Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Why it happens, what you can do, and when it's dangerous

Stomach and digestive issues are common during pregnancy. You may hear plenty about morning sickness and constipation, but less about diarrhea. Although it may not get as much attention, diarrhea is another gastrointestinal issue that many pregnant people can face. However, diarrhea is not usually linked to morning sickness and isn't typically considered an early sign of pregnancy. In fact, diarrhea can happen in any trimester.

That said, some people consider diarrhea an early sign of pregnancy. It's true that hormone changes around the time of conception and in the first weeks of pregnancy can cause stomach issues and even lead to diarrhea. However, breast tenderness, fatigue, and nausea are much more common symptoms of early pregnancy.

Additionally, some pregnant people worry that diarrhea may be harmful to the baby or increase the likelihood of miscarriage. However, while the accompanying abdominal cramping may feel similar to the symptoms of impending pregnancy loss, the gastrointestinal tract is an entirely different system than the reproductive organs. It's unlikely for a typical case of diarrhea to put your baby at risk, as long as proper care is taken to stay hydrated and treat any infection you may have if needed.

Diarrhea during late pregnancy may be a sign that delivery is getting closer. Some pregnant people report diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, and/or vomiting right before they go into labor. Of course, pregnant people get diarrhea for many reasons, including food poisoning or other infections, and it can develop at any time during pregnancy.

When to call a doctor for diarrhea during pregnancy

Verywell / Jessica Olah

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Causes 

Diarrhea during pregnancy can result from conditions as diverse as hormones, changes in your diet, or a stomach virus. You might experience diarrhea due to:

  • Body changes: During pregnancy, you’ll experience shifts in your hormones and your body. Your growing uterus crowds your digestive tract, which can cause changes in bowel movements and lead to nausea and vomiting, constipation, or diarrhea.
  • Diet: Pregnancy might inspire you to eat healthier. Sometimes, a sudden change to more nutritious, fiber-rich foods can lead to a change in bowel movements, too. Give your body a little time to adjust if you go from burgers and fries to fruits and salads all at once. Consuming lots of foods like berries or grapes can cause you to have diarrhea.
  • Prenatal vitamins: There are many different brands of prenatal vitamins. Some are more likely to cause constipation, and some can lead to looser stools. If you think you’re having diarrhea because of your vitamin, talk to your doctor and ask for a recommendation for another brand.

Diarrhea can also develop from something that has nothing to do with pregnancy, such as:

  • Food poisoning
  • Health issues such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or hyperthyroidism
  • Illness from a virus or bacteria
  • Taking medication such as antibiotics
  • Travel

Symptoms 

Diarrhea is when you have bowel movements more often and looser in consistency than you would normally have. The stool can be very watery or just softer than normal poop. Sometimes, diarrhea can happen quite often and require getting to the bathroom quickly. Here’s what to look for:

  • Bloating
  • Cramping
  • Stomach pain
  • The feeling of having to run to the bathroom
  • Two or more watery or loose bowel movements in a day (24 hours)

Treatment

While you’re pregnant, you may experience morning sickness or heartburn. Like these gastrointestinal issues, diarrhea is another uncomfortable inconvenience you may have to just get through. However, if you are really struggling and diarrhea lasts more than a few days, be sure to contact your medical provider to determine if something else may be going on and for other treatment options.

Ultimately, it may take a day or two for your diarrhea to end. If it lasts longer than that, contact your OB/GYN, as they may want you to come in for a check-up. However, in most cases, these treatments may help.

Hydrate Your Body

It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re pregnant. Having diarrhea can quickly deplete the body of fluid and result in dehydration. So, drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to replace what you are losing.

Since you also lose electrolytes through diarrhea, other liquids, such as chicken or vegetable broth and electrolyte replacement solutions, are helpful. Avoid dairy, sugary drinks, coffee, tea, and energy drinks, since they can make diarrhea worse. Ultimately, even if you don't feel like drinking anything, be sure to drink water or other liquids while you recover.

Watch Your Diet

Eat foods that are easy to digest and don’t irritate or stimulate the stomach and digestive tract. The BRAT diet (Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) plus the nutrients in other easy-to-digest foods (potatoes, chicken and vegetable soup, lean meats, pasta, bread) can help until diarrhea has passed. Stay away from fried, spicy, and high-fat foods, which can exacerbate diarrhea.

Note that the flipside of diarrhea is constipation, which is characterized by hard stools, can occur if you overdo the BRAT diet. Constipation can be quite uncomfortable but is not dangerous for your baby. This issue is quite common in pregnancy. Similar to diarrhea, constipation can be caused by shifts in hormone levels and the pressure of the growing uterus on the digestive tract. Drinking plenty of fluids, eating lots of fiber, and staying active can help prevent and treat constipation.

Give It Time

Diarrhea often clears up on its own. If you have mild diarrhea without any other symptoms (fever, pain, cramping), you can wait a few days to see if goes away. Diarrhea that results from a stomach bug or food issue will often go away on its own.

Keep It Clean

Loose stools can make it easier for the bacteria in the colon to travel to the urinary tract and cause an infection (UTI). Cleanliness can prevent the spread of germs to other parts of your body and other people. After using the bathroom, always wipe from front to back and change the paper before wiping again. You will also want to keep your undergarments clean and wash your hands frequently.

Avoid anti-diarrhea medication

Stay away from over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat diarrhea. Not all OTC medications are safe during pregnancy. Always check with your doctor if you are concerned about any symptoms you are having and before taking medications. If it is necessary, your doctor will recommend or prescribe medication for you based on the severity of your symptoms.

Is It Dangerous?

Diarrhea can be mild and pass quickly, or it can be more serious. The loss of water through your bowels can lead to dehydration, which can be especially harmful during pregnancy. So, to prevent diarrhea from becoming dangerous, be sure to stay hydrated.

Be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration:

  • Dry mouth 
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy, or as if you may faint
  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Urinating less often
  • Urine that has a strong smell
  • Urine that is very dark yellow or orange 

When to Call a Doctor

Although diarrhea is usually not a serious issue, it can be a sign of an infection or lead to dehydration. Notify the doctor if:

  • Diarrhea lasts more than a day or two
  • You are having contractions
  • You aren't feeling your baby move as much as you did before
  • You have a fever of 100.4 F or higher
  • You have any signs of dehydration
  • You have other symptoms, such as fever or vomiting 
  • You notice blood in your stool
  • You're experiencing pain in your lower abdomen
  • Your diarrhea is getting worse instead of better

Severe Diarrhea

If you have more than just a mild case of diarrhea, your doctor may want to test your blood and send a stool sample to the lab to see if you have an infection. Depending on the results, you may have to take an antibiotic or another medication.

If you are becoming dehydrated, the doctor may order intravenous (IV) fluids to get your body back in balance.

Diarrhea and Miscarriage

If you get diarrhea, you may worry that it could cause a problem with your pregnancy or that it’s a sign of miscarriage. But diarrhea isn’t a typical cause or symptom of miscarriage.

While some people do experience diarrhea around the time of a pregnancy loss, having an episode of diarrhea does not mean that miscarriage is about to happen. It's common to get diarrhea during pregnancy, and most often, it does not impact the pregnancy at all. If you have any questions or concerns or are worried about your pregnancy for any reason, you should talk to your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnant people can get diarrhea just like everyone else. As long as it’s just a passing case, there is usually no need to worry. It will most likely go away on its own. However, if diarrhea is severe or lasts longer than a day or two, especially with other symptoms, call your doctor. It’s always best to check in with your medical provider when you have any new or concerning symptoms. But in most cases, diarrhea isn't more than a nuisance and won't impact your pregnancy.

9 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Donna Murray, RN, BSN
Donna Murray, RN, BSN has a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rutgers University and is a current member of Sigma Theta Tau, the Honor Society of Nursing.