Bowel function

Digestive system and large bowel (colon) 

The bowel is part of our digestive system. Digestion is the process whereby food is broken down so that all the goodness (nutrients) can be absorbed. The waste matter which the body cannot use is expelled as faeces (also known as ‘poo’ or ‘stool’). Digestion begins in the mouth and ends with a bowel movement through the anus.

Digestion takes between 24 -72 hours depending on lots of factors including the type of food, your metabolism, if you are taking medication and what medical conditions (if any) you may have.

What is normal bowel function? 

Bowel movement involves the gastro-colic reflex. This is a normal response which occurs after eating a meal. It stimulates the urge to move the bowels, helping to make room for more food in the digestive system. Bowel movement is stimulated 20 -30 minutes after eating. The gastrocolic reflex can be particularly strong first thing in the morning, as the bowel ‘wakes up’. Hence, many people move their bowels in the morning after breakfast or after the first hot drink of the day.

It is normal to move the bowels anything from 3 times a day to 3 times a week. A normal stool is sausage shaped and easily passed, without straining.

For many people, having a bowel movement is straight forward. However, it is a complex bodily function that involves the co-ordination of both nerves and muscles.

Sitting on the toilet

Once sitting on the toilet both the anal sphincter and pelvic floor muscles relax, intra-abdominal pressure increases, and the stool is pushed out. We recommend trying this seated position to help you empty your bowels effectively, which will help you avoid straining:

  • Take a comfortable seated position on the toilet with your knees spaced about hip-width apart and your feet resting flat on a hard surface.
  • Ideally, ensure that your knees are slightly elevated above your hips. If your toilet seat is higher, consider placing your feet on a small footstool or a stack of toilet rolls for added comfort.
  • Lean forward and gently place your elbows by your knees, and ensure your spine is straight at the top, with a slight arch in the bottom half. Focus on staying relaxed throughout the process.

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