Is it safe to take stool softeners to treat pregnancy constipation?
Answer From Myra Wick, M.D., Ph.D.
Stool softeners are generally considered safe during pregnancy.
Pregnancy constipation, defined as having fewer than three bowel movements a week, can be uncomfortable. Constipation is common in pregnancy. Stool softeners, such as docusate sodium (Colace) and docusate calcium (Surfak), moisten the stool and make it easier to pass. These products are unlikely to harm a developing baby because their active ingredient is only minimally absorbed by the body.
Your health care provider might also recommend a laxative. Bulk-forming laxatives, such as psyllium (Metamucil, Konsyl, others) and polycarbophil (FiberCon, Equalactin, others) are typically considered safe to use during pregnancy because they aren't absorbed by the body. Other laxatives that are considered safe to use during pregnancy include saline laxatives, such as magnesium hydroxide (Phillips' Milk of Magnesia, Dulcolax, others) or magnesium citrate; stimulants, such as bisacodyl (Ducodyl); and lactulose (Cholac, Constilac, others).
Many laxatives and stool softeners are available without a prescription. However, check with your health care provider before taking any medication — including stool softeners and other types of laxatives — to treat pregnancy constipation.
Keep in mind that pregnancy constipation can often be prevented with lifestyle changes. For example:
- Drink plenty of fluids. Water is a good choice. Prune juice also can help.
- Include physical activity in your daily routine. Being active 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 or Citrucel.
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. You might have to take a stool softener if you are taking an iron supplement.
Myra Wick, M.D., Ph.D.
May 28, 2022
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See more Expert Answers
- Constipation. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/constipation/all-content. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- FAQs: Problems of the digestive system. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/problems-of-the-digestive-system. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Briggs GG, et al. Docusate sodium. In: Drugs in Pregnancy and Lactation: A Reference Guide to Fetal and Neonatal Risk. 12th ed. Wolters Kluwer Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2022. https://ovidsp.ovid.com. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- AskMayoExpert. Constipation: Treatment in pregnancy. Mayo Clinic; 2021.
- Iron. Natural Medicines. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com. Accessed April 1, 2022.
- Lockwood CJ, et al. Prenatal care: Patient education, health promotion, and safety of commonly used drugs. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed April 13, 2022.