Diarrhea During Pregnancy: Causes & Remedies
You were expecting nausea and possible vomiting during the first trimester of your pregnancy. What you weren’t expecting was frequent diarrhea.
It’s not uncommon for pregnant people to experience trouble with bowel movements and other digestive issues, but diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can be detrimental to your pregnancy.
If you’re currently at war with your digestive system, we’ll explain why it’s happening, what you can do, and when you need to call your doctor.
What Causes Diarrhea During Pregnancy?
It’s important first to understand that diarrhea isn’t just one occurrence of loose stool.
To be considered diarrhea, you must have had three loose, watery stools within a 24-hour period.
Diarrhea happens when your stool doesn’t stay in your intestines long enough to become solid. Essential fluid, electrolytes, and other nutrients are not absorbed as they should be.
There are numerous causes of diarrhea, but while pregnant, they can be related to changes in your body due to your hormones, diet, and even stress levels.
Pregnant people often suffer from gastrointestinal issues like constipation, bloating, gas, and heartburn.
These digestive issues are due to changes in weight and the hormone progesterone.
Weight changes and an expanding uterus can cause you to experience upper gastrointestinal issues like burping and indigestion.
Hormones can cause you to have lower GI issues. As soon as you become pregnant, your body produces more estrogen and progesterone.
Progesterone relaxes muscles to prepare your body for labor and delivery. However, it relaxes all muscles, including intestinal muscles.
This relaxation can cause your stool to sit in your intestines longer, resulting in constipation.
However, toward the end of your pregnancy, a rise in prostaglandins (hormones that help soften the cervix) can result in diarrhea. The more prostaglandins you produce, the more likely diarrhea will become one of your pregnancy symptoms.
Your Prenatal Vitamin
Most people tolerate prenatal vitamins well.
The ingredients inside these over-the-counter supplements help make up for any dietary deficiencies and ensure that you and your baby are supported throughout your pregnancy.
Although the iron in prenatal vitamins can cause constipation, the other ingredients may also cause stomach pain and give you pregnancy-related diarrhea.
It’s still important that you take your prenatal vitamins, but there are many options you can find. Talk to your healthcare provider about switching to a different prenatal vitamin if you experience diarrhea with your current supplement.
Changes in Your Diet
Especially common in early pregnancy are dietary changes that can lead to stomach upset and digestion issues.
Morning sickness (which isn’t limited to just mornings) can cause you to lose more than you take in, and pregnancy cravings can have you combining foods that aren’t complimentary (we’re looking at pickles and ice cream a la mode).
These changes can cause abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Although it’s uncommon, you could have food poisoning while pregnant.
Pregnancy requires you to be more considerate of what you eat, so you’re likely already avoiding undercooked meat, some fish, and lunch meat.
However, it’s still possible to get food poisoning even if you are being careful.
Symptoms of food poisoning include:
- Upset stomach
- Stomach cramping
You may experience these symptoms within a few hours of consuming contaminated food or even a few days.
Underlying Medical Conditions
If you suffer from an underlying disease, like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, or a disorder like irritable bowel syndrome, pregnancy could cause you to experience more flare-ups.
Hormonal changes, increased stress levels, and the issues listed above can make it more difficult to manage your illness while pregnant.
Seek medical attention if you are experiencing more symptoms from your bowel disease or disorder as they can cause pregnancy complications if they go untreated.
What Are Some Remedies for Pregnancy Diarrhea?
While some antidiarrheal medications are considered safe during pregnancy, you may be able to get relief for your tummy troubles without using them.
Here are some ways to help deal with diarrhea at home.
The BRAT Diet
You’ve probably heard that people who have diarrhea should try the BRAT diet.
This diet consists of non-irritating foods that can help settle an upset stomach and reduce diarrhea. BRAT stands for:
These bland and easily digested foods can help calm your digestive system and offer relief.
While it’s considered safe during pregnancy, talk to your doctor to ensure you get enough calories each day, especially during your second and third trimesters, when your caloric needs increase.
Try a Different Prenatal Vitamin
If your prenatal vitamin isn’t working for you, talk to your doctor about switching to a different one.
There are numerous prenatal vitamins available, and one may work better for you than another.
Consider a Probiotic
Probiotics are supplements that supply good bacteria to the gut flora in your digestive tract.
Probiotics help your gut maintain a healthy balance and can aid in digestion.
Talk to your doctor before you add a probiotic to your routine.
They are usually considered safe during pregnancy, but your healthcare provider should know all your medications and supplements.
You need more water when you are pregnant.
Usually, increasing your fluid intake to 64 to 96 ounces per day will provide excellent hydration and ensure your amniotic fluid levels are healthy. If you have diarrhea, you’ll need to drink even more water.
Diarrhea causes you to lose water and important electrolytes, like sodium and potassium.
Drinking plenty of water can help you stay hydrated, and supplementing with sports drinks can help increase your electrolytes.
Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry mouth
- Dark yellow urine
- Feeling tired
- Dry skin
As a side note, it’s also possible to experience diarrhea and dehydration after your baby arrives.
If breastfeeding, you will need to increase your water intake to ensure you are well hydrated and can make enough milk for your baby.
Although water is most important, all fluids count toward your daily fluid intake. Even soup and broth are good ways to increase hydration, especially when your stomach is upset.
Avoid Trigger Foods
Sometimes it can be easy to pinpoint foods that aren’t agreeing with your body.
Pregnancy cravings may tell you that cheeseburgers and ice cream are exactly what your body needs, but if they give you loose poo, you should take them off the menu for a while.
The most common diarrhea-inducing foods are:
- Spicy foods
- Fatty, fried foods
- Dairy products
If you find you have intolerances to any of these foods, stop eating them and try again in a later trimester of pregnancy.
In the meantime, stick to bland foods, soups, and broths that can help replace lost fluid.
Give It a Few Days
Thankfully, most bouts of diarrhea are self-correcting. That means if you have diarrhea, it will probably go away on its own without any treatment.
Even if you are experiencing food poisoning, the side effects usually dissipate within two to three days.
When Should I Call a Doctor?
Although diarrhea isn’t usually a medical emergency, it can cause a risk to your pregnancy if it causes you to become dehydrated.
Diarrhea that lasts longer than a few days needs to be addressed by a medical professional. Contact your doctor immediately if you have:
- Diarrhea symptoms that last more than a couple of days
- Dark yellow urine
- Dry mouth
These could be symptoms of dehydration. It may be necessary for you to have IV fluids to support your body and encourage hydration.
Supporting Your Pregnancy
The field of obstetrics is well-advanced, and your doctor can help you avoid pregnancy complications by providing the prenatal care you need through your due date.
Although diarrhea during pregnancy can be common and often self-correcting, it still needs to be monitored closely.
Make sure you drink plenty of water and eat bland foods that won’t irritate your tummy to help promote wellness.
If, after a few days, you still feel like you’ve taken a package of laxatives (i.e., you still have diarrhea), contact your doctor.
They may examine you to determine the underlying cause and give you treatment to help you feel better.
References, Studies and Sources:
Prostaglandins – You and Your Hormones | the Society for Endocrinology
An OB/GYN’s Advice on Dealing with Morning Sickness | Trinity Medical, WNY
Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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