Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman with Diarrhea

Diarrhea during pregnancy is one of the unfortunate discomforts that may be experienced.  Diarrhea literally means “flowing through” and is defined as having three or more loose or liquid bowel movements in a 24 hour period. If you are experiencing three runny, watery bowel movements in one day, the main concern is to stay hydrated. You can lose a significant amount of fluids when experiencing diarrhea during pregnancy.  Dehydration can be serious, even deadly. You will need to make sure you are re-hydrating yourself.  Diarrhea is rarely life-threatening, but it shouldn’t be taken too lightly, especially while pregnant.

What Causes Diarrhea During Pregnancy?

Don’t be surprised if you experience diarrhea during pregnancy. There are a few associations between pregnancy and diarrhea. When you first find out you are pregnant, you may make sudden changes in your diet to make sure your baby is getting the nutrients they need. If you change the food you eat, that can sometimes cause an upset stomach or diarrhea.

Pregnant woman with an upset stomach because of her diarrhea

Another reason diarrhea occurs is because some pregnant women become sensitive to particular foods. These could be foods you have eaten often before, but eating them while pregnant can give you an upset stomach or diarrhea. Another cause of diarrhea during pregnancy is hormonal changes.

Sometimes hormones can cause your digestive process to slow down, and at times that can lead to diarrhea. Every pregnant woman has these hormonal changes, but some will experience diarrhea early in their pregnancy from those changes. If you are experiencing diarrhea, it could also be due to a bacterial or viral infection.

Diarrhea During Third Trimester of Pregnancy

Diarrhea during the third trimester is not as uncommon and is more likely to happen as you approach your due date. It could be a sign that labor is near, and it can occur right before labor or a couple of weeks before labor. If it is a couple of weeks before your due date, a premature birth should not be expected.

If you are experiencing diarrhea during your third trimester, it does not mean your baby is coming right now, so you should not be alarmed.   This is just a way some women’s bodies prepare for the labor that is going to start at some point.  You may want to be aware of other labor signs as well.

Treating Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Most cases of diarrhea will clear up on its own within a couple of days. The main concern of diarrhea is staying hydrated. Make sure you drink plenty of water, juice and broth to rehydrate yourself and replace the electrolytes your body has lost. The water will help replenish your lost fluids, the juice will help replenish your potassium levels and the broth will help replenish your sodium.

Broth is known to help resolve diarrhea

If the diarrhea doesn’t clear up on its own you may need to consult your health care provider. If diarrhea during your pregnancy is caused by bacteria or parasites, you may need antibiotics. If a virus is causing your diarrhea, antibiotics will not help. To determine the cause, you will need to speak with your health care provider.

Traveler’s Diarrhea and Pregnancy

Traveler’s diarrhea is a common illness that affects travelers each year. The onset of traveler’s diarrhea usually happens within a week of travel, but could start at any time while traveling. It is important to know the area of your destination. Higher risk areas are in developing countries in South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. The main source of traveler’s diarrhea is consuming food or water contaminated with fecal matter.

If you will be traveling during your pregnancy you will want to avoid traveler’s diarrhea. Here are ways to help avoid diarrhea during pregnancy while traveling:

  • Avoid tap water in high risk areas – Don’t drink it, brush your teeth with it or use ice cubes made from it.
  • Stay away from street vendors.
  • Avoid fruits that can’t be peeled or that you didn’t peel yourself.
  • Avoid areas with inadequate sanitation.

If you do get diarrhea during pregnancy, be sure to drink enough liquids to avoid dehydration.

Last Updated: 07/2015

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Mayo Clinic, Pregnancy and nutrition: Healthy-eating basics. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc. Center for Disease Control, Traveler’s Diarrhea.  http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dbmd/diseaseinfo/travelersdiarrhea_g.htm