In this section...

Is Your Child Sick? TM


Stools - Unusual Color

Is this your child's symptom?

  • Stool color that is strange or different than normal
  • Normal stool colors are any shade of brown, tan, yellow or green
  • The only colors that may be caused by a disease are red, black and white
  • Dark green may look like black, but dark green is a normal color

If NOT, try one of these:


Causes of Unusual Stool Color

  • Almost always due to food coloring or food additives.
  • Stool color relates more to what is eaten than to any disease.
  • In children with diarrhea, the gastrointestinal (GI) passage time is very rapid. Stools often come out the same color as the fluid that went in. Examples are Kool-Aid or Jell-O.
  • The only colors we worry about are red, black (not dark green) and white.

Clues to Unusual Stool Colors

Red:

  • "Bloody stools": 90% of red stools are not caused by blood
  • Blood from lower GI tract bleeding
  • Medicines. Red medicines (like Amoxicillin). Sometimes, other medicines that turn red in the GI tract (such as Omnicef)
  • Foods. See list below.

Foods That Can Cause Red Stools:

  • Red Jell-O, red or grape Kool-Aid
  • Red candy, red licorice
  • Red cereals
  • Red frosting
  • Beets
  • Cranberries
  • Fire Cheetos
  • Red peppers
  • Tomato juice or soup, tomato skin

Black:

  • Blood from stomach bleeding (stomach acid turns blood to a dark, tar-like color)
  • Foods. Licorice, Oreo cookies, grape juice
  • Medicines. Iron, bismuth (Pepto-Bismol)
  • Other. Cigarette ashes, charcoal
  • Bile. Dark green stools from bile may look black under poor lighting. Smear a piece of stool on white paper. Look at it under a bright light. This often confirms that the color is really dark green.

Green:

  • Green stools are always normal, but they can be mistaken for black stools.
  • Bile. Most dark green stools are caused by bile.
  • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. It can be normal with both.
  • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools can also be green.
  • Dark green stools may look black under poor lighting. Eating spinach can cause dark green stools.
  • Medicines. Iron (such as in formula)
  • Foods. See list below.

Foods That Can Cause Green Stools:

  • Green Jell-O
  • Grape-flavored Pedialyte (turns bright green)
  • Green fruit snacks
  • Spinach or other leafy vegetables

White or Light Gray:

  • Foods. Milk-only diet
  • Medicines. Aluminum hydroxide (antacids), barium sulfate from barium enema
  • Liver disease. Babies with blocked bile ducts have stools that are light gray or pale yellow.

When to Call for Stools - Unusual Color

When to Call for Stools - Unusual Color

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Stool is light gray or white and occurs 2 or more times
  • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours (Exception: green stools)
  • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Strange stool color most likely from food or medicine
  • Green stools

Call Doctor or Seek Care Now

  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Stool is light gray or white and occurs 2 or more times
  • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours (Exception: green stools)
  • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Strange stool color most likely from food or medicine
  • Green stools

Care Advice for Stools - Unusual Color

  1. What You Should Know About Unusual Stool Color:
    • Strange colors of the stool are almost always due to food coloring.
    • The only colors that may relate to disease are red, black and white.
    • All other colors are not due to a medical problem.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Green Stools:
    • Green color of the stools is always normal. Most often, green stools are caused by bile.
    • Green stools are more common in formula fed than breastfed infants. But, they can be normal with both.
    • Green stools are more common with diarrhea. This is due to a fast transit time through the gut. However, formed stools may also be green. This is normal and nothing to worry about.
    • If your child takes iron, be sure your child is not taking too much.
  3. Avoid Suspected Food or Drink:
    • Don't eat the suspected food.
    • Don't drink the suspected drink.
    • The strange stool color should go away within 48 hours.
  4. Save a Sample:
    • If the strange stool color doesn't go away, bring in a sample.
    • Keep it in the refrigerator until you leave.
  5. What to Expect:
    • Remove the cause of the unusual color from the diet.
    • Then the stool should change back to normal color.
    • This should happen within 48 hours or 2 stools later.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Strange color without a cause lasts more than 24 hours
    • Suspected food is stopped and strange color lasts more than 48 hours
    • You think your child needs to be seen
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: this health information is for educational purposes only. You, the reader, assume full responsibility for how you choose to use it.


Copyright 2000-2018. Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC.

Visual Symptom Checker

Is Your Child Sick?TM

New @ Delaware Peds

  • Well Visit

    Please take the time to contact us to schedule your child’s well visit. This will help to ensure that your child’s visit will occur in a timely fashion, and that any necessary forms for school or sports will be completed well ahead of deadlines. Please note: Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) forms must be completed on or after April 1st in order to participate. These forms may be based on a physical examination conducted within 12 months of the signature. The clearance is valid through June 30 of the following school year. Please let our staff know at the time of your child’s visit that you need a form completed.
     
  • Flu shots available at both office locations

    We are now scheduling flu shots at both office locations.
     
  • Enter our family car magnet campaign today!

    Enter our car magnet "Families that Play Together Stay Together" campaign for a chance to win a membership or experience at one of several regional attractions.
     
  • Getting Kids to Eat More Fruits and Veggies

    Here is some sound advice about how to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
     
  • Weekend Emergency Visits

    We are available on both Saturday and Sunday mornings, by appointment, for urgent sick visits. Please call in the morning, between 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m., if you are interested in a sick appointment on a weekend.  Please leave a message, and one of our staff will return your call within a reasonable period of time.   Please avoid 'walking in' without an appointment.
     

North Wilmington Office
1409 Foulk Rd | Wilmington , DE 19803
Phone: 302-762-6222 | Fax: 302-764-6058
Office Hours | View Map

Appoquinimink Office
3920 South DuPont Pkwy | Townsend, DE 19734
Phone: 302-449-2570 | Fax: 302-449-2573
Office Hours | View Map

Copyright © 2018 Delaware Pediatrics. All rights reserved.