Gastrointestinal issues during pregnancy are very common. Diarrhea and constipation are common in pregnancy and occur in about one-third of all pregnant women (1). Diarrhea is having three or more loose bowel movements during the day that may or may not be accompanied by stomach cramps (2).
Diarrhea in pregnancy is mostly caused by bacteria or viruses (3). Loose stools that continue for more than one day warrant medical care. It may lead to dehydration, which may lead to other health issues (3). Diarrhea accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, rectal bleeding, fluid leakage, or vaginal blood discharge, might need immediate medical attention.
This post explains the symptoms, causes, and remedies for diarrhea in pregnancy.
Symptoms Of Diarrhea
Loose and watery stools for three or more times a day may point to diarrhea. The following symptoms may also be seen along with diarrhea (3).
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Constant urge to have a bowel movement
- Loss of appetite
Causes Of Diarrhea In Pregnancy
Pregnancy brings several hormonal and other changes. Changes in hormones could also bring along certain variations in the gastrointestinal tract.
The following possible factors may lead to diarrhea in pregnancy (3).
- Elevated levels of prostaglandins may lead to diarrhea (4). Some hormones may cause one’s digestive process to slow down, leading to diarrhea gradually (5).
- Some women make drastic changes in their diet once they know they are pregnant. These sudden dietary changes may sensitize the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhea. This is seen more commonly in the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Excess binge eating of junk food due to pregnancy-related cravings may cause diarrhea.
- Many women are stressed regarding the baby’s well-being during pregnancy. Stress could be a predisposing factor for diarrhea in pregnancy.
- Some women are advised bed rest in pregnancy for certain medical reasons. A sedentary lifestyle may lead to a weak digestive system, causing diarrhea eventually.
- Some women may develop diarrhea due to prenatal vitamins. You may change the brand of the vitamins and see if it helps.
- Heartburn and acidity are common in pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. Doctors may prescribe some antacids to help you. Magnesium in these antacids may cause diarrhea in some women (6).
- Some food items may cause sensitivity in the GI tract. Even if these items were well-tolerated pre-pregnancy, they might cause an upset stomach during pregnancy.
- Diarrhea may occur a week or two before the labor. However, if you experience diarrhea during the third trimester, it does not necessarily mean that labor is approaching. You should also check other signs of approaching labor before getting alarmed (5).
The following causes are not pregnancy-related but may still lead to diarrhea.
- Food poisoning
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Intestinal parasites
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Celiac disease
- Ulcerative Colitis
Remedies For Diarrhea In Pregnancy
Most cases of diarrhea resolve without medications within a couple of days. The following might help you manage your diarrhea better.
- Hydration: Drink adequate water, broth, and oral rehydration solutions and lemon water to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and minerals (5).
- Diet: Eat a healthy balanced diet that has the right amount of fiber to aid proper digestion. Identify and avoid foods that may make diarrhea worse. Avoid tap water and street food when traveling.
- Exercises: Try to include some exercises in your routine. Decide the intensity of your workout under your obstetrician’s guidance. Exercising improves blood flow to all organs, including the bowels (3).
- Medicines: If diarrhea does not resolve on its own, the doctor might prescribe some medications for it. The doctor will prescribe the safest dose and medicine, depending on your overall health (3).
If diarrhea continues to persist or gets worse, you must contact your healthcare provider. The doctor will help you identify the cause of diarrhea. If it is caused by bacteria, the doctor will prescribe a pregnancy-safe antibiotic (5).
When To Call The Doctor?
- Severe stomach pain
- Pain in rectum
- Lower abdominal cramps
- Vomiting blood
- Pus in stool
- Signs of dehydration ( thirst, dry skin, fatigue, dizziness, less frequent urination, and dark-colored urine)
- Blood in stool
- Sudden weight loss
- Leaking of fluid from the vagina
- Vaginal bleeding
- Decreased fetal movement
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can diarrhea during pregnancy cause miscarriage?
Diarrhea does not always indicate an impending miscarriage. However, diarrhea may occur due to food poisoning caused by salmonella, toxoplasmosis, or listeriosis. These pathogens are associated with an increased risk of miscarriage. If you suspect food poisoning to be a cause of miscarriage, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible (9).
2. Is diarrhea a bad sign in early pregnancy?
Diarrhea in the third trimester is most common. However, some women experience diarrhea in the first trimester as the body takes some time to adjust to the hormonal changes. It is not necessary to consider diarrhea as a bad sign in early pregnancy, but you must inform your doctor about it.
3. Can I take diarrhea tablets when pregnant?
Loperamide is the choice of drug for short episodes of diarrhea in adults. Research done on about 750 pregnant women who took loperamide showed no adverse effect on the baby. However, more research is needed to establish the safety of loperamide in pregnant women. Your healthcare provider will weigh the risks and benefits and prescribe a safe drug and dosage for you (10).
Diarrhea in pregnancy may occur due to pregnancy-related changes or even due to causes not associated with pregnancy. While diarrhea can be managed at home by hydration and other dietary changes, it is always better to consult your doctor and proceed accordingly.
2. Problems of the Digestive System; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
3. Gastrointestinal Issues During Pregnancy; Lifespan Health System
4. Cameron Body and Jennifer A Christi, Gastrointestinal Diseases in Pregnancy: Nausea, Vomiting, Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Constipation, and Diarrhea; National Center for Biotechnology Information
5. Diarrhea in Pregnancy; American Pregnancy Association
6. M. Wienbeck, J. Erckenbrecht, and G. Strohmeyer, Effect of antacids on intestinal motility; National Center for Biotechnology Information
7. Diarrhoea and vomiting in pregnancy; Tommy’s
8. Premature Labor; Cleveland Clinic
9. Signs of Miscarriage; European Commission
10. Loperamide; UK Teratology Information Service