Most people can use laxatives, but not all types are suitable for everyone.

For example, you should check with your GP or pharmacist before using laxatives if you:

  • have a bowel condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
  • have a colostomy or ileostomy (where the small or large intestine is diverted through an opening in the abdomen)
  • have a history of liver or kidney disease
  • are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • have an obstruction somewhere in your digestive system
  • have diabetes, as some laxatives can cause a rise in blood sugar levels, which could be dangerous if you have diabetes
  • have difficulties swallowing (dysphagia)
  • have a lactose intolerance, as some laxatives contain lactose
  • have phenylketonuria (a rare genetic condition where the body is unable to break down a substance called phenylalanine), as phenylalanine is found in certain bulk-forming laxatives
  • are taking opioid painkillers, such as codeine or morphine

These situations don't usually mean you can't use laxatives, but certain types of laxative may be more suitable for you than others.

Children and laxatives

Laxatives aren't recommended for babies who haven't been weaned. If your baby is constipated, try giving them extra water in between feeds. Gently massaging their tummy and moving their legs in a cycling motion may also help.

Babies who are eating solid foods may be able to use laxatives, but you should first make sure your baby drinks plenty of water or diluted fruit juice and increase the amount of fibre in their diet. If they're still constipated, your GP may prescribe or recommend a laxative.

In older children, osmotic or stimulant laxatives are often recommended alongside dietary changes as the first treatment for constipation.

Always check with your GP before giving your baby or child a laxative.

Read more about treating constipation in children.

Natural methods

In adults, constipation can often be relieved by:

If possible, try these simple steps before using laxatives.

Read more about treating constipation.

Page last reviewed: 20/06/2016

Next review due: 20/06/2019