Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman with Diarrhea

Diarrhea during pregnancy is one of the unfortunate discomforts that sometimes shows up more easily. 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 would be staying hydrated. You can lose a significant amount of fluids with 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. The first is when you find out you are pregnant; sometimes women will make sudden changes in their diets 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 occurs when some pregnant women become sensitive to particular foods. These could be foods that you have eaten often before and eating them while pregnant could give you an upset stomach or diarrhea. One last relationship between pregnancy and diarrhea is the hormonal changes that occur during your pregnancy. Sometimes this can cause your digestive process to slow down and at times that could lead to diarrhea. Every pregnant woman has these hormonal changes but only few experience diarrhea early in their pregnancy from those changes. If you are experiencing diarrhea during your first or second trimester it is more likely because of something you ate, or 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; that could be right before labor or a couple weeks before labor will start. 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, that doesn’t mean your baby is coming right now and you shouldn’t be alarmed it is just a way that some women’s bodies prepare for the labor that is going to start at some point and you might want to be aware of other labor signs.

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 will have 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 will want to consult your health care provider. If your diarrhea during pregnancy is caused by bacteria or parasites, you may need antibiotics. If a virus is causing your diarrhea, antibiotics won’t help. To determine the cause you will need to speak with your health care provider.

Traveler’s Diarrhea and Pregnancy

Travelers’ 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 fecally contaminated food or water.

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 and travel:

  • 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 you didn’t peel yourself
  • Avoid areas with lower levels of sanitation

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

Last Updated: 07/2013

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