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Diarrhea During Pregnancy 2023: Is It Normal, Causes & Treatment
Few things will put a damper on your day like diarrhea. Unfortunately, like many of the other minor discomforts of pregnancy, the problem might be difficult to avoid, even if you’re extremely careful about your diet and daily habits.
Diarrhea, even more than once a week, is nothing to worry about, especially during the earliest days of your pregnancy. Here are a few things to keep in mind, as well as some info on when you should go to your doctor for more help.
Is It Normal To Have Diarrhea During Pregnancy?
In short: yes, changes in bowel movements and your digestive system as a whole are perfectly normal during pregnancy. While these issues may be embarrassing or inconvenient, they’re just as much a part of being a pregnant woman as any other part of the process.
Diarrhea During Pregnancy: What Is Symptoms?
Even if you’re normally very regular and continent, you might experience any of the following:
- Loose stools or watery stools
- Abdominal pain, and rectal pain
- Other digestive issues, like poor nutrient absorption
- Bloating, feeling gassy, and general discomfort
- Bowel movements are more sudden or urgent than you’re used to
- Some nausea
- A mild fever
Around one-third of pregnant women experience at least mild diarrhea, especially during the first trimester. Is the underlying bowel disorder due entirely to hormonal changes? It depends. Here’s what you need to know.
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What Causes Diarrhea While Pregnancy?
Many attribute diarrhea while pregnant to hormonal changes, just like many of the other symptoms that pregnant women commonly experience.
Progesterone is one of the most common culprits—essentially, this compound acts as a muscle relaxant, which prevents preterm labor and early, frequent contractions. As a result, your digestive system is also subject to this relaxation of the smooth muscle tissue responsible for seeing each movement through. However, progesterone is more likely to cause constipation by slowing gastrointestinal motility while excess prostaglandins can cause diarrhea. What can you do?
Of course, it’s also totally possible that some other problem might be causing you to experience digestive dysfunction. It’s not always the baby’s fault, especially if you’re already dealing with another preexisting condition.
Other Possible Causes Of Diarrhea In Pregnancy
Sometimes, persistent diarrhea is linked to another root cause. What else might be to blame for unusual bowel movements during pregnancy?
- An unrelated stomach virus
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Food poisoning
- Pre-existing stomach issues like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease
- Celiac disease
- Spicy foods
- Dairy products for lactose intolerant mothers-to-be
- Digestive and kidney diseases
- The bacterial infection leads to acute gastrointestinal infection
- Intestinal parasites
- Sudden dietary changes your body may not be used to
- New food sensitivities can often present themselves for the first time while pregnant
There are a ton of foods that any healthcare provider will ask you to avoid while pregnant. We’ll touch briefly upon these in a moment.
How To Treat Diarrhea When Pregnant
Pregnancy-related diarrhea might not be as straightforward a problem as ordinary viral infections and food poisoning. Thankfully, though, underlying issues aside, treating diarrhea is often a simple matter of nurturing your digestive system through your daily activities and the food that you eat.
Here are a couple of tips for pregnant women with loose stools – you won’t find anything outlandish here.
More Water Daily
Depending on the source of the problem, staying hydrated can often help you manage diarrhea. It’s also vital to your recovery if you’re already dealing with an upset stomach and loose bowel movements.
One of the classic byproducts of chronic diarrhea is dehydration. If your watery bowel movements become constant and relentless, look out for dark-colored urine, brain fog, and a sense of fatigue and disorientation.
Even if you don’t experience diarrhea all the time, it can be easy to forget this one simple way to ensure a smooth ride into late pregnancy. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated daily—it can be helpful to keep a readily available supply for easy access and replenishment. Sports drinks and pure fruit and vegetable juices can also help you prevent dehydration after being depleted.
More Fiber Intake
Fruits, vegetables, dried fruits, and even fiber supplements like Metamucil are all great ways to prevent diarrhea and solidify each movement. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are key; whole foods like sweet potatoes, kale, bananas, berries, and whole grains like popcorn are all perfect for the job.
Avoiding Problem Food Groups
Certain foods can often make diarrhea worse. You can read one fairly comprehensive list and some helpful alternatives here, courtesy of FoodSafety.gov.
Diarrhea and other problems associated with your digestive tract are often very difficult to avoid, even when sticking strictly to bland foods and inoffensive fare that would ordinarily be no problem. For this reason, tons of women adopt the BRAT diet when pregnant, also known as the bland diet.
On this diet, you’ll be asked to stick mostly to bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. It’s not the most nutritionally-complete diet, but, along with your physician’s best advice and a full round of prenatal vitamins, it might be able to help you overcome diarrhea while pregnant.
Finally, an obvious one. If you’ve tried it all and are still seeing no results, we recommend asking your doctor about any medication safe enough to use while pregnant.
Avoid all over-the-counter remedies until receiving your doctor’s blessing—diarrhea while pregnant is often a completely temporary issue, and over-the-counter medications may impose a risk to you and your unborn child. Talk to your healthcare provider first; they’ll be able to help you find the right solution.
When To See A Doctor
If your diarrhea lasts for more than 48 hours, you should seek professional medical advice to avoid any potential pregnancy complications. Rehydrating, at this juncture, is a must—of all the other symptoms that come along with diarrhea during pregnancy, this may very well be the most dangerous to your child.
It’s not always just a simple case of food poisoning. Some warning signs of more serious complications include the following:
- Blood in your stools
- Very dark urine
- A dry, sticky mouth and unusual thirst
- Black, tarry stools
- A fever higher than 101.3F
- Significant abdominal pain and cramping
- Extreme dehydration
Any of these symptoms may indicate an infection, inflammation of your digestive system, and even more serious matters like cancer and pancreatitis. See your doctor immediately if any of the above apply to your case.
The Bottom Line
Is diarrhea the worst? We’re right there with you. Thankfully, after the first trimester, many women report feeling much better as their bodies adjust to the temporary change. After delivering your baby, your diarrhea and other associated symptoms should resolve themselves entirely.
If it doesn’t, we can always recommend another trip to the doctor. As long as none of the severe digestive symptoms listed above are a concern, the problem is highly unlikely to cause your child-to-be any harm.
+ 6 sources
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- Bonapace, E. S., Jr, & Fisher, R. S. (1998). Constipation and diarrhea in pregnancy. Gastroenterology clinics of North America, 27(1), 197–211. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0889-8553(05)70353-8
- Body, C., & Christie, J. A. (2016). Gastrointestinal Diseases in Pregnancy: Nausea, Vomiting, Hyperemesis Gravidarum, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, Constipation, and Diarrhea. Gastroenterology clinics of North America, 45(2), 267–283. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gtc.2016.02.005
- Mehta, S., Khatuja, R., Verma, M., & Grover, A. (2017). Gastroenteritis In Pregnancy: Relevance and Remedy. Journal of clinical and diagnostic research: JCDR, 11(9), QL01. https://doi.org/10.7860/JCDR/2017/27782.10683
- Nemeth, V. and Pfleghaar, N. (2021) “Diarrhea”, StatPearls Publishing, p. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448082/
- Gill, S., Rossi, M., Balázs Bajka and Whelan, K. (2020). Dietary fibre in gastrointestinal health and disease. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology, [online] 18(2), pp.101–116. doi:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41575-020-00375-4.
- Weir, S. and Akhondi, H. (2021) “Bland Diet”, StatPearls Publishing. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538142/