While some people believe they are constipated if they don't have a bowel movement every day, this may not be the case. You are usually considered to be constipated if your stool is hard and small, and if you have gone longer than three days without a bowel movement. This type of stool can sometimes cause an impaction (full or partial blockage) in the intestine and needs to be treated as soon as possible to avoid complications.
Softeners, Laxatives and Bulking Agents
Sometimes the best way to move impacted stool is to use a natural stool softener. Rather than simply speeding up bowel activity like some laxatives do, stool softeners work by preventing water from being absorbed out of the intestine during the digestive process. This additional water causes the chyme (digested food byproduct) to be more moist and easy to eliminate.
Natural stool softeners include fruits such as figs, prunes, grapes and berries. Grapes also have a laxative effect. You should include three servings of fruit in your diet each day, which will usually help you avoid impacted stools in the first place. However, if you find yourself in need of help, additional fruit or sugar-free juices may be all you need. By using fruit rather than an over-the-counter stool softener product, you ensure you are getting necessary nutrients and fibre as well as treating your constipation.
Castor oil is often useful for constipation. Pressed from the castor bean, this oil was often given to children as a matter of course for a variety of complaints, including constipation. The belief was that a clean bowel was a healthy bowel. Many people are coming around to this way of thinking again. The longer stool remains in the colon, the more chance there is for unhealthy bacteria to multiply, possibly causing illness. Castor oil, taken according to package directions, can get your system moving again in short order.
Be sure to increase your intake of soluble and insoluble fibre, preferably from food sources rather than supplements. Soluble fibre comes from fruits and vegetables. It assists in keeping enough water in the intestine to keep the stool soft and movable. Insoluble fibre provides bulk to make the stool large enough for the muscles of the intestine to press against so it can be pushed out. The Chinese often prescribe boiled sweet potato before bed to provide both soluble and insoluble fibre.
A Last Resort
If all else fails, you may need to manually break up the stool. This is usually done by a doctor, because it is easy to injure your rectal wall. Gently insert a gloved and lubricated finger into your rectum. Without exerting too much pressure, attempt to mash or break up the stool into smaller pieces. If you experience any pain, stop immediately and consult your physician.