Can I Use Colace During Pregnancy?

pregnant person with upset stomach

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Fluctuating hormones, iron supplementation, and the added pressure of your growing uterus on your intestines can all cause you to struggle with constipation—especially toward the end of your pregnancy. In fact, approximately 11% to 38% of pregnant people experience constipation. Consequently, you may be considering an over-the-counter (OTC) product like Colace to help ease your symptoms.

"If a pregnant patient is experiencing constipation, they should consult with their doctor before self-medicating, as it’s important that the doctor assess the patient," suggests Jennifer Bourgeois, PharmD, IHP, CFMS, FAIS, a clinical pharmacist and pharmacy expert at SingleCare as well as a functional medicine specialist and integrative health practitioner.

"Constipation can be caused by diet and hydration status as well as severe causes like GI obstruction," says Dr. Bourgeois. "While constipation is common in pregnancy, it’s important that the patient consults their healthcare provider before taking any OTC medications."

If you are considering using Colace, it is important to know what to expect and how to use the medication safely.

What Is Colace?

Colace, which is also known by the generic name docusate, is an OTC medication used to treat or prevent occasional constipation caused by hard stools. Colace helps soften the stool, allowing it to pass easier.

"Colace is used for treating constipation and by extension, the subsequent medical issues caused by constipation such as hemorrhoids," explains Amber Murphy, MD, ACOG, ABOG, an OB/GYN with OhioHealth Dublin Methodist Hospital.

Is It Safe to Use Colace During Pregnancy?

Generally, using Colace during pregnancy is considered safe. In fact, research indicates when used as recommended, Colace (or docusate) is not expected to increase the chance of birth defects and it is not been associated with any adverse effects in pregnancy.

"Colace is very safe in pregnancy and one of the preferred ways of treating constipation if lifestyle changes are not working," says Dr. Murphy. "It works by taking the medication with food, and as it is in contact with the food, it reduces surface tension on the formed stool and softens it."

Dr. Murphy explains that the medication is minimally absorbed into the body, if at all, making it safe for pregnancy, lactation, and children.

Why Pregnant People Are Prone to Constipation

There are a number of reasons why pregnant people might struggle with constipation. At the top of the list are the changes in hormone levels taking place. For instance, rising progesterone levels—along with reduced motilin hormone levels—can increase the time it takes for waste to travel through the bowels.

Taking larger amounts of iron, often present in prenatal vitamins, also can lead to constipation. A lack of exercise and not eating enough fiber can also play a role.

"Often, pregnant women experience constipation due to physiological changes as well as taking a multivitamin that contains iron," says Dr. Bourgeois. "Taking Colace can help the stool pass easier and minimize straining, which contributes to developing hemorrhoids."

Every pregnancy is different. Be sure to consult with a healthcare provider about your circumstances if you have any questions about using Colace while pregnant.

Benefits of Colace During Pregnancy

When it comes to constipation in pregnancy, the first line of defense is making lifestyle changes, says Dr. Murphy. Some examples include drinking more water, exercising, and eating more fiber.

"Understanding the cause of constipation also is important when selecting a treatment," says Dr. Bourgeois. "If the patient is not consuming adequate water and that’s what’s causing constipation, then increasing fluid consumption will actually correct the problem without needing medication. Pregnant people should aim for 8 to 12 cups per day, as fluid needs increase during pregnancy."

Unfortunately, these measures might not work for everyone and some folks may need medication to help them have regular bowel movements. This is when Colace might be needed because constipation should never be ignored. Aside from the fact it's uncomfortable, it can increase the risk of hemorrhoids and other pregnancy complications, says Dr. Murphy.

Some research has shown that postpartum recovery of gastrointestinal function can be impacted in people that struggled with constipation during pregnancy—regardless of whether they gave birth by Cesarean section or vaginally. Additionally, constipation can increase the level of toxins in pregnant people and cause an imbalance in trace elements.

"The benefits in treating constipation in pregnancy are numerous," says Dr. Murphy. "Sometimes the pressure and cramping from constipation can be so great that patients even incur expensive workups to look for preterm labor or other complications due to the overlap in those symptoms."

Safety Precautions

Before using Colace, Dr. Murphy encourages patients to try lifestyle modifications such as increasing water intake, engaging in more physical activity, and eating foods higher in fiber (or taking fiber supplements).

"Sometimes patients will prefer to use fruit juices to treat constipation]" says Dr. Murphy. "But while overall harmless, [fruit juices] are actually more habit forming than Colace and contain too much sugar to consume regularly [in pregnancy]."

Even reducing stress may help combat constipation. "Physiological stress is known to cause bowel dysfunction," explains Dr. Bourgeois. "But stress reduction techniques can improve symptoms such as constipation."

If you do decide that Colace may be worth a try, consult with your healthcare provider about how much is right for you. That includes how often and for how long you can take it. Using too much could cause delayed diarrhea, says Dr. Murphy.

"In fact, using any medication long term—OTC or prescription—can affect the function of the body and make the person become dependent on the medication," says Dr. Bourgeois.

If you experience abdominal cramps or nausea with Colace, you should let your provider know. Also, let them know what medications and supplements you are already using before starting to take Colace.

"Colace should not be used in patients who are also using mineral oil or have fecal impaction or GI obstruction," Dr. Bourgeois says.

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing constipation during pregnancy can be a challenging experience—especially if changes in your lifestyle are not providing some relief. In these situations, it may be useful, and even beneficial, to use Colace to alleviate your symptoms.

Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms before reaching for Colace from the pharmacy shelf. They can advise you if taking the over-the-counter stool softener is right for you, as well as how much you should take. While Colace is generally safe to use in pregnancy, you should never use medication more than what is recommended or for an extended period of time, unless directed by a healthcare provider.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.