Treating constipation during pregnancy

(Date: March 2018. Version: 2)

This factsheet has been written for members of the public by the UK Teratology Information Service (UKTIS). UKTIS is a not-for-profit organisation funded by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on behalf of UK Health Departments. UKTIS has been providing scientific information to health care providers since 1983 on the effects that medicines, recreational drugs and chemicals may have on the developing baby during pregnancy.

Quick read

Constipation is common in pregnancy and can be treated with some types of laxatives if necessary.

Constipation during pregnancy

Constipation is very common during pregnancy and is thought to be due to the effects of hormonal changes on the bowel. Although uncomfortable, it is generally not harmful to the mother or baby.

How do I avoid or treat constipation in pregnancy?

To avoid constipation, pregnant women are advised to eat a high fibre diet and drink plenty of fluid from early pregnancy onwards. Regular exercise can also help.

If these suggestions are not effective, some types of laxatives can be used safely in pregnancy. A pharmacist or doctor can advise about this.

What information is there about the use in pregnancy of specific laxatives?

Bulk-forming 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 (poo) 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. 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®) are not absorbed into the bloodstream and increase the water content of the stools, helping them to pass through the bowel. They are quite commonly used in pregnancy and there are no concerns that they can harm the baby.

Glycerin suppositories
Glycerin (also called glycerol) suppositories lubricate and stimulate the bowel. They are generally used for more severe constipation and arequite commonly used during pregnancy with no problems 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 showed that use of senna during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy (while the baby is developing) is not linked to birth defects.

Docusate sodium
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 birth defects in the baby and use of docusate sodium during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Sodium picosulfate
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 very detailed 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.

Who can I talk to if I have questions?

If you have any questions regarding the information in this leaflet please discuss them with your health care provider. They can access more detailed medical and scientific information from

How can I help to improve drug safety information for pregnant women in the future?

Our online reporting system allows women with a current or previous pregnancy to create a digitally secure ‘my bumps record’. You will be asked to enter information about your health, whether or not you take any medicines, and your pregnancy outcome. You can update your details at any time during pregnancy or afterwards. This information will help us better understand how medicines affect the health of pregnant women and their babies. Please visit to register.

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General information 

Up to 1 out of every 5 pregnancies ends in a miscarriage, and 1 in 40 babies are born with a birth defect. These are referred to as the background population risks.  They describe the chance of these events happening for any pregnancy before taking factors such as the mother’s health during pregnancy, her lifestyle, medicines she takes and the genetic make up of her and the baby’s father into account.

Medicines use in pregnancy

Most medicines used by the mother will cross the placenta and reach the baby. Sometimes this may have beneficial effects for the baby.  There are, however, some medicines that can harm a baby’s normal development.  How a medicine affects a baby may depend on the stage of pregnancy when the medicine is taken. If you are on regular medication you should discuss these effects with your doctor/health care team before becoming pregnant.

If a new medicine is suggested for you during pregnancy, please ensure the doctor or health care professional treating you is aware of your pregnancy.

When deciding whether or not to use a medicine in pregnancy you need to weigh up how the medicine might improve your and/or your unborn baby’s health against any possible problems that the drug may cause. Our bumps leaflets are written to provide you with a summary of what is known about use of a specific medicine in pregnancy so that you can decide together with your health care provider what is best for you and your baby.   

Every pregnancy is unique. The decision to start, stop, continue or change a prescribed medicine before or during pregnancy should be made in consultation with your health care provider. It is very helpful if you can record all your medication taken in pregnancy in your hand held maternity records.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to replace the individual care and advice of your health care provider. New information is continually becoming available. Whilst every effort will be made to ensure that this information is accurate and up to date at the time of publication, we cannot cover every eventuality and the information providers cannot be held responsible for any adverse outcomes following decisions made on the basis of this information. We strongly advise that printouts should NOT be kept for any length of time, or for “future reference” as they can rapidly become out of date.

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