Constipation is very common during pregnancy and is thought to be due to the effects of the normal hormonal changes of pregnancy on the bowel. Although uncomfortable, it is generally not harmful to the mother or baby.
How do I avoid or treat constipation in pregnancy?
Pregnant women should ensure that their diet is high in fibre and that they drink plenty of liquid from early pregnancy onwards. Fibre is found in fresh fruits and vegetables, wholemeal bread and wholegrain breakfast cereals. Prunes or prune juice and regular exercise can also help prevent and treat constipation. By following this advice you can hopefully avoid needing to take medicines to treat constipation.
If your constipation has not improved after trying these suggestions your doctor may advise you to take a medicine (laxative).
Is it safe to take laxatives in pregnancy?
As is the case for many medicines, there are too few scientific studies to prove that medicines for constipation (laxatives) are safe. However, several medicines have been used in pregnancy for many years without any known effects on the developing baby.
This leaflet summarises the scientific studies relating to the effects on a baby in the womb of medicines that are commonly used to treat constipation. It is advisable to consider this information if you are pregnant. For some women, treatment with a laxative in pregnancy may be considered necessary.
It is important to avoid using laxatives for long periods of time during pregnancy as this can lead to dehydration and unbalanced levels of salts and minerals in your body. Make sure you speak to your doctor or healthcare provider before taking any medicine in pregnancy.
What information is there about the use in pregnancy of specific laxatives?
Bulk-forming laxatives (e.g. wheat bran, linseed, ispaghula (Fybogel®, Isogel®, Ispage®, Regulan®), methylcellulose (Celevac®), and sterculia (Normacol®) are not absorbed into the bloodstream but increase the bulk of the stools (faeces) which helps movement along the bowel. Use of bulk-forming laxatives during pregnancy is common and has not been linked to any problems in the unborn baby.
Lactulose (Duphalac®, Lactugal®, Laevolac®) is a type of sugar that is not digested and therefore draws water into the bowel. This softens the stools and helps them to move along the bowel. No studies have been carried out to examine whether using lactulose during pregnancy is linked to problems in the unborn baby. However, lactulose is commonly used during pregnancy and the manufacturers of Duphalac® state that it may be used during pregnancy if necessary.
Macrogols (Laxido®, Molaxole®, Movicol®) increase the water content of the stools, helping them to pass through the bowel. No studies have been carried out to examine whether using macrogols during pregnancy is linked to problems in the unborn baby, however no problems have been reported.
Glycerin (also called glycerol) suppositories lubricate and stimulate the bowel. They are generally used for more severe constipation. No studies have been carried out to examine whether using glycerine suppositories during pregnancy is linked to problems in the unborn baby, but these are quite commonly used during pregnancy and no problems have been reported.
Bisacodyl (Dulcolax®) stimulates the bowel and increases the water content of the stools. No studies have been carried out to examine whether using bisacodyl during pregnancy is linked to problems in the unborn baby, however no problems have been reported.
Senna (Senokot®) stimulates the bowel muscles, helping to move stools along. One study has investigated the use of senna during pregnancy and showed that women who used senna during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy (the main period of pregnancy during which a baby is formed) were no more likely to have a baby with a birth defect than women who didn’t.
Docusate sodium (Dioctyl®, Docusol®) stimulates the bowel muscles, helping the stools to move along more easily. Three studies have all shown no increased risk of having a baby with a birth defect in women who used docusate sodium during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is when most of a baby’s body develops.
Sodium picosulfate (Dulcolax Pico®) stimulates the bowel muscles to help stools to move along more easily. No studies have been carried out to examine whether using sodium picosulfate during pregnancy is linked to problems in the unborn baby. However, no problems have been reported following use during pregnancy.
Linaclotide stimulates and lubricates the bowel to help stools to move along more easily, and is used to treat moderate to severe irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). There are no published studies on use of linaclotide in pregnancy, and as it is not commonly used, its effects are largely unknown.
Lubiprostone lubricates the bowel, to help stools to move along more easily. There are no published studies on use of lubiprostone in pregnancy, and as it is not commonly used, its effects are largely unknown.
Prucalopride stimulates the bowel, to help stools to move along more easily. There are no published studies on use of prucalopride in pregnancy, and as it is not commonly used, its effects are unknown.
Will my baby need extra monitoring during pregnancy?
As part of their routine antenatal care, most women will be offered a scan at around 20 weeks of pregnancy to look for birth defects and to check the baby’s growth.
There is no evidence that taking laxatives during pregnancy causes any problems that would require extra monitoring for your baby.
Are there any risks to my baby if the father has taken laxatives?
We would not expect any increased risk to your baby if the father took laxatives before or around the time you became pregnant.