How Often Should You Poop? How to Relieve Constipation

Medically Reviewed By Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH
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There is no singular definition of how often you should pass stool. There are different definitions of a healthy frequency for people. Focus on whether you experience discomfort or other symptoms with your bowel movements. This article will explain more about how often you should poop, what things could affect how often you have bowel movements, when to contact a doctor, and other information about constipation. 

How often should you poop per week? 

A child is sat on a toilet
Kelly Knox/Stocksy United

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), it can be healthy to have at least three bowel movements per week. 

In addition to how often you poop, it is important to pay attention to the quality of the stool. Bowel movements should not be:

  • hard
  • painful
  • dry or lumpy

Bowel movements should also not leave you feeling like you did not fully empty your bowels.

Learn more about incomplete bowel movements here.

Does pooping less often per week mean I am constipated?

There is no one number of how often you should poop per week. Experts only define constipation as bowel movements occurring fewer than three times per week and the bowel movements being:

  • hard
  • dry
  • difficult to pass
  • painful

Constipation also involves other symptoms such as feeling bloated, uncomfortable, or like you cannot pass the entire bowel movement. 

In other words, constipation is not just about how often you poop, but what your poop looks and feels like, too. 

Everyone is different, and a usual frequency could range from several times a day to only several times per week. Everything from food to your menstrual cycle to culture to medical conditions could affect how often you poop.

Learn more about what can cause constipation here.

How often should you poop while pregnant?

Pregnancy can change your bowel movement habits because of pressure on the digestive tract due to a fetus’s size or an increase in the progesterone hormone, which slows down digestion.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) explains that constipation is typical during pregnancy, especially near the end of pregnancy. Just like in nonpregnant states, it is not as important how often you pass stool during pregnancy as it is what your stools look like. 

As long as you have bowel movements at least three times per week and they do not cause a lot of discomfort, there is likely no reason to worry. 

How often should you poop after gastric bypass surgery?

Constipation can be a common problem after gastric bypass surgery, both immediately after the procedure and more long-term as well. 

If you do not pass stool 2–3 days after your surgery, contact your doctor.

Additionally, if constipation continues to be a problem in the months after your surgery, reach out to your doctor. 

How to maintain healthy stools

A healthy bowel movement is typically:

  • formed, but not too dry
  • brownish in color
  • easily passable without too much straining
  • without blood or mucus 
  • complete, meaning you do not have to pass several bowel movements to feel like you emptied your bowels 

Some medications or other factors can change your stool’s appearance. As always, if you have any concerns, talk with your doctor.

Your doctor may use a tool called the Bristol Stool Chart to categorize your stool’s appearance and help screen for any problems. 

There are seven types of stool on the Bristol Stool Chart:

  • Type 1: small pieces of hard stool, like pellets
  • Type 2: lumpy and sausage-shaped stool
  • Type 3: stool looks like a sausage with cracks on it
  • Type 4: long and smooth stool
  • Type 5: soft, small, disconnected pieces of stool
  • Type 6: small, soft, mushy pieces of stool with uneven edges
  • Type 7: pure liquid stool
The Bristol Stool Chart categorises the consistency of stool into seven types
Illustration by Diego Sabogal

When to contact a doctor for constipation

Contact a doctor if you have fewer than three bowel movements per week and have other symptoms, such as pain, discomfort, or hard and dry stools that are difficult to pass. 

Also, contact a doctor if you notice:

Learn more about when to see a doctor for constipation relief here.

Tips to relieve constipation

You can help relieve constipation by: 

Drinking more water

Without enough water in your body, stool can become extremely dry, hard, and compact. It can also get stuck in the digestive system. Drinking more water can help your stools pass more easily through your digestive system.

Eating more fiber-rich foods

Foods high in fiber can help bulk up stool and help it move through the digestive tract. Aim for 25 grams of fiber every day. Some foods that are rich in fiber include: 

  • whole grains like lentils 
  • beans
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • fruits like apples, bananas, and raspberries
  • split peas

Staying physically active

Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement per day when possible.

Using a temporary laxative

Laxatives and stool softeners can be temporary solutions, but always talk with a doctor before using them or if you have been using them long-term. Long-term use can actually damage your body’s ability to pass stool on its own. 

Training your bowels

Bowel training can help train your body to go at regular times per day. You can bowel train by sitting on the toilet at the same time every day until your body learns it is time to go as a habit. 

Medical treatment options

Along with lifestyle modifications, medical treatment may be appropriate for some people with bowel issues. For instance, the NIDDK notes that medical treatments could include:

Medications

Some medications that you can use to treat constipation include:

  • Lubiprostone: increases fluid in the digestive tract to help make stools softer
  • Linaclotide (plecanatide): can be helpful in cases of irritable bowel syndrome with constipation
  • Prucalopride: helps the colon move stool more effectively

It may also be helpful to change a current medication regimen that contributes to constipation. 

Biofeedback therapy

This therapy can retrain your muscles to help you have a bowel movement. 

Learn more about biofeedback therapy here.

Surgery

In severe cases, doctors may recommend surgery for constipation relief. 

What might cause constipation in the long term? 

Short-term constipation is common and will happen to most people. Factors such as travel, stress, pregnancy, illness, or a change in bowel habits can cause temporary constipation.  

Long-term constipation may have other causes, such as:

  • celiac disease
  • neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism 
  • inflammation
  • obstructions in the intestine
  • problems with the digestive tract
  • slow stool movement
  • pelvic floor disorders that cause delayed emptying of the colon
  • irritable bowel syndromes
  • certain medications such as antiseizure medications, diuretics, narcotics, and certain antidepressants 

How can I prevent constipation?

To best prevent constipation, you may want to manage any health conditions you have and follow basic healthy lifestyle steps, including:

  • getting enough sleep
  • staying hydrated
  • eating a balanced diet with fiber-rich foods
  • being physically active

Summary

There is no one usual frequency when it comes to how often you should poop. Everyone is different, and things such as medications, lifestyle, food, and even travel and menstrual cycles can impact how often you go.

Technically speaking, experts define constipation as having less than three bowel movements per week and having stool that is hard, dry, and difficult to pass. What your stool looks like and what symptoms happen when you poop are more important than how often you poop.

In other words, even if you do not have many bowel movements, as long as your bowel movements are soft and pass without difficulty, you are probably not constipated. 

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Medical Reviewer: Alana Biggers, M.D., MPH
Last Review Date: 2022 Jun 27
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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  4. Definition of constipation. (n.d.) https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/constipation 
  5. Judkins, T. C., et al. (2020). Stool frequency and form and gastrointestinal symptoms differ by day of the menstrual cycle in healthy adult women taking oral contraceptives: A prospective observational study. https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-020-01000-x
  6. What can help with constipation during pregnancy? (2020). https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/ask-acog/what-can-help-with-constipation-during-pregnancy