By Barrett White
What does yours say about you? To find out, we had a little scat chat with a doctor.
Talking to your doctor about a sensitive topic like bowel movements can really stink. While we don’t think it’s fair to pooh-pooh your anxiety surrounding the topic as unfounded, we do want to help you wipe away that fear so that you and your provider can enjoy open communication – for the betterment of your health!
We spoke with Dr. Amelia Averyt, Legacy’s Medical Director of Family Practice, about all the dirty details below.
Are there types of poop? What are the main types of poop and what might they mean about your body’s needs?
There is only one type of poop – poop! There is a tool that was developed by gastroenterologists to help everyone use the same language and understanding about poop. I have included the graphic here as well as the explanation of each of the types of poop:
Is there an appropriate amount of times per day that you should poop? What is too often and what is too infrequent – and what does that say about your diet and/or physical state?
Everybody is different. It is important to get to know your pooping pattern so that you can tell when something is different. Any change in the pattern that interferes with normal daily activities is probably too much, and of course if you have to strain, do “toilet yoga” (changing positions frequently), or have pain with pooping you should work with your doctor to understand the reasons behind it.
Changes in the poop are usually a reflection of changes in the diet – the amount of fiber we eat and our hydration status – as well as changes in exercise and mental health. There is a very strong connection between the intestines and the brain – the same neurologic signals help our brains and our intestines work – and for many people, they manifest their stress and anxiety as changes in their poop.
In general, get to know your body and your patterns and what helps you have easy bowel movements on a regular schedule. Signs of a healthy poop include regular bowel movements of formed poop, being able to hold on for a short amount of time after first feeling the urge to poop, pooping within roughly a minute of sitting on the toilet, passing the poop without pain or need to strain, and completely emptying the bowels when pooping.
If there is ever pain associated with pooping or just in the stomach in general, blood in the poop, or black or tarry poop that is something that should be discussed with a doctor.
Someone is staying with friends or a new significant other for a few days (vacation, etc.) and absolutely refuses to poop while doing so. What are the dangers of doing this?
There are a few risks associated with holding in the poop for an extended amount of time. These include increased risk of constipation, which can (in extreme cases) progress to a problem of “fecal impaction”, which is when the poop becomes very hard, and can then get stuck in the colon or the rectum.
Holding in poop can also cause distention, or stretching of the rectum. In severe cases, this can lead to decreased sensation in the rectum and may lead to incontinence, which is when you lose control of your ability to poop voluntarily.
If caring for an infant, what is important to look out for when changing a diaper?
it is important to look out for signs of inflammation in the intestines and constipation. Normal infant poop can range in color from greenish to brownish to yellowish. It should be soft and mushy. If a parent ever sees very hard balls of stool that can be a sign of constipation. Any blood or just mucous in the diaper can be a sign of inflammation in the intestine.
Infant poop normally changes as kiddos get older and their diets change. Newborn infant stool is usually yellowish and soft and more frequent. As solid foods are introduced the stool can change in color, consistency, smell, and frequency – all normal! Of course, if the infant continues to eat well and makes normal wet diapers, that means they are staying hydrated which is very important, too!
If caring for a child, how can you make sure their poop is healthy?
In caring for a child, the same principles apply as those that apply to adults. Making sure that the child doesn’t have to spend an extended amount of time on the toilet when trying to poop, doesn’t have to work hard to pass the poop, and doesn’t have abdominal pain in general. On the flip side, if the child is going more frequently to the restroom, or having new accidents, that may be a sign of unhealthy poop.
One thing to note around toilet training is that it’s important to support soft, easy to pass poop. If children are afraid of pain associated with pooping, they are more likely to hold in their poop, which may worsen the problem of constipation in general.
So, parents should focus on providing their child(ren) a diet with natural fiber – like the fiber found in beans, lentils, vegetables, and fruits. Less processed carbohydrates like white bread, pastas, crackers, rice, potatoes can also help keep the poop healthy. Drinking mostly water during the day also helps!
What’s the deal with Sprite and ginger ale? Can these – and other home remedies – actually help with certain digestive issues? Will they work for me if I’m having weird poop? Why or why not?
Sprite and ginger ale have been reported as helping with abdominal pain. Certain natural herbs – like peppermint, chamomile, and ginger – have helped some people with stomach discomfort. Slight adjustments in the diet are always worth a try to see if they help with symptoms.
Be cautious with drinks that have increased sugar, though! Sometimes, drinks such as these can worsen loose stools, and of course drinking carbonated beverages can cause increased bloating and belching (burping).
For people who menstruate, what is normal when someone is on their period?
People who menstruate often experience changes in abdominal sensations and changes in poops around the time of their period. Sometimes it can be constipation, sometimes it can be looser stools, sometimes it can be associated with abdominal pain.
Any severe symptoms – like those that limit functioning during the day – should be discussed with one’s physician. Of course, the alarm symptoms of blood in the poop, having to wake up from sleep to poop, and fevers should be evaluated sooner rather than later.
What else should we know about our poop?
It’s normal to worry about your poop! Our poop is something we can see and something that we feel happening (that gut-brain connection!). Everybody and every poop is different, so it’s okay to have variation. The key for good gut health is listening to your body – what makes it easier to poop? What makes your stomach hurt? – and finding the right nutrition and physical activity combination that keeps you pooping healthfully!
Dr. Amelia Averyt is the Medical Director of Family Practice at Legacy. To schedule an appointment with your Legacy provider, visit us online or call (832) 548-5000.