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Talking about bowel movements is embarrassing, but you’ve got to do it

Bowel Movements Conversations are Embarrassing, But You’ve Got To Do It

Yesterday I was visiting a friend who has two young children, one of whom is a toddler that’s still in nappies. We were happily playing with some blocks when he got up and started running around saying “poo poo poo poo” over and over again. No embarrassment, no concern. And it didn’t concern the rest of us either. Toddlers need a lot of help in that area and it’s something that is considered perfectly okay to talk about.

But as we get older, things start to change. Young children are rather fascinated by poo and will happily tell you about the big one they produced after going to the toilet. But slowly that fascination ends (for most people) and they stop telling everyone that’s what they did. Even more so with girls, who are meant to smell nice and not have ‘nasty’ habits.

While there’s no need for most people to talk about their bowel movements on a daily basis, there are times when it’s important that we do. And this embarrassment of talking about bowel movements can get in the way of people receiving the help they need to make their IBS better.

One of the defining characteristics of IBS is bowel movements. Some people mostly experience constipation, some people mostly experience diarrhea, some people routinely switch back and forth between the two, and some people have no regular pattern and have very random bowel movements.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t quite know what is normal and what isn’t. And that’s where the real problem lies. If you don’t realize that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal, you don’t seek help. But since we stop talking about toilet habits as we get older, we stop understanding what’s normal and what isn’t.

What is a normal bowel movement?

A ‘perfect’ bowel movement, according to the Bristol Stool Scale, is sausage-like and smooth, and is soft to pass. But most people won’t have bowel movements like that every single day. It’s also okay to have a sausage-like poo that isn’t quite so smooth and has some cracks on the surface, so long as it’s still easy to pass. And on the other side, it’s also okay to pass smaller soft blobs that are still distinct pieces, rather than being a long sausage, so long as it’s not mush.

If your bowel movement goes on either side of this, then it’s considered ‘abnormal’ and could indicate a problem. For instance, if it’s really lumpy and hard to pass, that’s constipation. On the other side, if it’s very mushy or watery, then that’s diarrhea.

What does an ‘abnormal’ bowel movement mean?

Experiencing constipation or diarrhea occasionally isn’t a concern because bowel movements do change from day to day based on what you eat, how much fluid you drink and how healthy your body is. But if you constantly experience constipation or diarrhea, or if your bowel movements regularly switch between them and are rarely in the ‘normal’ category, then it’s time to talk to a doctor.

Abnormal bowel habits don’t always mean you have IBS and can sometimes indicate other more serious conditions, so please don’t self-diagnose. Instead, feel confident talking to your doctor and other health professionals about it. Tell them what’s going on. They’re trained to listen to this, even if everyone else prefers not to talk about it. And even if you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing is normal, that’s fine too. Start the conversation by asking “is this normal?” and then telling them what’s going on. It might feel a little embarrassing at first, but it’s the only way you’ll get answers.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Rann1950
    3 years ago

    Your post made me laugh and cringe at the same time. As I was babysitting my Granddaughter (2 year old toddler) yesterday, “poo” came up many times. She is beginning to recognize the feeling but confuses “poo” with passing gas.

    What makes me cringe is the ever present difficulty I have discussing my bowel issues with my doctor. Sometimes if feels as if she is looking at me but not listening. Maybe when doctors treat bowel problems every day it is hard to feel and show empathy to their patients who exhibit the desperation and difficulty coping with IBS-D.

    As far as family and friends are concerned, there is no subtle way to explain the pain we endure with intestinal cramping, sudden urges, rectal pain and general misery IBS-D causes. My sweetheart will ask how my “behinder” feels and he is trying to understand my limits with food and the need to be ever cognizant of the nearest restroom location when we are at restaurants, shopping and traveling. He is the one person who I can confide in when I feel like I am passing razor blades or when it feels like someone lit a blow torch on my anus. He knows we have to find soft seating to accommodate the rectal pain. He is following my eating plan as much as possible but still enjoys a few of my no-no’s including ice cream and the ever delicious burger complete and fries. I have adapted to a bun-less burger life and a side salad instead of fries. I always ask for gluten-dairy free options in restaurants.

    My family’s support and the support of this community at has given me more confidence in approaching my doctors and has helped me not feel so alone in my life with IBS-D.

  • Glenda Bishop, RNutr PhD author
    3 years ago

    I’ve had that same feeling from doctors before too and have sometimes felt like they aren’t always paying attention or wanting to talk about bowel movements. If that happens, I normally pause for a moment until they look up at me and pay attention and then start talking again in a very direct manner. This strategy makes it clear that I insist on being heard and they will normally engage properly in the conversation. Actually it’s a good strategy for any time that someone isn’t giving you the attention you need or is making you feel dismissed.

  • Cindyj
    3 years ago

    I’m still confused quite literally! I have been diagnosed with Colitis , but I take medication for IBS-D. To me these are the same diseases , yet I’ve been told they are similar but different .. such a confusing feeling when I say I have IBS-D which is not a disease but a function disorders (yes I was told this ) .. by Govt when I filed for social security to get me thru a seriously hard time .. I was denied due to being able to function on a daily bases .. or so they say lol

  • Chris Hall moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Cindyj,

    That sounds really frustrating! Sorry to hear about your denial. While IBS and colitis may share similar symptoms, the main difference is that colitis is an inflammation of the colon. Here is a helpful article that explains the similarities and differences between IBS and colitis (IBD):

    I hope you find this useful! Thanks for commenting.

    -Chris, Team Member

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