Every Thanksgiving usually involves a belly-bloating meal. Sometimes that extra stuffing can cause a traffic jam in your digestive system – aka constipation. When constipation hits, you don’t have to reach for a laxative, instead, try a stool softener. 

“Stool softeners are generally a gentle way to resolve constipation that is mild or temporary,” registered nurse, Lauren Thayer, told 21Ninety. Stool softeners come in several different forms, including capsules, powders, and tablets. Plus, some are FSA or HSA eligible. “If you feel you are having trouble having a bowel movement, taking a stool softener can help you to get things moving again,” the registered nurse noted. 

What’s the difference between a stool softener and a laxative?

“Stool softeners work by drawing water into the stool, softening it and making it easier to pass,” Thayer said. Since stool softeners pull water into the stool, it literally softens it to help you go “number-two.” 

In general, most laxatives contain stimulants. “Stimulant laxatives help to stimulate the movement throughout your intestines, encouraging the stool to move,” the registered nurse explained. 

In other words, instead of softening your poop, a stimulant goes to the walls of your intestines to physically help things move along. Oftentimes, stimulant laxatives will cause you to have an unpredictable feeling of needing to use the bathroom before you have an accident – whereas a stool softener won’t cause that sense of urgency.  

Tips for taking a stool softener during Thanksgiving week

Taking a stool softener depends on your bowel movements – or lack thereof. “Stool softeners generally take 8-12 hours to take effect, so taking one before bedtime is the best bet to try to have a bowel movement in the morning,” Thayer explained. 

The registered nurse also mentioned that stool softeners are usually “very gentle.” So, you can take a stool softener for a couple days in a row this Thanksgiving to keep the main meal, and its leftovers, moving. “Stool softeners are intended for short-term use, but using them long-term is likely not harmful,” Thayer stated. “You should use them until you feel your constipation has resolved and you are back on a regular bowel movement schedule,” she mentioned. 

That said, if you ever have questions on how long is too long to take a stool softener, speak to your medical provider. “Generally, taking a stool softener for longer than a couple of weeks without resolve would warrant a visit to the doctor,” according to the registered nurse. “[Your medical provider] can order additional testing to ensure there is no underlying cause for your constipation and offer additional guidance to resolve your constipation.”

Dulcolax Stool Softener

Photo Courtesy of Target

Dulcolax’s Stool Softener comes in sugar-free liquid gels. The active ingredient is the stimulant-free docusate sodium at 100 mg per pill. That ingredient is what hydrates your stool to help you poop within 72 hours. And, it’s FSA or HSA eligible at Target. 

Colace Clear Soft Gels

Photo Courtesy of Target

Colace is a Thayer-recommended brand to try. These Clear Soft Gels also use docusate sodium (50 mg per pill) to help hydrate stool so that you can poop within 72 hours. Plus, these soft gels are dye- and stimulant-free. And, it’s FSA or HSA eligible at Target. 

CVS Health Stool Softener 100 MG Softgels

CVS Health Stool Softener 100 MG Softgels are a docusate-sodium-rich supplement that is half liquid gel and half tablet in one pill. As the name states, it has 100 mg of the stimulant=free ingredient to help you go within 72 hours. And, it’s FSA or HSA eligible at CVS. 

CVS Health Extra Strength Stool Softener Softgels

The stimulant-free CVS Health Extra Strength Stool Softener Softgels have a whopping 250 mg of docusate-sodium per liquid gel. That extra strength amount pumps hydration into your stool to help you go to the bathroom within 72 hours. And, it’s FSA or HSA eligible at CVS. 

Miralax Mix-In Pax Laxative Single Dose Packets

Miralax’s Mix-In Pax Laxative Single Dose Packets are actually stimulant-free. So, these portioned packets work like a stool softener instead of a laxative. And, it’s FSA or HSA eligible at Target. 

It uses polyethylene glycol to work with the water in your body to help you poop without any sense of urgency. To use these, you just need to put a packet into water and drink it (once a day) for relief within three days.

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