What is a normal bowel movement? Bowel movements are a vital health function, and if most people monitored their bowel movements on a daily basis, a lot if abdominal illness and disease would be diagnosed early. The problem is that for most of us, that’s not something we actively think about or pay attention to– in fact, if anything, we try not to think about it.
There’s an old school of thought that says that you should have one bowel movement a day. That’s an assumption, because not all people can or will. Some people have up to 3 bowel movements a day and they are completely healthy. Others will have 3 movements a week and they are healthy too.
Your bowel movements are largely a result of your eating habits. If you eat more, for instance, you are going to have more bowel movements in a day. Remember that feeling you get when you over-eat, about 20 minutes after you’re done? Your body can sense that you’ve stretched things a bit and you need to create some room, so it will ask you to have a bowel movement. On the other hand, if you regularly eat 3 meals a day and then you skip 1 or 2, you might notice that you have fewer bowel movements.
All these are within the normal range. Your body is working with what it’s got. You should get concerned if you have less than 3 bowel movements a week; it could be a sign of constipation.
You should also take note of very loose bowel movements. It’s an indication of diarrhoea, maybe something caused by a stomach infection. Also look at the thinness of your stool. You know how thick your stool usually is so if you get thinner than normal for a few days in a row, it could mean that there is an obstruction in your colon.
Bowel movements should also not be accompanied by cramping – that’s a classic sign that something is not right. You should simply get the urge to go, and then make sure that you do. There are many of us who ignore the urge to have a bowel movement because we are not in the right place. You’re inviting constipation; true, it’s not always possible to have a bowel movement each time you have the urge, but try as much as possible to obey it. When you hold on to stool too long, it gets more and more dehydrated and harder to pass.
Some people will ask what healthy stool looks like. At your healthiest, you will have stool that is brown and that floats in the toilet. There are things which can interfere with that, like alcohol, but if you notice that your stools are too dark or too light and sink to the bottom, then you might want to check if there is a problem. Normal stools are also soft enough to pass without any discomfort. If you feel some discomfort, it’s a sign that you may be developing constipation.
There is no standard bowel movement that can be recommended as the best or the one that shows that someone is healthy, but so long as you are regular, have no blood in your stool and your stool looks at it should, you are ok. Any changes, especially if they last more than a week, should be investigated.