Constipation is one of the well-known banes of pregnancy. Your bowels turn sluggish during pregnancy for a variety of reasons, ranging from pressure on the bowel to usage of medications such as iron supplements. Colonic cleanses -- whether through herbal treatments that act as laxatives or by manual colonic flushes -- could cause harm in pregnancy. Do not use colonic cleanses of any type during pregnancy unless your physician approves.
Constipation During Pregnancy
Proponents of colon cleansers use them to remove toxins and waste products from the colon, claiming that waste products make you tired, depressed, bloated or even sick. None of these claims have any basis in fact, according to Larry Lindner of NYU Langone Medical Center, who states that the only time to worry about bowel movements is when you have a change from your normal pattern. Although pregnancy can change your bowel habits, the changes occur from normal physiological causes and from supplements that may cause constipation. Pregnancy hormones can slow the passage of waste through the colon. The pressure of the expanding uterus on the intestines can also cause constipation. Many women get less exercise during pregnancy than they do before they got pregnant, especially in the last few months of pregnancy, which can also cause constipation.
Types of Cleanses
Colon cleanses fall into two categories: oral preparations containing herbs and other ingredients that have laxative actions, and mechanical cleanses such as enemas. Enemas can contain substances such as clay, coffee or plain water. Herbal preparations can contain different herbs mixed with fiber or other laxatives. Neither type of colon cleanse is safe to use in pregnancy.
Risks During Pregnancy
Oral laxatives and enema-type colon cleanses can cause uterine contractions, which could lead to miscarriage or preterm labor. Enema-based colon cleanses could also cause infection or rectal injury if not used properly or if improperly cleaned. Many herbs are unsafe in pregnancy. Mineral oils can interfere with nutrient absorption, which could result in nutritional deficiencies that could harm you or your baby in pregnancy.
Over-the-counter stool softeners, such as Colace -- which draws water into the stool to soften it and make it easier to pass -- are generally considered safe in pregnancy, according to obstetrician Roger Harms of the Mayo Clinic. Increasing dietary fiber to 25 to 30 g per day and drinking 10 to 12 glasses of water daily also help keep things moving without a colon cleanse.
- MayoClinic.com; Pregnancy Constipation: Are Stool Softeners Safe?; Roger Harms, M.D.; July 2009
- NYU Langone Medical Center; Colon Cleansing: Don't Be Misled By the Claims; Larry Lindner, M.A.; December 2010
- American Pregnancy Association; Pregnancy and Constipation; March 2007
- American Pregnancy Association; Natural Herbs & Vitamins During Pregnancy; November 2007
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.