Can You Take Laxatives During Pregnancy? Their Side Effects

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Constipation is a common pregnancy complication. Most women can relieve it by staying active and increasing their fiber and water intake. However, if it persists, the doctor may prescribe laxatives. But is it safe to take laxatives during pregnancy?

Laxatives or purgatives are medicines used to treat constipation. You can get them over-the-counter (OTC) under different brand names. However, medical guidance is vital to select a safe laxative to avert any side effects and complications.

Keep reading as we tell you about laxatives, their safety during pregnancy, their possible side effects, and some safe laxatives you may try after consulting your doctor.

What Are Laxatives?

Laxatives during pregnancy

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Laxatives are drugs that help relieve constipation by inducing a bowel movement or bulking the stools. They contain chemicals that help stool motility, frequency, and bulk.

The laxatives are available in the form of pills, capsules, foods, gums, and liquids for oral consumption or through the rectum in the form of enemas and suppositories (1).

Experts say
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends a fiber-rich diet to pregnant women to prevent constipation. Fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, and seeds are packed with fiber (2).

Is It Safe To Take Laxatives During Pregnancy?

Usually, doctors advise natural remedies and probiotics to improve bowel function. If these remedies seem ineffective, the doctor will prescribe mild laxatives as the second line of treatment (3).

Among the various mild laxatives, bulk-forming laxatives such as Metamucil (psyllium hydrophilic mucilloid) are not absorbed and are not known to increase the risk of malformations in the fetus. Therefore, these are considered safer than the others.

Emollient laxatives like mineral oil and stimulant laxatives like castor oil must be avoided during pregnancy due to their potential for maternal and fetal morbidity (4).

It must be noted that these laxatives only help temporarily relieve constipation; your doctor will advise you to change your diet and lifestyle to retain your natural bowel movements.

Avoid prolonged use of laxatives can result in dehydration

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Prolonged usage of laxatives can result in dehydration and create an imbalance of mineral and salt levels in your body.

Quick tip
Practice regular physical activity and drink more water when you follow a fiber-rich diet to avoid bloating and abdominal discomfort (5).

Laxatives Safe To Take During Pregnancy

Let us take a look at the different types of laxatives that doctors usually prescribe during pregnancy (3) (6).

1. Bulk-forming laxatives

Also called fiber supplements, they work similar to fiber in your diet. They add bulk to the stools by helping them retain liquid for an easy bowel movement. They take around 12 to 24 hours to work and are unlikely to cause any harm to your pregnancy since they do not get into the blood.

Psyllium (Metamucil), methylcellulose (Citrucel), carboxymethyl-cellulose, and sterculia are some bulk-forming laxatives.

2. Stool softener laxatives

They cause water and fats to penetrate the stools, thus encouraging it to move quickly through the gastrointestinal tract. They take 12 to 72 hours to work. Multiple studies have shown no harmful effects, and thus, these laxatives are considered safe during pregnancy.

Docusate sodium (Colace) and Dicoto are such medications.

3. Stimulant laxatives

Bisacodyl, Laxatives during pregnancy

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They stimulate the intestinal wall lining to speed up the bowel movements. They give quick relief within 6 to 12 hours. There is no risk to the baby as the absorption is minimal. However, long-term use can have some side effects such as electrolyte imbalances on the mother.

Senna (Senokot) and Bisacodyl (Correctol) are considered safe in small doses.

4. Osmotic laxatives

They soften the stools by drawing fluid into the gastrointestinal tract from the surrounding tissues. They take around 30 minutes to six hours to be effective. Their use is not associated with any adverse effects on the baby. Long-term use might affect the mother in the same way as stimulant laxatives do.

Sodium bisphosphate (OsmoPrep), magnesium hydroxide (milk of magnesia), sugars including polyethylene glycol (Miralax) and lactulose are some effective osmotics.

In spite of their effectiveness, laxatives are prescribed only as a second option because of some side effects.

What Could Be The Side Effects Of Laxatives During Pregnancy?

Like any other medications, laxatives also have some side effects, which usually depend on the type of laxative you are taking.

The common side effects include (3):

Bloating, Side-effects of laxatives

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Excessive or prolonged intake of laxatives could result in the following side effects.

  • Reduced absorption of nutrition and other medicines into the blood as laxatives increase the rate of food passage through the intestinal tract.
  • Lower levels of magnesium salt in the blood. One study has found that mothers who had docusate sodium when pregnant had babies with low magnesium levels and suffered temporary jitteriness (7).

Therefore, talk to your doctor before using laxatives during pregnancy.

Next, we answer a few commonly raised queries.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can laxatives cause miscarriage?

There are not enough studies to show that laxatives cause a miscarriage. However, castor oil which is a natural laxative (8) could cause fetal morbidity (4).

2. Can the use of laxatives during pregnancy cause birth defects?

Laxatives are not known to increase the probability of birth defects or other major pregnancy issues.

Before using laxatives during pregnancy, it is advised that you consult your doctor or gynecologist and ensure that it will not bring about any complications in the pregnancy. Try incorporating fiber-rich food into your diet, and bring specific changes in your lifestyle to help improve your bowel functions and reduce the chances of constipation. However, if these remedies do not work, try using laxatives that are safe to be used during pregnancy for the recommended number of days so that they will not harm you or your baby.

Infographic: Complications Of Untreated Constipation During Pregnancy

If constipation is left untreated, it may cause problems in the long term. Refer to the infographic below to know the complications of chronic constipation and lifestyle changes for prevention.

can constipation during pregnancy become a serious problem [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

This post is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for a doctor’s consultation. Do not use any medication without talking to your doctor.


MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
  1. Erin Larowe; Laxative information; C. S. Mott Children’s Hospital (2013)
  2. What can help with constipation during pregnancy?; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
  3. Magan Trottier MSc Aida Erebara MD and Pina Bozzo; Treating constipation during pregnancy; The College of Family Physicians of Canada
  4. Jessica Servey Jennifer Chang; Over-the-counter medications in pregnancy; American Family Physician.
  5. Laxatives; National Health Services
  6. Meredith Portalatin & Nathaniel Winstead; Medical management of constipation (2012)
  7. Prescribing in Pregnancy Fourth edition; Perpustakaan Pusat Universitas Pancasila; Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (2013)
  8. Gulsah Gurol Arslan Ismet Eser; An examination of the effect of castor oil packs on constipation in the elderly; Complementary Therapies In Clinical Practice (2011)
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shreeja pillai

Shreeja holds a postgraduate degree in Chemistry and diploma in Drug Regulatory Affairs from the University of Mumbai. Before joining MomJunction, she worked as a research analyst with a leading multinational pharmaceutical company. Her interest in the field of medical research has developed her passion for writing research-based articles. As a writer, she aims at providing informative articles on health...
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Dr. Mona Hardas

Dr. Mona Hardas is a practicing Ob/Gyn from Flint, Michigan, with over 20 years of experience in private practice. She is also actively involved in teaching medical students and residents as an associate clinical professor from MSU College of Human Medicine.  Dr. Hardas is interested in minimally invasive gynecology procedures, including laparoscopic hysterectomy, myomectomy, removal of adnexal masses, etc. Having...
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