Key Take aways:
- Poop is gross, but it's also really useful in understanding our own, and our child's health
- Getting familiar with a few ideas can help you and your child understand your body better
- Poop shape, color, and texture all tell us different things
when you might need this article: Knowing the nitty-gritty details of what your child's poop means is in no way a prerequisite for starting potty training. If you are just starting to learn about potty training or have already started doing it, this article may not serve you right now. It may actually be information overload.
With that said, the contents of this article are super important for your child's health and even your own. Knowing about our poop is an incredible tool for evaluating our overall physical and even mental health. And, teaching your child (and yourself) to be aware of their body and its functions is extremely valuable. But it doesn't have to happen today or even tomorrow. Feel free to bookmark this article for another day until you are ready to deep dive into all things poop.
article summary: Let's talk about poop. Everyone loves poop. Or, if they don't, they should. Why? Because poop is an incredible window into your overall health. But most of us don't look at poop that way. We think it's gross (which, okay, it is), and then we flush it away ASAP. As a parent, you have likely become pretty invested in your child's poop. After all, you see it, smell it, and wipe it every day. But, once your child starts using the potty on their own, you won't see it every day, so it becomes harder to monitor their gut health. Even if you could, you may not know what their poop is even telling you (let alone your own). You, as a parent, need to help your child learn about their body and teach them how to interpret and communicate about their bathroom habits. So, let's have a real, frank conversation about poop so you can keep a close eye on your child's (and your own) digestive health. We know you're intrigued.
- Poop is made up mostly of water and bacteria - not food! About 75% of poop is water, whereas the remaining 25% is a combination of bacteria, fiber, old cells, and mucous.
- The average digestive system takes 7 seconds to pass food from the esophagus to the stomach, so give yourself a few seconds in between bites! It also takes up to 72 hours for food to go from your stomach to the toilet.
- The number of times people poop each day varies by person and even by culture. Some people go three times a day and others go once every three days. (As long as you go at least once every 3 days, your good to go).
- Bile, food, and medications primarily determine the color of our poop.
- Different diets yield different poop, thus poop consistency and firmness can vary across cultures.
- Don’t try this at home, but fecal transplants are an effective way to introduce healthy bacteria into a gut and may be used on people struggling with harmful gut infections like c. difficile.
To identify poop textures, health providers use the Bristol Stool Chart. Developed in the late 1990s as a clinical assessment tool by the Bristol Royal Infirmary in England, this stool chart helps health providers and their patients talk about poop using images and pictures.
Per the stool chart, there are 7 main texture types we use when we talk about poop. Poop texture is influenced by numerous things, including what we eat, how hydrated we are, how fast our intestines are pushing food through our guts, medications, hormones, and stress.
Here are the following forms your stool may take when you eliminate it from your body:
People can also have fatty or mucousy stool (which usually falls under type 6). Having mucous in your stool can indicate a dietary issue, like too much fat or sugar, and it can also signal an infection, bacterial imbalance, or inflammation.
The color of our poop is primarily determined by the amount of bile we secrete and the accumulation of old red blood cells (RBCs). Bile is a greenish fluid secreted by the liver to help our digestive tracts digest fat. As you may imagine, the more fat in your diet, the more bile you will secrete. The normal brown color of poop also comes from a chemical called stercobilin, a by-product of both bile and old red blood cells. Some people who have very light-colored poop may have an imbalance in their bile production versus their fat intake (i.e., they cannot fully absorb the fat in their foods).
Bear in mind that color can also be influenced by what we eat. For example, any parent who has ever let their kids decorate cookies with blue frosting will undoubtedly see the evidence a few hours or days later. Blue poop is real, folks. Also, if you really want to get weird, eat a ton of red beets or red velvet cake, and you may be worried about a GI bleed. (Rest assured, it is just the red coloring in the foods that turns your poop red). Also, does your kid love colorful cereal like Fruit Loops? Yea, that too can make poop look odd.
Now, silliness aside, there are poop colors that are concerning. Black poop and red poop (unrelated to eating foods with red hues or licorice and other supplements/medications) are the most concerning because that means you are bleeding somewhere in your digestive system. Black poop unrelated to diet and medications indicates you have a GI bleed somewhere in your upper digestive system. It turns black because of how the components of your blood mix with your digestive juices. Red poop means you have a lower intestinal or rectal bleed. Both of these require immediate medical attention.
Your poop can also be green, yellow, or gray. Each of these colors (again, unrelated to diet) is usually the result of too much bile, too little bile, or too much fat in your diet.
Poop and Diet
They say you are what you eat. Well, that is certainly true for your poop. Food obviously makes up a good chunk of the bulk of your poop, but it also influences the bacteria living in your gut. And remember, we excrete millions of bacteria with each defecation. Certain foods also make pooping easier whereas others make it hard to go. Here we look at what foods help you have healthy poop and common dietary issues that can negatively affect your time in the bathroom.
Foods for healthy poop
Fiber is everything when it comes to poop. Also known as bulk or roughage, fiber is the part of plants our bodies cannot digest. It stays mostly intact as it moves through the digestive system and is relatively easy to pass. So, if our bodies can’t digest fiber, why do we even need it?
Fiber is essential for helping your digestive tract with a number of things, but mainly it serves as food for the good bacteria living in your gut (which we need to keep healthy), and it also helps regulate bowel movements. Dietary fiber increases the size of your stool, as well as the weight so it passes easier, making you less likely to struggle with constipation.
You can find fiber in many fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Opt for wholesome fibers as opposed to those that may be found in food like canned fruit, pulp-free juices, and non-whole grain cereals -- these items do not contain as much fiber and often go through more refinement and contain added sugars.
Pooping is an essential part of our health. It is a way we can check in with our physical (and mental and emotional) selves every day. Here are some tips to maximize your time on the potty that are important to impart on your child as well.
- Leave the electronics at the door. Or phone is one of the grossest things we interact with every day, and taking it to the bathroom only increases your risk for carrying fecal matter around in your pocket.
- On that same drumbeat, keep other entertainment items out of the bathroom, like books and magazines. If you need reading material on the john, you need a gastrointestinal doctor more. Sitting in the position for that long, and straining, leads to hemorrhoids. (Also, those items can carry fecal matter, too.)
- Consider getting a footstool to raise your knees above the level of the seat in case you are struggling to go. Our ancestors pooped squatting down, so our colons and rectums are more likely to evacuate when we are in a deep squat as opposed to sitting with our legs dangling.
- Don’t over-analyze your poop, but do take note of it when you go so you can make adjustments to your diet as needed.
- Go when you need to go, don’t try to hold it.
- Try to get your body on a schedule where you go at the same time every day, like after breakfast or in the afternoon. Whatever your body naturally does, try to accommodate that rhythm into your schedule.
Tips for avoiding constipation
- Fiber - Fiber will help increase your stool size and help it pass more easily. Increase your fiber intake slowly so your body can adjust to it. Eating too much fiber all at once can lead to gas and bloating.
- Magnesium - As one of the most abundant minerals in our body, magnesium plays a vital role in regulating our bowels. If you are prone to constipation, consider adding a magnesium mix or supplement to your diet.
- Exercise - Regular physical activity is essential for keeping your bowels moving food along. If you find your bowels are becoming sluggish, add more exercise to your daily schedule.
- Water - Our poop is 75% water. We need water to lubricate the stool and our digestive tracts. Make sure you drink plenty of plain ol’ water each day to keep things moving along.
Tips for avoiding diarrhea
- Decrease fat intake - Our bodies can have a hard time digesting fat, especially saturated fats. We need the right amount of bile to break down those tough-to-separate molecules. Some people find that after eating a high-fat diet, they have diarrhea.
- Decrease sugar in your diet - Sugar decreases the number of good bacteria we have in our guts. Regrettably, the more we eat it, the more our bodies crave it, so people often struggle to curb sugar intake or nix it altogether. Many studies point to high intakes of refined sugars causing inflammation, as well. Gut inflammation and an unhealthy balance in your gut bacteria are likely to cause problems with diarrhea. Keep in mind, alcohol contains tons of sugar and can also contribute to diarrhea.
- Curb stress - Have you ever found that a highly stressful event gives you diarrhea? Much research has been dedicated to studying the gut-brain axis in the past decade. This axis suggests there is a bidirectional line of communication between our neurohormones and signals given off by the bacteria living in our gut. Chronic stress and even short-term stress can lead to changes in the balance of bacteria residing in your gut. If the balance sways in the direction of not-so-good-for-you bacteria, it can lead to a slew of problems, including diarrhea, inflammation, and mood issues. Incorporate some stress-relieving activities and see what unnecessary tasks you can cut out of your daily schedule to keep your gut and mind healthy.
- Timely exercise -Movement is super important, but it is best to wait a bit for your meal to settle. Physical activity quickens your digestive tract, so eating right before exercise can force you to hit the bathroom mid-workout.
- Avoid allergens and food sensitivities - There is a big difference between an [allergy and food sensitivity](https://www.aaaai.org/Tools-for-the-Public/Allergy,-Asthma-Immunology-Glossary/Food-Intolerance-Defined#:~:text=A food intolerance%2C or a,mislabeled as a food allergy.). An allergen initiates a histaminic response all over the body that can be life-threatening in some individuals. Foods like eggs, nuts, cow's milk, or shellfish should be avoided entirely if you are allergic. A food sensitivity is something that triggers an unpleasant response in your GI tract, like cramping or diarrhea. One of the most common food sensitivities is lactose, a sugar found in many dairy products. People often lose the enzyme necessary to help break down lactose as they get older, so it is common for people to have gas, bloating, and diarrhea when they eat lactose. It is best to avoid foods that cause an unpleasant response as well.
If you or your child are struggling with anything related to poop, it is important to talk with a health provider. Sometimes, all it takes is simple lifestyle adjustments, whereas other times, it may mean you need medication, a bowel regimen, or mental health support.
By now, you have hopefully realized how vital poop is for our health. But, the way we talk about poop, approach it, and how we feel about it makes it seem like a grossly abnormal bodily function. We have to normalize poop, especially for our kids. It is not uncommon for both children and adults to have poop anxiety. It is also par for the course for children and adults to struggle with poop issues, like constipation and pain.
So often, we see people cracking jokes about poop, calling it names, making fun of people who poop in public...whatever, the list goes on. Just remember, your kid is absorbing all of this information and is filing it away in their brain as a file titled: Do not talk about this because people will make fun of me.
As parents, we have to make it okay for our children to talk to us about poop. We also have to be open to talking about it with our child’s pediatrician because your child will be watching you and learning that this is okay to share these health details with your health provider. Making this vital bodily function a taboo subject is detrimental to your child’s health and yours.
A few tips to help your kid learn about their poop:
- Give it a name and stick with it - Your child is learning so much when they start potty training. Being consistent with what you call poop helps reduce confusion. Remember, this word will likely be tossed around among friends and in public spaces, so make sure you are comfortable with your child yelling whatever word you choose to call poop.
- Educate them about their poop from the very beginning - Have your child look at their poop before you flush it away. Teach them what their poop means and give them words to describe their poop. For example, let them know if they have diarrhea, why it happens, talk about how it feels, and what they can do about it.
- Talk to them about how their diet influences their poop - Help your child make this important connection between the food they eat and their diet as early as possible. If they have been struggling with constipation, talk to them about how eating yummy apricots can help them go more easily.
All right, that's all for now. We're pooped.