Diarrhea is a common symptom in pediatrics. In most cases, children have a viral gastroenteritis (“stomach flu”) that does not require any lab work. In some cases, however, it’s important to find out what’s causing the symptoms.

Although it’s relatively easy for children to leave a urine specimen during an office visit, it is much harder to produce a bowel movement on command. Also, kids may be embarrassed at the thought of having to collect a stool specimen at the doctor’s office.

This situation can be avoided if you bring a stool specimen anytime your child is being seen with significant intestinal symptoms. If in doubt, ask the nurse who scheduled the appointment whether a stool specimen might be needed. If you end up not using the sample, it’s easy to dispose of when you return home.

A few rules (and tips) are in order when it comes to collecting stool samples.

  • Do not scoop poop out of the toilet. It needs to go directly from the child’s bottom right into a container that comes with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Older kids may be horrified at the thought of collecting stool, even in their own home. If this happens, ask your child to defecate into the container and leave the bathroom. You can then go in and prepare the sample for the office.
  • Some kids may complain because there isn’t enough room to hold a container while they poop. In this instance, it may help if the child sits on the toilet backwards. One of my colleagues calls this going “cowboy style.”
  • It may be hard for younger children to poop without urinating at the same time. In this situation, you can create a “hammock” out of plastic wrap that hangs below the toilet seat. If you poke a few holes in the plastic, urine can leak through the wrap, but the stool will be “caught.”
  • Depending on the tests being ordered, the doctor may want poop that is kept cold, left at room temperature or both. If the sample needs to be cold, you should keep it in the refrigerator. However, regardless of where the sample is kept, putting it in a brown paper bag will keep the rest of the family from walking around holding their noses all day.