Digestive changes during pregnancy are pretty common.
These changes can be mild or uncomfortable, depending on how your body responds.
Most women expect and experience constipation or a sluggish digestive system, but the opposite can happen too.
Diarrhoea occurs when fluid can’t be absorbed from the contents of your bowel, or when extra fluid is secreted into your bowel.
This causes your bowel movements to become loose and watery.
Diarrhea is usually defined as 3 or more loose bowel movements in a 24 hour period.
Is Diarrhea Common During Pregnancy?
Diarrhea can be common during pregnancy. But having diarrhea doesn’t necessarily mean it is related to pregnancy.
There are a number of non-pregnancy causes of diarrhea:
- Bacteria (food poisoning)
- Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- Food allergies or intolerances
- Intestinal parasites
- Bacterial infections
- Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and ulcerative colitis
Pregnancy can cause your body to change how it reacts to existing conditions or create a lot of changes in your body.
Pregnancy related causes of diarrhea might be:
- Increased sensitivities to foods, which may have never caused problems before pregnancy
- Changes to diet, which occur when women first find out they are pregnant, may cause stomach upsets
- Prenatal vitamins can irritate the stomach lining
- Hormone changes usually slow down the digestive system and cause constipation, but the reverse is also true.
Diarrhea is quite common in the third trimester. As you approach labour, your body releases prostaglandin, a hormone which helps soften and ripen your cervix.
Prostaglandin also stimulates the bowel to open more frequently and can cause diarrhea. Having diarrhea in the third trimester doesn’t mean you are going into labour soon, just one of many signs that your body is preparing for labour. Read more here about other signs you may be in early labour.
Risks Of Diarrhea During Pregnancy
If you have diarrhea during pregnancy, you are at risk of becoming dehydrated. Watery, loose bowel movements remove quite a bit of fluid from your body. Dehydration can occur fast during pregnancy as you need more fluid than when you aren’t pregnant.
Dehydration can become serious if left unchecked during pregnancy, causing:
- Dizziness and headaches
- Dry and sticky mouth
- Dark yellow urine and decreased urine output.
While in most cases diarrhea doesn’t cause any harm to the baby, severe dehydration in the mother can result in reduced blood flow to the placenta.
Severe dehydration can potentially cause contractions which leads to preterm labour, particularly in the third trimester. This is rare but it is better to avoid becoming severely dehydrated.
How To Treat Diarrhea During Pregnancy
Most of the time, diarrhea during pregnancy will resolve itself. Stick to light foods which are unlikely to irritate your stomach, such as apples, toast or rice.
- Stay hydrated and give your body time to clear out the bacteria or virus that may be causing the diarrhea.
- Avoid foods which trigger diarrhea, particularly things such as spicy foods, dairy, high fibre foods and fatty fried foods.
- If medication is causing the diarrhea, speak to your care provider about changing brands or stopping.
- Likewise, if your prenatal vitamin is causing diarrhea, try a different brand, or change the timing – after food is usually better than on an empty stomach.
If you have diarrhea for a prolonged period, it can lead to dehydration as you may not be able to replace lost fluid fast enough. To prevent dehydration, drink at least 8-12 glasses of water a day.
Fluids such as coconut water, juice and broth can help to replace some of the electrolytes, vitamins and minerals you have lost, easing symptoms such as cramps and dizziness. You can buy an elecrolyte powder to put in your water, such as Endura (in Australia) which will help with hydration during and after your pregnancy. Avoid sugary sports drinks.
Before taking any over the counter medication for diarrhea, check with your care provider or pharmacist.
See your care provider if you experience diarrhea for longer than 48 hours, especially if you develop a high temperature, to determine the cause and effective treatment.
If you notice anything unusual about your diarrhea, such as dark green or black stools, or blood in your stool, see your care provider immediately.