5 Steps for a Comfortable Bowel Movement

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Self-Care Tips for Easy BMs

Smiling, happy woman
There is nothing quite like the smile of satisfaction after having a successful trip to the bathroom. OJO Images/OJO Images/Getty Images

For many of us, our plumbing is a total mystery. Our bodies just seem to do what they do, often with no discernible rhyme nor reason. Therefore, it might surprise you to learn that you actually have more control over the quality of your bowel movements then you might have ever thought. Follow these steps and your trips to the bathroom will be sure to feel more satisfying. 

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1. Drink Enough Water

Man drinking from a large bottle of water
Drinking lots of water helps to make stool soft and easy to pass!. Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images

The process of having a comfortable bowel movements doesn't begin when you step into the bathroom. You want to be thinking about getting your stool in optimal condition for an easy passage. This means that what you put in your body today has a lot to do with what comes out of it tomorrow. Therefore, your first step toward that awesome BM is to make sure you are drinking plenty of water. 

Every cell in our body needs water in order to function. Our bodies get the water that it needs through liquids that we drink and the foods that we eat. Most of the water that we consume is absorbed into the body from our stomachs.

What does water have to do with bowel movements? If we don't consume enough water, our bodies turn to the large intestine to get the water it needs for all of its cells. It pulls water out of the forming stool, which can lead to harder, more difficult-to-pass stools. And, for some weird reason, the body is less likely to want to have a bowel movement when stools are too hard. Your takeaway: Drink water!

It is recommended that men drink approximately 13 cups (3 liters) of water each day and that women drink 9 cups (2.2 liters). For a more personalized estimate, see: 

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2. Eat the Right Foods

Vegetables and fruit on a counter for a salad.
Create nice soft stools by eating plenty of vegetables and fruits. Ann Taylor-Hughes/E+/Getty Images

What comes in, must come out. In order to have a comfortable, satisfying trip to the bathroom, you want to be sure that you are eating the right foods. This includes lots of vegetables, some fruit, lean protein, and healthy fats. These foods are not just good for your overall health, but also play a huge role in keeping your digestive system humming. 

It has a lot to do with fiber...

Fiber is the part of plant food that we can't digest. Thus it makes up the framework for the stools that we pass during bowel movements. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains contain soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water, turning kind of gel-like and thus giving stool a soft foundation. Insoluble fiber doesn't dissolve in water, thus providing bulk to the stool and keeping it moist. Both types of fiber are essential for good-looking stools - so, like my grandmother always said, "Eat your roughage!"

...But it's not just about the fiber.

Eating healthy foods is also essential for ensuring a healthy balance of your gut bacteria - and the health of your gut bacteria has a lot to do with the comfort of your bowel movements. Our gut bacteria play a role in the speed of the movements of our large intestines. An unhealthy balance in your gut bacteria can contribute to speed problems. Too fast, and you are more likely to experience diarrhea. Too slow, and you are likely to experience constipation. So eat healthy and keep your gut bacteria happy!

What Not to Eat

You wouldn't put bad fuel into your car and then expect it to run smoothly. Our bodies are no different. Junk food and greasy, fatty foods are going to upset your gut bacteria and cause stronger gut contractions - contractions that could lead to diarrhea urgency. Keep your engine running smoothly by only consuming good, wholesome, nutritious foods.

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3. Get Your Timing Right

Woman at work checking her watch
It is important to honor your body's clock when it comes to the best time for bowel movements. JGI/Jamie Grill/Blend Images/Getty Images

The best time for a bowel movement is the time your body wants to have a bowel movement. That said, there are some things you can do to make the whole process seem less random:

1. Pay attention to patterns.

Over the next several days, pay attention to when your body is most likely to send you the signal that it is "time to go." Bodies tend to  have their own bio-rhythms. Tapping into your own internal clock is going to help the process go much more smoothly.  For many people, this is the morning, but this is by no means a hard and fast rule.

2. Make the time.

As inconvenient as it may be with the rest of your life, when your body is ready to go, you should try to go. If you tend to be a "morning person", make sure that you wake up in time to allow yourself time for your bathroom visit. Optimal bowel movements happen when you are responsive to inner cues.

3. Use public restrooms.

Don't let embarrassment get in the way of your health. Public restrooms are there for a reason - because elimination is a part of everyone's life. Yes, there are smells and noises, but no one is going to judge you as a person because you went "Number Two." Waiting until you get home to evacuate can lead to hemorrhoids and possibly, chronic problems with constipation.

4. Get things moving.

If you know that it is "that time of the day", there are a few things that you can do to help your body to "get into the mood":

  • Eat a large meal, preferably with some healthy fat. Large meals and dietary fat can help to stimulate your body's gastrocolic reflex - a reflex in which eating triggers movement within your digestive system.
  • Drink some hot liquid. Although there is no definitive answer as to why this is the case, drinking a hot cup of coffee, tea, or just hot water with lemon, may also get that gastrocolic reflex going.
  • Exercise! Anyone who has ever owned a dog can tell you that a brisk walk can be quite effective in stimulating the urge to poop.

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4. Relax and Let It Happen

Small child reading a book on the toilet
You are more likely to have a comfortable bowel movement if you are relaxed while sitting on the toilet. Darcy Reynard/Moment/Getty Images

You would think that we wouldn't need instructions for something that everyone does pretty much every day, but there are a few tips for enhancing your success level.

Don't strain.

Don't feel that you need to work at your bowel movements. Sit back, relax, take some deep breaths. Your body knows what it needs to do. Don't feel that you need to push and strain to get the stool out. All that generally accomplishes is that you push some anal tissue out and risk the development of a hemorrhoid. Your mantra can be one that I overheard watching a couple of city slickers try to launch a boat off of a trailer for the first time, "Let it happen, Cap'n!"

Don't feel that you need to empty out every last drop.

Many people feel that they need to keep going until they are empty. This strategy can backfire (excuse the pun!). What needs to come out is the part that has been stored, ready to go, in your rectum, the last part of your large intestine. The "holy grail" of bowel movements is a soft but firm banana-shaped stool. If you have successfully passed such a stool and your body is starting to quiet in terms of urges, you can consider yourself done. To encourage further stool to come out means that you are releasing softer, watery stool - stool that is supposed to hang around inside of you longer so as to be better firmed up for tomorrow's bowel movement.

Extra Credit: ​Think about squatting.

Some people believe that using a squatting position helps to ease the process of defecating. Certainly, we evolved as a species without the luxury of toilet bowls. You can try propping your feet up with some large books. Alternatively, there are products available that turn your regular toilet into a squatting toilet.

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5. The Clean Up

Man washing his hands
Be sure to clean your hands well, including between the fingers, after using the toilet. jo unruh/E+/Getty Images

Don't neglect basic hygiene once you have finished up with your bowel movement:

  1. Be gentle with your butt:  In order to avoid irritation and infection, be sure to clean the area surrounding your anus thoroughly. Using toilet paper, wipe gently from front to back, switching to new paper as necessary, until it comes up clean. Don't rub harshly. Flush-able wipes are a comfortable option, but remember, they are not really flush-able! If you choose to use flush-able wipes at home, keep a closed container next to the toilet in which to discard the wipes after use.
  2. Close the seat when flushing: This will ensure that no nasty germs go flying around the bathroom.
  3. Wash your hands thoroughly: Use soap and water and sing the "Happy Birthday" song to yourself twice. 

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