How many bowel movements should you have per day?
Pooping, otherwise known as defecation or bowel movements, is something everyone must do. It is the end result of digestion. Whatever your body can't use as nutrition gets expelled through your bowels. Healthy bowel habits are an important component of good health.
According to experts, it's normal to have bowel movements as often as 3 times a day or as infrequently as 3 times per week. What's important is that your bowel movements are normal and happen at regular intervals. If there's a sudden change in your normal pattern, something might be wrong.
Infrequent bowel movements
Constipation is the name for when you're unable to have a bowel movement for more than 3 days. After this time, your stool hardens and becomes more difficult to expel. If you're unable to defecate for 7 to 10 days, contact your doctor.
Other symptoms of constipation include:
- Stomach cramps
- Needing to strain or push to have a bowel movement
- Not feeling sure when you're done going to the bathroom
- Needing to press on your abdomen to defecate
Constipation can be caused by a low-fiber diet, dehydration, a sedentary lifestyle, or taking certain prescriptions like opioid pain killers or some antidepressants.
Lifestyle changes can help you avoid future bouts of constipation. However, for short-term relief, you can take a laxative or a stool softener to help encourage a bowel movement.
Frequent bowel movements
If you have loose stools more than 3 times a day, you have diarrhea. You don't need to worry if you just have it for a day or two. However, if you have diarrhea for more than a few days, contact your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you have blood in your stool or symptoms of dehydration like:
Some cases of diarrhea are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Others are caused by food allergies or intolerances, or reactions to supplements or medications. Conditions like Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome can also cause diarrhea.
The treatment for diarrhea depends on the cause. Sometimes, all that is needed is rehydration. Other times, antibiotics or antiparasitics can help. If your diarrhea is caused by an underlying condition, you will need to work with a specialist to get that condition under control.
Tips to maintain healthy bowel habits
Follow these tips to maintain regular bowel movements and healthy bowel habits.
Eat plenty of fiber
Fiber is a nutrient that helps things flow through your colon, or large intestines. Foods that are high in fiber include:
- Whole wheat pasta
- Brown rice
Try active cultures
Yogurt, kombucha, and fermented foods like kimchi have active probiotic cultures that populate your intestines with helpful bacteria. Look for labels that say "live cultures" or "active cultures".
Drink plenty of water
Staying hydrated keeps things flowing. Experts recommend drinking half of your body weight in ounces of water each day. So, if you weigh 180 pounds, you should drink 90 ounces — or 11 cups — of water per day.
Moving your body keeps your bowels moving as well. Try to move your body for at least 30 minutes 5 days per week.
Notice your bowel movements
Keep mental tabs on your bowel movements so you can notice any changes. If there is a significant change, you may want to contact your doctor.
Other stool qualities to consider
In addition to how frequently you go to the bathroom, you should also take note of the color and consistency of your stool. These are both indicators of your bowel health.
Most bowel movements are different shades of brown. You should contact your doctor right away if you have stool that is black or deep red. This could be a sign of blood in your fecal matter. However, seeing a few drops or streaks of blood in the toilet bowl isn't anything to worry about as long as it goes away after a few days. These are usually caused by hemorrhoids or tears in your rectum.
Pale bowel movements can also be concerning. If you have one that coincides with dark urine, contact your doctor. This could indicate a problem with your liver.
The texture of your fecal matter should be on the softer side, making it fairly easy to release. Hardened stool means you might be constipated. Loose stool means you have diarrhea. As previously mentioned, having either one of these consistencies for a short period of time isn't usually problematic. However, if they persist for more than a few days, consider contacting your doctor or taking medication to help.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Cleveland Clinic: "Constipation," "Frequent Bowel Movements," "Stool Changes and What They Mean."
Harvard Health Publishing: "How to get more probiotics."
Informedhealth.org: "How do bowel movements work?"
Intermountain Healthcare: "Potty Talk: What is a Normal Bowel Movement – And Why Is This Important For Your Health?"
Mayo Clinic: "Constipation," "Diarrhea."
National Health Service: "Dehydration."
University of Missouri System: "How to calculate how much water you should drink."
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