How Often Should You Have a Bowel Movement?

In order to stay healthy, your body needs to get the energy it needs and regularly clean itself. To do this, we have to eat foods and drink water every day, and to have bowel movements on a regular basis. Most people don't think too much about their bowel movements. And they don't know what type of waste is considered normal or how frequently should you have a bowel movement. But this is really important to know the answer so as to keep your body functioning properly.

How Often Should You Have a Bowel Movement?

The frequency of having bowel movements varies based on your age. Now let's take a closer look.

1. Adult

Even people who don’t go to the bathroom every day are not necessarily constipated. It is normal for adults to have a bowel movement 2-3 times a day or once every three days. If, however, you pass over three days without a movement, the stool may harden and become hard to push out. In rare cases, constipation that is new or worsening may indicate a serious issue like medication toxicity or colorectal cancer. So having no bowel movements over three days requires a doctor’s appointment.

2. Children

There is a large variation in the bowel movements of children, making it even more challenging for parents to answer "How often should you have a bowel movement?". Some children will have a bowel movement every two-three days, while others move their bowels two to three times daily. It's important to note if there are any changes to the stool patterns, like the frequency with which your child has bowel movements.

3. Newborns

It is normal for newborns to have eight or ten daily bowel movements, but you shouldn’t worry as a parent as long as your baby has at least one daily. Even passing a day without bowel movements shouldn’t lead to concern if your baby feeds well and wets his diaper five to six times daily. If, however, you notice his abdomen is persistently swollen or seems uncomfortable, then he may need help in pooping, which you should discuss with your pediatrician. Keep in mind that right after birth, newborns will have stools which are dark green and thick due to the meconium in their intestines. Eventually, they will begin to become yellowish poop, but you should still expect a great deal of variation.

What Happens If You Have Abnormal Bowel Movements?

If you feel that your stool schedule is abnormal, then you may be wondering not only "How often should you have a bowel movement?" but also what it means when you have abnormal bowel movements.

1. Diarrhea

Diarrhea is when you go to the bathroom at least four times each day or your stools are loose, thin and watery. This condition is common and isn’t typically serious, except in those with weakened systems, such as the young, elderly or infant. Most cases of acute diarrhea are due to infection and usually disappear quickly. Persistent diarrhea must last at least two weeks and chronic diarrhea will last over a month. Some common causes of diarrhea include diet, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), medications and infections.

If you have diarrhea, you should drink lots of fluids to help your body stay hydrated. Dehydrating beverages like pear or apple juice, caffeine and alcohol can worsen diarrhea. You should also opt for solid foods such as chicken, eggs, rice, toast and crackers. Sometimes over-the-counter medications will also help and you can also ask your doctor to recommend one for you. Always consult your doctor if your diarrhea lasts more than 2 days or if you experience dehydration or fever while having diarrhea.

2. Constipation

If you pass a bowel movement fewer than once each three days, then you are constipated. This is not typically serious, but it may be uncomfortable or painful since the stools become harder after three days. Constipation may be caused by medications, not getting enough fluids or fiber, chronically abusing laxatives, overusing alcohol or caffeine, mental issues, various diseases, etc.

What Does Your Stool Reveals About You?

Many people simply want to know "How often should you have a bowel movement?" They don’t necessarily look at their stool. But it can reveal a lot about your diet, lifestyle and even health. If your bowel changes in terms of shape, consistency, color or frequency, you may have an issue, especially for those over 50.

1. Color

  • Brown is normal stool colors and can vary based on diet.
  • Black or yellow stools, however, aren’t normal. Black stools may mean there is bleeding in the first section of your small intestine or stomach. Blood in the stool may be due to mild issues like hemorrhoids or serious ones like colon cancer. It may also be black due to eating blueberries, black licorice or taking medicines with bismuth, like Pepto-Bismol.
  • A bright red stool usually means there is blood in the anus, rectum, large intestine or another lower area of your digestive system. 
  • Maroon or red stools may be from eating red foods, hemorrhoids, colon polyps, anal fissures, inflammatory bowel disease, or a number of other issues.
  • Dark green stools may be due to iron supplements.
  • If your stool is pale or clay-like, you may not have enough bile salt or may have hepatitis or have taken antacids or barium.

2. Shape

Any change to the normal shape of your stool may indicate an issue.

  • Some experts believe the narrow, pencil-thin stools may indicate the lower area of the colon is obstructed, which may be a sign of colon cancer.
  • If your stool is soft, is hard to flush or sticks to the toilet bowl, it may mean you have too much oil. You can even see oils floating on the toilet water. If this happens, then your body may not be properly absorbing fats.

There is no concern whether your stool sinks or floats, as this largely depends on the quantity of gas.

3. Smell

All stools smell bad because of dead cells, bacteria, parasites, food and mucus. However, if you notice your bowel movement persistently smells odd, you should visit your doctor. Some potential reasons for an especially foul odor may include blood or excessive fat in stool, an infection, and food having been in your colon for a long time or medications.

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