Everybody poops, but for some people, going number two is not their number one moment of the day, especially when they have constipation. The unpleasant feeling of being backed up (including bloating and stomach pain) will make you want to look up how to make yourself poop ASAP.
To figure out how to get things moving again, you’ll first need to nail down the cause. FYI: Constipation can be the result of dehydration, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), poor diet, and taking various medications, says Jean Fox, MD, a gastroenterologist at Mayo Clinic. Pelvic floor dysfunction is also a very important (and often ignored) contributor, according to Dr. Fox.
Constipation is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal complaints in the United States—at least 2.5 million people see their doctor each year for this issue. Just to be clear, while everyone’s bowel habits is different (you can go once or twice a day, for example), constipation is typically when you’re passing fewer than three stools a week, per Dr. Fox.
Need quick and easy ways to get relief? Try one of the following doctor-approved tips to speed things up and get things moving again.
Meet the experts: Jean Fox, MD, is a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic. Christine Lee, MD, is a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
1. Load up on foods with fiber.
Fiber-rich foods with a high water content, such as raw carrots, apples with the peel on, and avocados, are all great sources of fiber to help get things moving, says Christine Lee, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
“When consumed, these foods create an osmotic gradient,” says Dr. Lee—that means they force more water to be pulled into the colon during digestion, which then helps ease and prevent constipation by getting things to flow a little more smoothly.
Add more of these fiber-rich foods to your plate if you’re struggling, says Bharat Pothuri, MD, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas.
- Baked beans
- Bran muffins
- Kidney beans
Kiwis can also do the trick. A recent study published by the University of Michigan showed that consuming two peeled kiwi fruit a day yielded similar results and were better tolerated by patients with constipation than fiber from either psyllium husk or prunes. “It is not clear why kiwi performed better because the fiber content is similar to prunes. There is some conjecture that it may be related to an enzyme called actinidin that is present in kiwi,” notes Dr. Fox.
2. Or, take a fiber supplement.
You can get the same effects from a psyllium husk fiber supplement, says Dr. Lee. Look for a daily supplemental dose of six to nine grams of fiber, which are available over the counter.
Just remember: Eating a nutritious diet, which should include some natural fiber found in food, is key, even if you decide to take a fiber supplement. You can’t just add a spoonful of Metamucil to a bottle of diet cola and expect your digestive system to work properly.
3. Drink some coffee—preferably *hot.*
This is often the first idea that comes to mind when faced with the dilemma of how to make yourself poop. Here’s some welcome news for caffeine lovers: Warm beverages in general, particularly a hot cup of coffee or tea in the morning, can help get things moving, says Dr. Lee. Coffee, in particular, is a must for anyone looking for how to poop immediately in the a.m. (especially runners, Dr. Lee notes, as it’s much more convenient to empty your stomach before you hit the pavement). The heat from the coffee can kick your gut into action, but the coffee itself and its high levels of caffeine are also “known to stimulate colon motility,” she says.
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Coffee can work warm or cold. But other cold caffeinated beverages, like iced tea or caffeinated sodas, won’t have the same effect.
4. Get a little exercise in.
Ever been in the middle of a run when you needed a bathroom—STAT? You’re not alone. That’s because “hiking, walking on uneven grounds, jogging, and biking can all increase your metabolism, which in turn increases intestinal motility,” says Dr. Lee.
Also important: If you’ve been busier than usual and have gotten into an exercise dry spell, it might be a clue as to why you’re not pooping as much as you’d like. Making sure to incorporate even short, regular workouts into your routine could be the secret solution you need, she says.
5. Try massaging your perineum—no, really.
A technique in which you massage your perineum (the stretch of skin that separates the vagina from your anus) by pushing repeatedly on the skin with your index and pointer finger can ease constipation because of the pressure points in that area, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Fun fact: Similarly, massaging the same area can help promote down-there relaxation during childbirth to prevent tearing, per the study.
In the study, participants who massaged the area to promote bowel movements experienced improved bowel function, compared to the group that didn’t do the hands-on technique. Also, 82 percent of those who used the technique said they’d continue to do so long after the study was over. While more research is needed, it’s definitely worth a try when you’re at your wit’s end trying to figure out how to make yourself poop.
6. Try an over-the-counter laxative.
Polyethylene glycol 3350 (a.k.a. MiraLAX) is made up of compounds that are not digestible and not absorbable—which means they cause a diarrheal effect, says Dr. Lee.
At lower doses, it can help prevent constipation, and at higher doses, it can induce diarrhea. So you can adjust the dose if you want to get things moving just slightly without them getting disastrous, she says.
7. Or try a prescription laxative if things get really bad.
Dr. Lee also recommends talking to your doctor about trying prescription laxatives if none of the other remedies work. “Prescription drugs are effective, but they can be expensive, so they should generally be left as a last resort after you’ve tried these other methods,” she says.
Another downside to laxatives: Your body can get used to them, so eventually you might not be able to go poop without them if you use them too often.
8. Try squatting over the toilet when you think you might be ready to go.
The squatting position can be mimicked by putting a stool under your feet to raise your knees up, says Peyton Berookim, MD, the director of the Gastroenterology Institute of Southern California in Los Angeles.
Squatting modifies the anatomy by relaxing the muscles in that area while also elevating the part of your colon that makes for easier emptying of the bowel. “The closer you are to a full squat, the easier it will be to poop,” he says.
9. Give yourself a belly rub.
Applying moderate pressure and massaging your abdomen in a clockwise direction can help you move your bowels, says Dr. Berookim. Colonic massage has been shown to improve constipation, he says.
This can be performed by applying moderate pressure along the horseshoe shape of the colon in your right lower quadrant. Then continue moving up to the rib cage, across the stomach, and underneath the ribs to your left lower quadrant, which is the point where stool is emptied.
10. Make sure you’re properly hydrated.
“One of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration,” says Dr. Berookim. “When the body is poorly hydrated, it will compensate by withdrawing water from the large intestine (colon) resulting in hard stools.”
A good rule of thumb is to drink one ounce of water for every two pounds of your body weight, he says.
11. Take a magnesium supplement.
Magnesium plays many crucial roles in the body—it supports energy production, as well as muscle and nerve function, but it can also help with constipation. “A magnesium supplement (400-800 mg daily) is safe for constipation in patients with normal kidney function,” says Dr. Fox. “This works as an osmotic laxative, drawing water into the bowel to provide a soft stool mass and increase bowel action.”
You can also get magnesium from food sources such as almonds, beans, fortified foods, leafy greens, milk, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
12. Get a stool softener.
“A stool softener helps ease the passage of stools and can take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours to work,” explains Dr. Pothuri. “It allows the passage of water and fat into the stool matter and hence allows the stool to pass easier through the colon. He recommends the stool softener Docusate.
You should take it with water and it’s generally safe for most people to use. But you may experience abdominal cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Some rare side effects include a rash, shortness of breath, and wheezing.
Docusate should not be used on a daily basis, says Dr. Pothuri, as you can become dependent on it. The maximum daily dose is 400 mg, he adds.
13. Avoid foods that may cause constipation.
Foods like dairy products, fatty and fried food, persimmons, and white bread can contribute to constipation. You’ll also want to limit red meats because they are low in fiber and generally high in fat, while alcohol can cause both diarrhea and constipation, says Dr. Pothuri. “Patients who drink excessive alcohol tend to be dehydrated and alcohol is also a diuretic, which means we need to urinate more often further compounding the problem,” he explains.
Another common culprit? Chocolate. It contains cocoa, which is a natural diuretic, and most products are rich in fat, milk, and sugar. All three of these ingredients can cause your GI system to become backed up, so if you are a chocolate lover, enjoy it mindfully.
14. Sip herbal tea.
“Many herbal teas have been shown to help with constipation,” says Dr. Pothuri. Senna is the most well-known of these teas. It acts as a stimulant laxative, which encourages the muscles in the intestine to work to have a bowel movement. Ginger is best known for treating nausea, but can also help with constipation.
Dandelion root contains inulin, which is a dietary fiber, and prebiotics, while chamomile and peppermint helps relax the intestines and keeps things moving. Another type of herbal tea, licorice root keeps your intestinal muscles moving.
One you may not be as familiar with is parsley, which increases sodium and water within the colon to provide bowel movement, explains Dr. Pothuri.