Diarrhea during pregnancy

Diarrhea During Pregnancy: What You Need to Know

July 11, 2019
4 min read

Diarrhea is not a topic that’s fun to talk about, but it’s nothing to be embarrassed about either. Everyone gets diarrhea from time to time, and many expectant moms may experience diarrhea during pregnancy.

Although diarrhea may be a sign of preterm labor, it’s more likely that the diarrhea is unrelated to your pregnancy, triggered by something like food poisoning or a sudden change in diet. Read on to find out more about the causes of diarrhea during pregnancy, how it can be treated, and when to see your healthcare provider.

What's in this article:

Diarrhea Symptoms Diarrhea in Early Pregnancy Is Diarrhea a Sign or Symptom of Preterm Labor? Other Causes of Diarrhea During Pregnancy Treating Diarrhea and Preventing Dehydration When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Diarrhea Symptoms

The most common symptoms indicating diarrhea or related to diarrhea include

  • loose and watery stools
  • an urgent need for a bowel movement
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • feeling gassy or bloated
  • nausea
  • having blood in your stool
  • fever.

Diarrhea in Early Pregnancy

Although diarrhea isn’t a sign of early pregnancy, it's possible that you may experience diarrhea or other digestive issues in your first trimester.

Early on in your pregnancy, your body starts going through lots of changes, and these can affect your bowel movements, leading to either hard or loose stools. For example, as levels of the hormone progesterone increase, this can cause your digestive system to slow down, often leading to constipation.

Changes to your diet and nutrition as part of your pregnancy may result in changes in your bowels, too. For instance, if you’re eating more fiber now or taking prenatal vitamins, these changes can affect the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements.

For some people, consuming more fiber-rich foods — such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — can help with constipation, but for others such a sudden change in diet can cause gas, cramping, and even diarrhea.

Drinking more water can help with constipation, and can help replenish the fluids lost by having diarrhea. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re having trouble with any digestive issues such as bloating or diarrhea in early pregnancy.

If you’re in the early stages of pregnancy and wondering when your little one is due, use our Due Date Calculator to get an estimate.

Is Diarrhea a Sign or Symptom of Preterm Labor?

Mild abdominal cramps with or without the presence of diarrhea before week 37 of pregnancy may be a sign of preterm labor.

Other signs of preterm labor may include

Other Causes of Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Whether it strikes before, during, or after your pregnancy, diarrhea can be caused by a number of different things. Here are some of the common causes worth knowing about:

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning doesn’t discriminate, unfortunately — you can get it at any time in your life, including when you're pregnant.

You can try to lower your risk of food poisoning by avoiding certain foods that put you at risk. For example, stay away from deli meats, unpasteurized milk and cheese, undercooked seafood, and raw eggs.

Be extra careful about how the food you eat is prepared. Always wash your hands before preparing any food, and make sure all the surfaces in your kitchen have been cleaned with hot, soapy water.

Serious forms of food poisoning can lead to pregnancy complications such as preterm labor. That’s why, if you have any symptoms of food poisoning (nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea), it’s best to seek treatment from your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

As a result of diarrhea, you can also lose a lot of body fluid, and be in danger of dehydration and overturning the chemical balance in your body. If you have diarrhea, try to drink plenty of water. In some cases, your provider may prescribe intravenous fluids for dehydration and/or antibiotics to help combat the bacteria.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you are living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or you frequently experience the symptoms of IBS, which include cramps, gas, bloating, and bowel movements alternating between diarrhea and constipation, talk to your healthcare provider about what you should do to manage this condition during pregnancy.

It isn’t clear what leads to IBS, but it’s believed that triggers can include stress, overeating, and even travel. Taking certain medicines or eating certain foods can also cause flare-ups.

Traveler’s Diarrhea

If you plan to travel while pregnant, continue to follow the guidelines about the foods pregnant women should not eat. If you are traveling to a developing country, you'll need to watch out for what's called traveler's diarrhea, which results from eating raw or undercooked food or drinking local water.

Before you head off, it’s a great idea to check with your provider about any extra precautions you should take, depending on where you're going. Though each travel destination is unique, here are some general recommendations that may be relevant:

  • Drink bottled water instead of the tap water; if you must drink the tap water, boil it first.
  • Avoid anything that may have been washed in tap water, such as salad greens or raw fruits.
  • If you eat raw fruit, opt for ones that have skins that you peel yourself.
  • Stick to eating well-cooked meals.
  • Stay away from eating local street food, as proper hygiene isn’t always guaranteed, and you run the risk of getting food poisoning.

If you do get traveler’s diarrhea, drink plenty of fluids to keep from getting dehydrated. Avoid dairy products and caffeinated drinks, which might make diarrhea worse. To be on the safe side, you may want to see a healthcare provider just in case you need antidiarrheal medication or some other treatment.

Viral Infections

Many highly contagious viral infections, like norovirus infection, can cause diarrhea and vomiting, and may lead to dehydration. You can pick up stomach viruses from food and drink that has been contaminated, from other people who have been infected, and from surfaces that have been touched by those who are infected.

There are some precautions you can take to help avoid catching a virus, such as washing your hands frequently and washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly. If you think you’ve come down with a virus, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Treating Diarrhea and Preventing Dehydration

To treat diarrhea, your healthcare provider may recommend a safe over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication. Your provider may also recommend other steps, such as getting intravenous fluids to help replenish any fluid loss.

If you have diarrhea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids and to call your provider right away if you notice these signs of dehydration:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Dry mouth or skin
  • Little to no urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

It’s time to see your provider if

  • your diarrhea lasts for more than two days
  • you’re dehydrated
  • you have severe abdominal pain or rectal pain
  • you pass bloody or black stools
  • you have a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

FAQs at a Glance

  • Q : Is diarrhea in the first trimester normal?
  • Q : How do I get rid of diarrhea during pregnancy?
  • Q : Is diarrhea a sign of going into labor?
  • Q : How do you prevent cradle cap?

Diarrhea during pregnancy can be a symptom of something normal, such as a change in diet, but it can also be a sign of something more serious, such as preterm labor. It’s a pretty uncomfortable condition that can also lead to dehydration, so it’s always safest and best to get checked by your healthcare provider sooner rather than later. With the right treatment you'll feel better soon.

See all sources
All Sources:

Mayo Clinic: Diarrhea

Mayo Clinic: Home Remedies Avoiding Travelers’ Diarrhea

ACOG: Travel During Pregnancy

Book: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month, Sixth Edition Paperback – January 1, 2016
by American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (Author):

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