These charts—bound in books with spiffy graphics and trendy colors, or printed on spartan, downloadable black-and-white pages—usually have each day broken down into a series of letters: Ws for wet diapers, Ss for stool (or BMs or Ps). Parents tick off a letter for each diaper, depending what it contained. Each day for the first week or so has a different recommended number of diaper changes.

While I had anticipated changing diapers, I did not expect to be a diaper accountant as well. I asked my own mom and mother-in-law about poop charts, and neither remembered being asked for this catalog by any doctor in the late 1970s.

When did parents start tracking bowels so closely? Dr. Shu says she witnessed the gradual rise of charting in the past 20 years. "My guess would be [it started] about 15 years ago—when the information technology started booming, we had more computers, we had more email," she says. "We just started to become more objective about things."

While all new parents are advised by pediatricians to chart their new baby's poops, nobody actually tells you when to stop. Some parents keep charting diapers, in addition to naps and feedings, for months. Dr. Shu says it's only really necessary until your baby has regained his birth weight. "I did it, as a first-time mom, for about six weeks. And then I realized it's not making any difference," she says. "I'm not changing anything; the baby's doing fine."

Now that our son is 7 months old, my wife and I stopped keeping track of every diaper, but we still monitor his naps and bottles very closely.

The impulse to keep detailed records of every moment of a baby's life could be part of a larger phenomenon. "I think it has to do with people not living with their parents—the baby's grandparents—and not knowing what's normal. If you're at home and your own mother is there, she can tell you, 'Oh that's what you used to do too.' Then you're not going to worry about it," Dr. Shu says. "But if you're just not sure, then what you're going to do is you're going to keep a journal. You're going to take it in to your doctor and ask them if it's normal."


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