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Potty Talk: A Primer on Bowel Movements and Digestive Health

beth September 18, 2012

I have a 4-year-old boy. He loves to talk about poop. Luckily for our family, he has a mama that can redirect that potty talk into something more constructive like digestive health.

Along with symptoms such as gas, bloating, burping, reflux, and fatigue after eating, poop can be a sign of digestive dysfunction. If your history is anything like mine though, poop was taboo and simply not talked about. It wasn’t until I had a child with digestive distress that I started to realize there was a “normal.”

The Bristol Stool Scale

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First things first. The Bristol Stool Scale is a handy tool. If you look at the chart above, you will find a descriptive account of seven types of stool. Types 1 and 2 generally constitute a form of constipation, Types 5-7 are considered diarrhea, and Types 3-4 are considered healthy bowel movements.

Investigating our BMs: Questions I Ask My 4-Year-Old

I can look at my own bowel movements. I’m still changing the 2-year-old’s diapers, so I get a daily peek into her digestive health. But with older children, there comes a point when they need a little privacy. If I don’t get a chance to look, here are some of the questions my son and I run through to find clues about his digestion [description of a healthy bowel movement in brackets]:

  • What color is it? [light brown]
  • What shape is it? Pebbles, a long snake, fluffy, watery, etc? [smooth, soft, like a snake]
  • Does it look the same all the way throughout? [it should]
  • How did it feel coming out? Was it easy, was it difficult, did it spray? [easy]
  • Can you see pieces of food in it? [no]
  • Did it sink or did it float? [float, flush easily]
  • Was it sticky when you wiped or did it come off your bummy easily? [wipe easily, if it needs to wipe at all]
  • How does it smell? [earthy like compost; should not smell foul]

Ways to Improve Bowel Movements

If your bowel movements are not optimal, there are a few steps you can take.

Diet. Yes, diet. If you are eating foods that are processed, inflammatory, or otherwise incompatible with your body (even if generally regarded as healthy), your bowels may be affected. Replacing them with whole, nutritious foods can make a world of difference.

Hydration. Water matters. You need water in the form of saliva as you chew and break down foods. You need water to move foods through your stomach and intestines. A good rule of thumb is to take your weight (in pounds), divide by 2, and drink that many fluid ounces. For instance, a 150-lb woman will drink 75 fluid ounces per day.

Position. Watch your small children run to a corner and eliminate; they are in a full squat rather than a sitting position. There is a muscle (Puborectalis muscle) that chokes the rectum to maintain continence. When you sit (on a toilet, for instance), the muscle partially relaxes, but is still being choked. When you squat, the muscle fully relaxes (i.e. stops choking the rectum), which allows for easier and more effective elimination.

Ever since learning about proper positioning, I”ve tried to balance my foot on the tub to get in a partial squat, because frankly, digging a hole or squatting on top of my toilet is still not in my range of options. If you feel likewise, you can also opt for the Squatty Potty*. I’m pleased to report the Squatty Potty is a much more stable solution than my makeshift tub-toilet-floor balancing routine, and consequently, our family has seen a notable improvement in bowel function and the elimination process.

Seek out a practitioner. If you can”t seem to get your bowels managed, seek out a qualified practitioner. A bug, parasite, or food intolerance is a pretty tough opponent, even for the cleanest diet on the planet, and you may need a little boost.

* I was kindly provided a 9″ bamboo Squatty Potty free of charge, and all opinions are honest and my own. I”m also very grateful to have both feet firmly planted on the stool rather than precariously on my bathtub.

What are your questions about bowel movements and healthy digestion?

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8 Comments

  1. When does this scale become effective? When children start solids or later. My oldest is 18 months old and I’ve wondered at times if she is allergic to dairy (we drink raw). When I’ve researched it, it seems as if her stools are normal compared to other children her age as it’s not always a 3 or 4 on the scale.

    Reply

    • Hi Gretchen, I’m not entirely sure when the scale becomes effective. We started using it as in indicator under the direction of our naturopathic doctor when my daughter was 17-months-old. He also requested a history of the previous months. Because of this, I am inclined to believe it is effective once the primary source of nutrition is food-based rather than breastmilk/formula-based (around 12 months for our children), though it’s possible it is effective even before then.

      If you have a gut feeling that your 18mo is sensitive to dairy, I would consider removing it for a minimum of 30 days and then reintroduce very slowly (ex: after 30+ days, allow her one small serving of yogurt and then wait 3 days before trying it again). It is often difficult to be sure about stools when comparing to other children because what is common is not always what is normal. Good luck to you.

      Reply

  2. What if my family has what would be considered unhealthy bowel movements almost all the time? I would say we are relatively healthy and eat mostly clean, whole foods….and have no allergies or sensitivities that we know of. Hmmm….

    Reply

    • Unhealthy bowel movements are a sign that there is some malfunction in the body. If I were in a similar situation and not planning to find a practitioner, I would strongly consider an elimination diet for my family. I would exclude all grains (including corn), legumes (including soy), sugar (including raw honey), dairy (including raw), and processed foods. Our family was also eating what I considered to be clean, whole foods, but we had several unknown sensitivities that cleared up countless symptoms in our bodies (indigestion, acne, anxiety, etc). I generally recommend the Whole30 as a starting point for many of my clients.

      Reply

  3. good post on poop!
    No seriously, really it is.
    It’s something we don’t want to talk about but we all do it!!!
    Ha ha!
    But you need to make it so we can anonymously post a question on this so we don’t get embarrassed. 🙂

    Reply

  4. […] 3. Constipation. The colon has the ability to recycle water from the feces–one of our survival mechanisms to combat dehydration. The colon squeezes water out of the feces to obtain more for the body to use. At this point, there is not enough lubricating mucus from the mucus membrane, making our bowel movements harder to pass and resulting in constipation. To learn more on this topic, see Potty Talk: A Primer on Bowel Movements and Digestive Health. […]

    Reply

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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