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Collecting a Stool Sample for Testing

What Are Stool Tests?

Testing a stool sample can help doctors find out what's going on when someone has a problem in the stomach, intestines, rectum, or other part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system.

Stool tests often require a parent to collect a sample of their child’s stool (feces or poop) at home. Collecting a stool sample is painless. Tell your child that it won't hurt but it must be done carefully. Kids who are old enough might be able to get a sample alone to avoid embarrassment. Go over the directions with your child so they can do this properly.

How Do We Get a Stool Sample?

The doctor or lab usually will give instructions on how to get a stool sample.

Here are some tips:

  • Wear protective gloves.
  • To collect a sample, you can:
    • Put a hat-shaped plastic lid over the toilet bowl. Many kids with diarrhea, especially young kids, can't always let a parent know that a bowel movement is coming. So this kind of plastic catching device is best because you can quickly put it over the toilet or under your child. It also can prevent contamination of the sample by water.
    • Loosely place plastic wrap across the rim of the toilet, under the seat.
    • For an infant or toddler who is not yet using the toilet, line the diaper with plastic wrap. Place it so that pee runs into the diaper, not the wrap.
  • Your child shouldn't pee into the sample collector. Try to have your child empty their bladder before a bowel movement so the stool sample doesn’t get pee in it. If pee touches the stool sample, take another sample. If you can’t catch the stool sample before it touches the inside of the toilet, take another sample. Taking a bowel movement out of the toilet does not provide a clean sample for testing.
  • After your child poops, put the sample in a clean, dry plastic jar with a screw-cap lid. You can get these from your doctor or through hospital labs or pharmacies. But any clean, sealable container can do the job.
  • Wash your hands and your child's hands after getting the sample.
  • Write your child’s full name on the container, as well as the time and date that the sample was collected.
  • For best results, take the stool to the lab within a few hours. Your doctor or the lab will tell you if they need a fresh stool sample for a particular test, and if it must get to the lab right away.

Sometimes, testing requires more than one stool sample. The doctor will let you know if this is the case.

If you have any questions about how to collect the sample, talk to your doctor. 

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: Jun 10, 2023

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