can get disturbed, and until they recolonise the bowel, the stools can be paler than normal. The usual brown colour returns over a few days once a normal diet is resumed,

An occasional pale brown stool can be normal but if it persists or is white or clay-like, then you need to take action due to the possibility of a serious medical condition.

White stools causes

The causes of white stools in toddlers include:

Obstructive cholestasis

Bile is produced but its journey to the intestine is blocked (obstructed). This can occur if the bile ducts have been damaged or haven’t developed properly such as in biliary atresia or choledochal cysts. The ducts can also be blocked by secretions and thick bile which can happen if the child has cystic fibrosis.

Hepatocellular cholestasis

Damage to the liver cells can cause a problem with the production of bile. Injury can result from inflammation and infection of the liver such as hepatitis A, B or C infections. It can also occasionally occur due to a reaction to some medications or in children who are receiving all their nutrition through infusions into a vein rather than eating.

      Both obstructive and hepatocellular cholestasis are rare. There are normally other symptoms alongside the white stools including:

      • jaundice – a yellowish tint to the skin and eyes
      • itchy skin
      • very dark urine
      • nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain
        white poop toddler
        Westend61Getty Images

        When should I take my child to the doctor?

        If your toddler has a light brown poo and is otherwise well, it’s reasonable to wait for the next motion to see if has improved. See your doctor if it hasn’t or you have any concerns about your child.

        White or clay-like poo is not normal and because of the possibility of liver disease, you should have your child checked over. This should be done urgently if they have any of the above warning symptoms of cholestasis.

        If your toddler is otherwise well, it’s reasonable to wait for the next motion to see if it has improved.

        If your GP is not able to reassure you that the stool is normal, then your child will be referred to a paediatrician for further assessment and tests. If the child is unwell, this is likely to be an urgent admission to the children’s ward at your local hospital. Further tests will include blood tests and scans to check the function and appearance of the liver, gall bladder, pancreas and bile ducts.

        White stools in adults

        The conditions that cause white stools in adults are more numerous than those in children. They still centre around the biliary system and also include gall stones, tumours, cysts and primary biliary cholangitis. Speak to your doctor if you are an adult reading this and have white stools.

        Last updated: 21-07-2020

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