Diarrhea During Pregnancy: Causes & Treatment

Last Updated On: 

May 18, 2018

Pregnancy is a time when a woman’s body is going through tremendous changes and as a result, you may feel all kinds of discomforts. Many of these problems and annoyances fall under the category of digestive issues.

Pregnant women often deal with indigestion, bloating and gassiness. Sometimes you’ll get a mean case of hiccups, or belch like a construction worker after lunch break.

Other times you feel intense nausea, and may vomit if struggling with morning sickness.

One you might not really expect to contend with, though, is diarrhea.

Diarrhea is defined as having three or more loose bowel movements in a time period of 24 hours, according to www.americanpregnancy.org.

Soft, but somewhat formed bowel movements aren’t the same thing. If you have liquid stool, and a feeling that you shouldn’t wander far from the toilet, that’s definitely diarrhea.

Untreated, diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which is a big no-no for pregnant women, so it’s important to know what is causing it and how to deal with it.

Causes Of Diarrhea During Pregnancy?

1) Diet

Whenever our tummy isn’t feeling right, whether expecting a baby or not, the first place to look is our diets.

Take a good accounting of what was eaten, as well as drinks ingested, in the previous day or two. Note if anything out of the ordinary was in the diet.

Did you have some spicy Mexican or Indian dinner out? Did you have a super creamy casserole with extra milk and cheese? Was there a new recipe you’d never tried before with some novel spices or ingredients?

If so, that could likely be the problem.

If that’s the case, giving yourself some time to see if things calm down (and avoiding any leftovers) should do the trick.

Sometimes it could be something you ate, but it may even be something you’ve eaten hundreds of times before without bad results.

Pregnancy can often cause sensitivities to foods previously not problematic to digestion.

I developed a sensitivity to eggs during one of my pregnancies, and for months after giving birth I still became ill when eating eggs no matter how I prepared them. It’s one of those weird glitches of pregnancy.

2) Prenatal Vitamins

While not a food, another possible cause for diarrhea in pregnancy is those yummy, gigantic prenatal vitamins.

While it’s more likely for some women to get constipated from them, others may have a completely different reaction and develop diarrhea.

Skip it a couple days and see if that solves the problem.

3) Hormones

According to researchers from Loyola University, as noted in Fitpregnancy.com, 3 out of 4 pregnant women experience some type of digestive disorder while expecting.

This includes constipation, diarrhea, bloating or irritable bowel syndrome.

Constipation is one of the most common complaints, but both diarrhea and constipation in pregnancy can be chalked up to hormones changing the speed of digestion.

4) Food Poisoning

Another possible cause of pregnancy diarrhea can be a more sinister reason; food poisoning.

Food poisoning is when you eat food contaminated with germs or bacteria. Some of the most common types are salmonella and listeria.

If you are experiencing diarrhea and think it may be due to a case of food poisoning, seek medical treatment immediately.

Food poisoning can cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight or stillbirth, according to the March of Dimes.

Treatment depends on the illness and the severity of the condition, but may require hospitalization or IV treatment.

5) Salmonella

In most cases people get salmonella from eating foods infected with it, such as eggs, meat and poultry, or veggies or fruits that were exposed to soils contaminated with fecal matter.

Salmonella will have an onset of symptoms hours to 3 days after contact, and usually lasts 4 to 7 days.

A test can determine if you have the illness, and signs of salmonella include abdominal pain possibly with nausea and/or vomiting or diarrhea; blood in stool or dark-colored urine; fever or chills; dehydration and muscle pains as well as headaches.

Risk factors for salmonella include having recently taken an antibiotic; frequent use of antacids; having been to a country with unsanitary conditions; living or eating in group setting such as dorms; having a pet reptile; having a weak immune system or having a condition such as irritable bowel disorder.

6) Listeria

Listeria is mostly associated with eating certain foods especially vulnerable to listeria bacteria, such as lunch meat and hot dogs that were eaten without heating first, salad and deli items, soft cheeses, unpasteurized foods and drinks, unwashed veggies or fruits or smoked refrigerated seafood items.

Symptoms of listeria usually manifest in a few days, but may take up to 2 months to show up!

A simple blood test can diagnose the illness, and symptoms are often mild and rather flu-like.

If you have a loss of balance (more than a pregnant lady typically has), headaches and muscle aches, nausea and diarrhea, confusion or fever and chills, you should contact your doctor right away.

If you have a stiff and sore neck or seizures ,you should see a physician immediately.

7) Traveler’s Diarrhea

If you’ve been on vacation, or traveled for business, and develop diarrhea it can be due to the water you drank or water your food was prepared with.

If traveling in countries with good hygiene and sanitation practices, it could just be that you are sensitive to the changes in the water.

However, if traveling to more out-of-the-way spots, it could be that the water was contaminated.

If you think the latter reason is your problem, follow the same advice as with food poisoning. You don’t want to let it go and reason it will stop if it’s been going on more than a couple days or if the symptoms are becoming worse.

To avoid traveler’s diarrhea, according to americanpregnancy.org, eat only fruits or veggies you can peel yourself, avoid street carts or food sold by individuals, and drink only bottled water. That also includes avoiding ice cubes.

8) Stomach Virus

If you are unlucky enough to catch a stomach bug while pregnant, known scientifically as gastroenteritis, you’re likely to feel pretty awful for a couple days, but you should recover without bothering baby.

Since it’s a virus, there’s not anything like an antibiotic that’ll help anyway.

The biggest concern is dehydration, so take care to watch for signs of that such as less frequent urination, dark urine, thirst, and a dry, sticky mouth.

Other symptoms of dehydration include headache, dizziness and fatigue.

If you can’t seem to keep anything down or in, as in consistent diarrhea and/or vomiting, call your doctor.

9) Medications

Another possible cause of diarrhea in pregnancy could be medication, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

One frequent cause is antibiotics.

Diarrhea is a common side effect of many antibiotics, as well as with medications like antidepressants and antacids.

These are some commonly prescribed medication types for pregnant patients, so check the label or call your pharmacist if diarrhea is troubling you.

10) Digestive Disorders and Diseases

Having a digestive disorder while pregnant can definitely be behind a bout of diarrhea.

Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS-D (which means IBS that’s mainly with diarrhea), Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis are all illnesses that could cause diarrhea while pregnant.

According to www.verywell.com, pregnant women tend to be more symptomatic while expecting a child than their non-preggo counterparts.

The incidents of diarrhea seem to occur more often in the second and third trimesters and appear to be linked to hormone changes.

For those already diagnosed with a condition such as IBS, it’s important to see your physician regularly to keep things in check.

Unfortunately, some of the usual treatments are off-limits are to be used with caution for pregnant patients.

Medication such as Imodium are questionable in their safety for expectant mothers, so regular use as one might do normally would be ill-advised while pregnant.

Following a healthy diet is good for all pregnant women, but especially key for those with IBS. Avoid poorly digested sugars such as lactose, as well as fatty foods.

Getting adequate hydration is also important.

Mind-body connections are helpful, so trying meditation and yoga may prove some help with stress reduction.

Therapies such as CBT or cognitive-behavioral therapy and hypnotherapy have also been shown to reduce IBS problems. Stress can make IBS worse, so controlling that in your life may reduce symptoms such as diarrhea.

Similar conditions like colitis and Crohn’s follow along the same guidelines as IBS, only more so since they are more serious illnesses with potentially more dangerous outcomes.

Having a close watch by medical specialists is critical in a pregnant patient’s health when dealing with such conditions.

11) Yeast

One lesser known problem that can cause diarrhea in pregnancy is a build-up of yeast in the body.

I know about this, because in the last trimester of my first pregnancy I experienced it.

I was not feeling ill, but had frequent diarrhea. I wasn’t close to my due date, so my physician decided to put me in the hospital, run some tests and give me IV hydration treatment.

As it turned out I was having symptoms due to yeast. It was in my digestive system, rather than the usual vaginal kind we all know and hate.

I was instructed to eat live culture yogurt and continue to watch for signs of dehydration.

It’s also important to cut down on sugar to avoid feeding the growth of yeast in your system.

Probiotics may also prove helpful, but as with any medication or over the counter supplement or treatment, always discuss it with your doctor before using it.

12) Impending Labor

If you are in your third trimester and you begin having bouts of diarrhea, it could be a sign that labor is on its way.

Plenty of women experience loose stools in preparation for birth. It’s like the body says, “OK! It’s go time! Let’s clean out the area!”

However, don’t go to the hospital just yet.

The diarrhea associated with the start of labor may begin hours, or even days ahead of contractions.

But if you are experiencing other symptoms of early labor such as backache, cramping in the lower abdomen that mimics menstrual cramps, leaking of fluid from your vagina or loss of the mucus plug, labor could be setting in soon.

The sure sign? Strong, consistent contractions which grow closer together.

What to Do For Diarrhea While Pregnant

Of course, treatment depends on knowing the cause first.

If your diarrhea is due to dietary factors, cutting out the offending food is the best treatment.

If it’s a nutritious food that you are worried about being eliminated from your diet, talk to your physician about how to make up for it.

I know many lactose intolerant women (nearly lactose hostile) who gave birth to many healthy babies without drinking any milk at all. They just had to find plenty of calcium in other places.

If diarrhea is due to food poisoning, you need to safeguard against dehydration. That is the biggest danger.

If you suspect listeria is the culprit, call your health care provider to find out if you need to be seen, or even hospitalized to protect you and your baby.

If you are experiencing serious diarrhea due to medication, again, talk to the doctor’s office and find out if you should stop the medication or take something else instead.

Diarrhea caused by unknown factors that last beyond 2 days, or seems to be causing dehydration, warrants a call to the physician.

Most cases do resolve themselves within a couple days, but if it continues longer than that, there may be something more a doctor can do for you.

Treating and Preventing Dehydration

Should you fear you may be depleted on fluids, try to replace those lost liquids with water, drinks like Gatorade or other solutions containing electrolytes, like Pediasure.

Broth is another good option for those struggling to maintain proper hydration.

When eating, go for the BRAT diet. That consists of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast. These bland foods are more in the “binding” than “loosening” group, as well as having been recommended by doctors for years for those suffering from diarrhea.

Don’t self-medicate, even with “safe” over-the-counter meds.

While Imodium is great anti-diarrheal medication, it’s not always a good or safe choice for pregnant women. Your doctor will need to give you permission to take it.

Pepto Bismol is not safe for pregnant women as it contains the same salicylate that is in aspirin and could cause bleeding. Bismuth may cause birth defects.

So before reaching for some simple medication or remedy, check it out with your doctor first, just to be safe.

Enjoyed Reading? Help Us Spread The Word!

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

Related Posts

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top