Is it safe to take stool softeners to treat pregnancy constipation?

Answers from Roger W. Harms, M.D.

Stool softeners are generally considered safe during pregnancy.

Pregnancy constipation can be stubborn and seriously uncomfortable. Stool softeners, such as Colace, moisten the stool and make it easier to pass. The active ingredients in these products aren't absorbed by the body, so they're unlikely to have an adverse effect on a developing baby. Check with your health care provider, however, before taking any medication — including stool softeners and other types of laxatives — to treat pregnancy constipation.

Also, remember that pregnancy constipation can often be prevented with lifestyle changes. For example:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. Water is a good choice. Fruit juice — especially prune juice — also can help.
  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Daily walks and other aerobic activities can help prevent pregnancy constipation.
  • Include more fiber in your diet. Choose high-fiber foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. With your health care provider's OK, consider a fiber supplement, such as Metamucil.

If you take iron supplements, mention the constipation to your health care provider. Although iron is an important nutrient during pregnancy, too much iron can contribute to pregnancy constipation.

If you haven't had a bowel movement in three days, ask your health care provider for a recommendation. If your health care provider approves stool softeners or other types of laxatives, be careful to use them as directed.

Jul. 02, 2011