What to Do When You Can't Poop

smiling poop emoji

There are few conditions that leave us as uncomfortable as constipation. When your bowels aren’t moving as usual, or if it’s painful when you poop, it can leave you feeling miserable.

We asked several South Shore Health experts for their advice on constipation. Here’s their advice.

What causes constipation?

"White foods": “Foods such as processed carbohydrates and dairy products are a common cause of constipation,” says Jeremy Warhafitg, MD, Pediatrician at South Shore Medical Center.

Dehydration: “Not drinking enough water can slow digestion, which makes it harder to pass stool,” says Emily Dionne, Registered Dietitian at South Shore Medical Center.

Pregnancy: Constipation is especially common during pregnancy, says Nannette Landry, Certified Nurse Midwife at South Shore Hospital. “A woman’s bowels become sluggish in pregnancy due to hormones. She may also not get enough fluids, so the stool gets hard and the growing baby is pressing against the bowels, making the journey more difficult.”

So what can you do when you can’t go number two?

Eat the "4P" fruits: In addition to cutting back on white foods, Dr. Warhaftig recommends eating pears, peaches, plums and prunes—known as the “4P” fruits—to ease constipation.

Tweak your diet: “A low-fat, high fiber diet, including soluble and insoluble fiber sources like fruits, vegetables, legumes (like lentils and beans), and whole grains is the best solution,” says Dionne.

Try flaxseeds: Dionne also recommends adding ground flaxseeds to your diet to move things along. They taste great in a smoothie.

Drink water and exercise: “I encourage pregnant women to drink a lot of water and try to get a brisk walk each day. Exercise and fluids will definitely help keep everything moving,” says midwife Nannette Landry.

Try chia seeds: Landry recommends chia seeds, which expand in the stomach and are a great source of the Omega-3s that pregnant women need.

When is it time to call a doctor?

Adults and kids: Dietitian Emily Dionne recommends that patients call a doctor when constipation symptoms are really bad or disabling, they’re experiencing abdominal pain or see blood in stool.

Children: Parents should talk to their child’s pediatrician when a child refuses to pass stool because it hurts to do so or if he or she is constantly expressing it hurts to go, says Dr. Warhaftig.

Pregnant women: “A pregnant woman with any concerns about her bowel pattern should speak to her provider,” says midwife Nannette Landry.


You should always feel comfortable discussing all health challenges with your primary care provider—including constipation.