Holding in Poop: Is It Really Bad for You?

Updated: Nov. 22, 2016

Stomach pains are just one of the consequences of holding it in too long.

holding-in-poopiStock/ben bryant

Poop, feces, doo-doo, turd, bowel movement. Whatever you call it, we all do it, so why not talk about it? After all, it is a natural function of the human body. When most of us have to go, we go. But what happens when there’s a super long line in the bathroom? Or you’re on a road trip and the nearest restroom isn’t for another 45 minutes? Or you’re in the middle of an important work meeting? Here’s everything you need to know about holding it in.

Poop is important. Like sweat and pee, pooping is a way your body gets rid of toxins and material it can’t use. “A bowel movement is the last stop in the movement of food through your digestive tract,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “It’s made of what is left after your digestive system (stomach, small intestine, and colon) absorbs nutrients and fluids from what you eat and drink.” In fact, we may be meant to poop after every meal, according to Dana Cohen, MD, a NYC-based integrative and internal medicine physician. “After we eat, there’s the gastrocolic reflex, which is when our stomach stretches, and that signals to us that we’re supposed to poop,” Dr. Cohen says.

If you’re not pooping after every meal, there’s no need to be alarmed, because everyone’s digestive system is different. You may go once a day, every other day, or once every three to four days. But when you feel the urge to go, you should go as soon as you can get to a toilet. The longer you hold in poop, the greater the odds of experiencing negative effects such as stomach cramps and constipation, as the fluid in the bowel gets absorbed over time and leaves the solids to become more compacted.

If you have to hold it in, you’re not likely to face any serious health risks as long as it’s not a frequent occurrence and it’s not for too long. “A rectum is a holding vesicle, so that’s what it’s there for. It’s meant to store poop until you can go,” says Dr. Cohen. “It’s rare to see in an adult that holding in poop is really dangerous.” That said, if you haven’t gone number two in two weeks or more, see your doctor for stool softeners, fiber pills, or an enema if necessary.

If your child is holding in poop, “it can be a real problem if they’re holding it in for psychological reasons.” Dr. Cohen says, which is why you should talk to your pediatrician ASAP if that’s the case. Not to mention that the pooping habits we learn as a child follow us into adulthood. Here are 11 other things that your bowel movements can reveal about your health.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest