Diarrhea During Pregnancy

What It Means and How to Deal With It

Woman outside bathroom experiencing stomach cramps
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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 pregnant women can face.

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

Diarrhea during late pregnancy may be a sign that delivery is getting closer. Some women report diarrhea, heartburn, or nausea and vomiting right before they go into labor. Of course, women get diarrhea for many reasons, and it can develop at any time during pregnancy—not just at the beginning or the end.

Causes 

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

  • Body changes: During pregnancy, you’ll experience changes in your hormones and your body. These can affect your stomach and digestive tract, leading 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.
  • 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:

Symptoms 

Diarrhea is when you have bowel movements more often and looser in consistency than you would normally have. Here’s what to look for:

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

Treatment

While you’re pregnant, you may experience morning sickness or heartburn. Like these, diarrhea is another uncomfortable inconvenience you may have to get through. These treatments may help.

  1. Hydrate your body. It’s important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re pregnant. Diarrhea removes water from your body, so drink lots of fluids, especially water. 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.
  2. 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) can help until the diarrhea has passed. Stay away from fried, spicy, and high-fat foods.
  3. 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.
  1. 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 for pregnant women. 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 drink plenty of water and other fluids. Be aware of the signs and symptoms of dehydration:

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

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:

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

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 women do experience diarrhea around the time of a pregnancy loss, having an episode of diarrhea does not mean that miscarriage is about to happen. Many women get diarrhea while they’re pregnant and continue to have a healthy pregnancy. If you are worried about your pregnancy for any reason, you should talk to your doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Pregnant women 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 be safe, see what’s going on with your body, and check on the health of your pregnancy and your baby. 

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