Cartoon from the perpetually awesome Natalie Dee
Constipation: Lots of people have it. No one talks about it. Yet everyone needs to poop. Indeed, I daresay that a decent dookie is one of life’s great pleasures – one everyone deserves to have, er, regularly.
Spending half my life in bathrooms, as I do now that Jelly Bean is officially in that potty trained phase known as “Her highness’ bowel whims rule all”, I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the nature of number two. Especially since now that I’ve stopped giving her a candy every time she goes off like a leaky sprinkler, she’s decided to stop pooping until I bring back her M&Ms. (Note: Has anyone ever contemplated the weirdness of giving a small chocolate candy to a child who has just pooped something the size and shape of a brown M&M? Just me?) I swear to you she’s constipating herself in the name of sugar and power struggles. And in toddler world constipation translates to lots of extra laundry. My life stinks right now. Literally. (And that’s not even counting all the times I’ve had to fish a brown barge out of the bathtub. With my bare hand.)
But it’s not just my Bean who’s having a hard time blowing the butt trumpet. I’ve had no less than four friends talk to me about their clogged-up colons in the past week. (And for all my friends who are right now having a panic attack – do not fear, I will not out you!) And these are all very health-conscious girls and guys, already eating mostly healthy diets, drinking water and doing all the “right” things. Why people get constipated is another post entirely but suffice it to say that whether it’s from stress, pregnancy, dietary changes or an M&M embargo, it happens to all of us at some point.
The problem with constipation is not necessarily the lack of poop. While occasionally you may build a brown bridge worthy of admiration (I canNOT tell you how many “brown bridges” I’ve had to “admire” before my kids would consent to flushing them), poo in and of itself is not that awesome. The real problem with not being able to drop a coin in the porcelain fountain (and making a wish, naturally) is all the crap that comes with your, um, crap. Bloating, pain, gas, indigestion and even anal fissures can result. So what’s a girl gotta do to get her rump pump dumping?
You should** probably start with the obvious things like cleaning up your diet, drinking plenty of water, exercising and not licking super glue off your fingers. But if you get to a point where, like my afflicted friends, you’re already basically doing every thing right, here are five more options to try:
Charlotte’s Tips** for a Comfy Colon (It’s a lucky girl who can alliterate her name with an anatomical function!)
1. Probiotics: I know. I suggest these for everything. They are, hands down, my fave supplement. I may be channeling my crazy hippie ancestors right now but I swear they are the one supplement that really works and works well. I became convinced of their efficacy when my 3rd son was hospitalized at 9 months old with a 108 (!!!) degree fever. They had to give him IV antibiotics for 5 days (so scary) which thankfully wiped out the infection but unthankfully also wiped out all his good gut bacteria. He got a nasty case of C. Diff and was pooping so much he squished every time I picked him up. The doctor prescribed probiotics and they worked within 24 hours. It was such a miracle I actually started crying at the pharmacy. Since then, anytime my kids even look like their tummies hurt, I either get them to swallow the pill or I break it open and sprinkle it on some applesauce for them. (Excerpt from a real First Grade Show and Tell: “My mommy loves white powder! She takes it every morning and says it makes her feel great. She makes me eat it too.” Awesome.) Good gut bacteria are necessary for proper gut functioning and that includes regular pooping. Of course you can also get your probiotics through fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. (Although for cases of diarrhea or actual illness I find the wide-spectrum supplements work the fastest and best.)
2. Magnesium. I started taking magnesium supplements (thanks to you guys’ advice!) for my PMS. While I found they did help ameliorate my cramping (they’re a natural muscle relaxant), I was surprised to discover how much they also, um, cleaned out my basement. While I still take some around the time I play Call of Duty: Endometrial Edition, I will also pop one if the basement pipes start to back up again. I don’t know how well these would work as a long-term solution, as it seems to me that my body acclimates to the dosage and you don’t want to OD, but they’re great for short-term help!
3. Miralax: It sounds like miraculous because, frankly, it is. This saved my son when he was so stressed out from potty training that we had to take him to the ER – he was in that much poop pain. After doing an abdominal X-Ray (where they shoved him inside the hospital equivalent of those air tubes you use at the bank drive-thru), they told me he had three months of poop backed up. It was so bad it had pushed his internal organs out of their proper places. Yeah, that was a proud mom moment. Anyhow, they prescribed Miralax (which you can now get over the counter, same strength) and he took it for two years. Yes, that’s how long it took to get his bowels functioning properly again. The great thing about Miralax is that it isn’t like a typical laxative. It’s safe to use every day, it’s gentle, doesn’t cause “blow-out” hershey squirts and because it’s a tasteless powder you can stir it into any food or drink. We’ve since used it in shorter stints on our other kids when they’ve gotten blocked up and it works great.
4. Herbal laxatives/teas/caffeine. There is a Gym Buddy who will remain nameless who swears by her daily infusion of a certain highly caffeinated soda to keep her regular. Likewise, my mother who is a nurse, calls coffee “the elderly enema.” Caffeine has known laxative properties. Other herbs, like Senna, are marketed as natural laxatives – usually either in pill, powder or tea form. And from my experience all of the above work… on a limited basis. You don’t want to be taking laxatives, natural or otherwise, every day. Nobody wants a complacent colon.
5. Reducing your fiber intake. Yeah you read that right. Traditional wisdom says that if you can’t bake a butt brownie on your own then you should up your fiber intake. And it’s not a bad idea to try – at least if my history with lentil soup is any evidence. (Yet another food that looks remarkably similar going out as it did going in. Thankfully it’s not as panic-worth as beets!) But a new study published last year in the World Journal of Gastroenterology found that for people suffering from chronic constipation, reducing or eliminating fiber intake not only helped them go colon bowlin’ but virtually cured them. The patients on the low- or no- fiber diet went from pooping once every six days to pooping once a day. The people who stayed on their high fiber diet? Stayed constipated. Even worse, 100% of high-fiber patients reported bloating and stomach discomfort while 48% of the low-fiber and 0% of the no-fiber group reported similar symptoms. Totally counter-intuitive, right? And I honestly have no idea why this was the case. The researchers are careful to point out that they’re not telling people to stop eating fibrous foods. Fiber is healthy and necessary. They simply concluded that for people who are already chronically constipated, fiber might be worsening their condition.
So, how do you make yourself do the dumpty dance: What are your tips to add to my list? What do you think about the fiber study findings? Anyone else ever had to pick up poo with their bare hands? And, please, please, tell me your fave euphemism for poop!
*In which I convince you I really am a 12-year-old boy by using loads (ha!) of terrible euphemisms for defecation.
** Insert warning about I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I have no medical training. I do stupid things to myself in the name of health on a regular basis. If you have any concerns you should always see your doctor. I’m just sharing some (what I think are safe and reasonable) tips that have worked for me (and my kids – their bowels are basically still my bowels).