Bowel Retraining: Purpose, Procedure, and Risks

Bowel Retraining

What Is Bowel Retraining?


  1. Bowel retraining programs can help those who experience chronic constipation or a loss of bowel control.
  2. These programs involve going to the bathroom at the same time every day to encourage a regular elimination time.
  3. Bowel retraining can take several weeks to work.

Bowel retraining is a program that helps people who have chronic constipation or a frequent loss of bowel control. The program involves trying to go to the bathroom at the same time every day in an attempt to help train your body to have regular bowel movements. You’ll need to set a time each day in which you try to have a bowel movement.

When choosing a time, keep in mind your current daily elimination habits, diet, and lifestyle, including your work schedule. Maintaining a regular pattern is critical for ensuring the success of a bowel retraining program, so select a time that’s convenient for you. After several weeks, you’ll ideally have a bowel movement around the same time every day.

What Is the Purpose of Bowel Retraining?


Your doctor may recommend a bowel retraining program to help you regain control of bowel patterns, pass stools regularly, and pass stools of an expected consistency.

Bowel retraining can be very effective for many people. However, some people may not benefit from bowel retraining, including those who:

  • are receiving treatment for cancers affecting the gastrointestinal tract
  • are unable to eat three regular meals per day
  • are unable to drink at least eight glasses of liquids each day
  • have a weakened anal sphincter

Talk your doctor about the possibility of starting a bowel retraining program if you can eat and drink enough to maintain a regular bowel program.

How to Prepare for Bowel Retraining


Before you begin a bowel retraining program, your doctor will recommend that you keep a symptom diary. In this diary, you’ll record:

  • the times of voluntary bowel movements
  • the times of involuntary bowel movements
  • any associated symptoms you may be having
  • all of the foods you’ve eaten
  • all of the drinks you’ve consumed

Reviewing this diary can help you determine whether you’re eating and drinking enough to have regular bowel movements. It may also help you identify a time of day that’s best for your bowel retraining program.

What to Expect During Bowel Retraining


A bowel retraining program involves addressing all the factors that might affect your ability to have a more normal bowel elimination pattern. While your doctor may make different recommendations based on your particular situation, bowel retraining programs typically consist of the following steps.

  1. Choose a regular time each day in which you try to have a bowel movement. As a general rule, it’s best to pick a time that falls between 20 and 40 minutes after eating, and most doctors recommend going in the morning, about 20 minutes after eating breakfast.
  2. Spend 10 to 15 minutes on the toilet to see if you can have a bowel movement. Make sure you don’t strain as you try to go.
  3. If you don’t pass a stool, resume your regular daily activities. Remember that it can take time to train your bowels, so try not to worry about your inability to have a bowel movement at first.

If you aren’t able to pass a stool at this given time every day, try using an enema to stimulate your bowels. An enema is a fluid that can be injected through the rectum to help encourage bowel movements. You may also want to consider drinking prune juice or inserting a rectal suppository to trigger a bowel movement. Ideally, you’ll only have to use these methods for a short period while your body adjusts to bowel retraining.

Some bowel retraining programs also involve working with a therapist on biofeedback. Biofeedback is a type of therapy that helps you learn more about how your body works. This knowledge can enable you to gain more control over bodily functions, including bowel movements. During bowel retraining, biofeedback can help you identify the differences between stomach pain and pain from needing to go to the bathroom. It can also teach you how to use different muscles in your body to pass stool without straining.

Ideally, you’ll be able to have a bowel movement every day within several weeks of starting a bowel retraining program. However, some people may find that they’re only able to have a normal bowel movement every three days.

Risks of Bowel Retraining

Risk Factors

Bowel retraining often doesn’t work right away, so you may feel stressed and frustrated at first. However, approaching a bowel retraining program with a more relaxed attitude can be vital to your success. Remember that bowel retraining does take time, it can eventually be very effective.

What to Expect After Bowel Retraining


Sticking to your regular pattern after bowel retraining can help you maintain your results. This may involve consuming the same amount of foods and liquids as well as taking your medications each day. You should call your doctor if you haven’t had a bowel movement in five days or if you’re experiencing nausea, stomach cramping, or a fever.

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