We’ve spent a lot of time talking about the signs and symptoms of constipation and diarrhea in children with autism. And while those are certainly important things to be able to identify, it’s also important to know what normal bowel habits for children look like so we’re better able to identify what isn’t normal.
What Makes a Stool “Normal”?
How often you poop, the way your poop looks, and the way it smells can tell us a lot about what’s happening in our digestive systems. But to know when something is not normal, you first have to understand what is normal. Here’s what makes a stool normal.
The Way it Looks
The Bristol Stool Chart breaks poop into seven categories. On one end of the spectrum is Type 1 stools which look like pebble shaped rabbit dropping. On the other end of the spectrum is Type 7 stools which are entirely liquid.
Healthy stools fall somewhere in the middle in the Type 3-4 range of the Bristol Stool Chart. A healthy stool should be light brown, easy to pass, well formed, and a decent diameter (not too skinny, not too fat).
Additionally, healthy stool should not contain any undigested food or blood. For older children, it may seem strange to ask them to hold off on flushing until you see their bowel movements. Seeing what your child’s bowel movements look like can help you figure out if something is going on in their digestive system.
Looking at your child’s stool with them creates a great teaching experience. First it normalizes the experience and teaches them that their gut health is an important piece to their overall health.
Secondly, it gives you the opportunity to educate them on how our eating habits affect our stools and how we can make healthy changes. For instance, if you notice undigested food in your child’s stool, you can point this out to them and suggest they chew more thoroughly at meal time. Then, you can check their poop later that week and see first hand how these small changes at meal time affect their bowel movements.
The Way it Smells
There will always be some odor associated with a bowel movement, this is poop we’re talking about after all, but really foul smelling stool is an indicator that something isn’t quite right.
After infancy it is normal for children to have 2-3 bowel movements per day. This may seem like a lot but this benchmark is dictated by the gastric reflex. When we are first born a signal is sent to the lower digestive system when something enters the stomach. This signal is the gastric reflex and it’s our body’s cue to make space for the new incoming food.
As we grow we tend to ignore this reflex and it goes away. However, if you have your child sit on the potty 20-30 minutes after a meal you can help them reestablish the gastric reflex.
When it comes to healthy bowel movements, positioning is just as important as timing. Your child will have the most success sitting on the toilet with their feet supported by a footstool or Squatty Potty.
Normal stool is a sign that your child’s gut health is on track. And when your child’s gut health is on track you’ll find their overall health will improve as well.
Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing a great job.
I hope this information has been helpful to you as part of creating Your Autism Game Plan.
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