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It is common to experience difficulty with bowel movements after giving birth. Some people may find that postpartum stool softeners help.
Constipation is a normal problem following delivery. Several factors can contribute to this issue, including hormonal effects, iron supplements, sore and stretched muscles, hemorrhoids, and discomfort due to an episiotomy.
The general level of tenderness that people experience after delivery can make them anxious about bowel movements. Taking a postpartum stool softener can help make bowel movements easier during this time.
After delivery, the prospect of having a bowel movement can seem intimidating, but most people have one within 2–3 days.
People who have had stitches for an episiotomy may be particularly concerned about their first postpartum bowel movement, but experts say it is unlikely that a person could tear their stitches or sustain an injury while attempting a bowel movement.
Holding a sterile cloth or pad over the stitches or injured area may help, but the most important thing is to avoid straining.
Delaying or holding back bowel movements will not make the first one easier. In fact, it could have the opposite effect. After delivery, people should try to have a bowel movement as soon as they feel the urge.
Relieving postpartum constipation
The following practices can help make bowel movements easier postpartum:
- drinking plenty of water and other hydrating fluids
- eating a well-balanced diet containing lots of fiber-rich foods, such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables
- trying to include dried fruits, such as prunes and figs, in the diet
- exercising gently and regularly
- washing the anal area gently with warm water
- avoiding holding back bowel movements
Experts consider stool softener medications safe to take when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Stool softeners make it easier for stools to move through the body by increasing the water content of fecal matter. People typically take them at bedtime with a full glass of water.
Postpartum stool softeners are available in the form of:
Learn about the difference between stool softeners and laxatives here.
Products to relieve constipation can be effective, but they do not necessarily work immediately. Experts note that it is common to use a postpartum stool softener for 1–3 days before seeing any benefits and recommend discontinuing use after 2 weeks.
Some foods, drinks, and remedies can naturally soften stools and ease constipation. For example, probiotics, Epsom salts, and aloe vera may help soften stools.
Learn more about natural stool softeners here.
Before using a postpartum stool softener, people should discuss their concerns and review their options with a healthcare professional.
People can choose from many different stool softener products after giving birth. Below, we provide information on five options that people may wish to try.
Please note that the writer of this article has not tried these products. All information below is purely research-based.
Colace Regular Strength Stool Softener
Docusate sodium is the active ingredient in this over-the-counter product, which does not contain any stimulants.
The manufacturers say that it works in 12–72 hours and describe it as a gentle way to seek relief from “occasional” constipation.
This product is available as a capsule.
Colace Regular Strength Stool Softener is available for purchase online.
Phillips’ Stool Softener
This product uses docusate sodium as the active ingredient and does not contain stimulants.
The recommended daily dose is one to three of what the manufacturers call “easy-to-swallow liquid gels.”
This stool softener should promote comfortable bowel movements in 12–72 hours. It should not cause cramps, according to the manufacturers.
Phillips’ Stool Softener is available for purchase online.
Dulcolax Pink Stool Softener
This product works within 12–72 hours and may offer relief from painful stools, irregularity, and constipation.
It is available in the form of softgels and contains no stimulants, just docusate sodium.
A person can take up to three softgels a day for 7 days. Each pack contains 25 softgels.
Dulcolax Pink Stool Softener is available for purchase online.
DulcoEase Stool Softener
Using docusate sodium as the active ingredient, this product is available in the form of 100-milligram liquid gel capsules that contain gelatin.
People should take this stool softener with water. It has the potential to interact with mineral oil.
As with the products above, this stool softener should produce a bowel movement in 12–72 hours.
DulcoEase Stool Softener is available for purchase online.
Traditional Medicinals Organic Smooth Move Tea
The manufacturers describe this herbal tea as a gentle way to relieve occasional constipation in about 6–12 hours.
However, the active ingredient is senna, which belongs to a class of drugs called stimulant laxatives. Therefore, it is not technically a stool softener.
However, its liquid form may suit people who struggle to swallow capsules.
Traditional Medicinals Organic Smooth Move Tea is available for purchase online.
For most people, postpartum problems with constipation improve not long after delivery. However, people should see a doctor if they:
- continue to pass stool that is hard after taking a postpartum stool softener medication for 1 week
- are taking a lot of prescription and over-the-counter medications, which could interact with the postpartum stool softener
- are having accidental bowel movements
- experience rectal bleeding
After delivery, it is common for people to find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement. A postpartum stool softener can help.
Eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fiber-rich foods and drinking a lot of water can also help prevent constipation,
Anyone experiencing painful bowel movements that are persistent or accompany other concerning symptoms should speak to a doctor.