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Checking baby poop color is important, and there’s an app for it

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Johns Hopkins University gastroenterologists have developed a free app they believe will help provide quick diagnosis of the leading cause of liver failure in children.

The app uses "color recognition software," according to a news release from the university, that allows parents to compare photos of their child's stool against normal colors for infant stool, in the hope of quickly catching the first signs of biliary atresia. The app also allows parents to send the photos to their pediatrician, and reminds them to conduct the color check every two weeks between birth and two months of age.

The disease, which causes bile to build up in the liver because the ducts that drain it are damaged or malformed, is the leading cause of liver failure in children and the most frequent reason kids require liver transplants. Ninety percent of infants treated within 60 days of birth with surgery to repair the ducts see their bile flow return to normal. But that figure drops to half if the procedure is done just two or three weeks later.

White or clay-colored stool is often the first sign of the disorder, which occurs in one of every 14,000 newborns in the United States. Yet parents are rarely told to watch the color of their newborn's feces, and the average diagnosis does not come for 70 days, according to Hopkins.

The physicians have teamed with Procter & Gamble Baby Care to distribute a stool color guide at birthing centers. A similar program in Taiwan improved the five-year survival rate of the disease by a third.

Stool colors to be concerned about are black, red, white or pale yellow, according to the doctors. For a guide, go here. For one that is much more graphic, go here.