It’s no secret that constipation is all too common during pregnancy. Over-the-counter stool softeners and laxatives are popular remedies to keep you comfortable, but just because no prescription is necessary to purchase them doesn’t mean they are safe for everyone.
Although senna is generally thought to be safe during pregnancy, you should consult your medical provider first, before using it.
As a stimulant laxative, Senna (or Senokot) is a fairly strong medication. Because Senna actually stimulates the muscles in your GI tract to produce a bowel movement, as opposed to simply softening and easing stool, Senna is best used under the guidance of your medical provider and only if milder medications did not work.
Senna should be used as a second-line option when methods of constipation relief have not done the trick. In this article, I will break down the list of medications and dietary changes to try first, as well as give guidance on when to opt for a stronger medication like Senna.
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Is Senna Safe During Pregnancy?
Senna, otherwise known by the brand name Senokot, is a stimulant laxative. It is sold in several forms, including tablets, syrup, gummies, and tea. Unlike stool softeners or osmotic laxatives, stimulant laxatives help you to pass a bowel movement by prompting the muscles of your lower colon to contract.
These internal contractions are much less intense than labor contractions, though they are strong enough to push bowel contents through your GI tract, leading to a bowel movement (source: NHS, Canadian Family Physician).
Because of how Senna works in the body, it is considerably stronger than other over-the-counter constipation relief products. Overdoing it on Senna can lead to abdominal pain, discomfort, cramping, and even diarrhea.
Routinely using Senna can also cause some people to become dependent on it and unable to have a bowel movement without the aid of the laxative.
For these reasons, Senna is recommended for pregnant women only after other, milder laxatives have not worked and under the guidance of your medical provider. While Senna teas may at first appear to be “gentler”, they are still a strong laxative and should be used under the same guidelines as other forms of Senna.
Though Senna is best used with guidance from your medical provider, it is still considered to be a safe medication to take during pregnancy. To date, all of the research shows Senna is safe without increasing risks for birth complications or congenital malformations (source: Drugs.com, Canadian Family Physician).
What Are Some Safe Laxatives Besides Senna for Pregnant Women?
To calm constipation without reaching straight for the strong stuff (ie: Senna), there are some other safe laxatives and stool softeners available. The most popular generic and brands names include:
- Psyllium – you can read more about psyllium husks during pregnancy here
- Docusate sodium, otherwise known as the brand name Colace
- Polyethylene glycol, otherwise known as the brand name Miralax
- Magnesium sulfate, magnesium citrate, and magnesium hydroxide which is otherwise known as Milk of Magnesia
(source: Canadian Family Physician).
Before opting for Senna, it is best to try one of the options above when you’re pregnant.
Should I Worry If I’ve Taken Senna During Pregnancy?
If you have taken Senna, only to find out that it is best used only if really needed, not to worry! It is typically reserved for more serious constipation since it is a stronger medication compared to other options, but overall Senna is still safe to use during pregnancy- even if you didn’t try other options first.
Sometimes feeling relief from constipation takes more than one (or a couple) doses. Though it is a good rule of thumb to follow the package for dosage and directions, it can be tempting to reach for more to get faster relief. Keep in mind that Senna takes around 8 hours to work its magic (source: NHS)
Taking more than the recommended amount of any medication can cause worry. If you have reached for Senna regularly during pregnancy or doubled up on dosage to get some relief, the first thing to do is avoid taking any more laxatives.
Allow your body time to work with the medications you have already taken. Having tried over-the-counter medications without relief, it is time to contact your medical provider to give you personalized advice and guide your next best steps.
Though medications like Senna have their uses, many women also wonder if there are more ‘natural’ ways to cure or even prevent constipation at home. A few simple ways to reduce constipation include:
- Walking or other comfortable ways to move your body. Movement (and gravity) work wonders in helping keep your bowels regular.
- Increasing dietary fiber. Whole grain breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, and legumes and beans are excellent and budget friendly ways to up your fiber intake. Aim for around 25-30 grams of fiber daily.
- Stay hydrated. Fiber works best when you are well hydrated. Pairing these two together can keep you comfortable in the bathroom.
(source: American Pregnancy Association)
Knowing which over-the-counter medications are safe during pregnancy can be tough! Hopefully this article has given you some practical guidance on safe, yet effective, ways to relieve pesky pregnancy-related constipation.
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