Diarrhea During Pregnancy: Causes, How to Treat & Medication

Updated in May 2023

Diarrhea and other intestinal changes are relatively common in pregnancy. In most cases, these happen due to changes in hormone levels, new food intolerances, or excess stress. Therefore, diarrhea is not usually a sign of anything serious. 

However, if diarrhea is frequent or prolonged, women are at risk of becoming dehydrated, which can lead to potential health problems for the mother and baby.  

Ideally, diarrhea should be addressed as soon as it appears. In addition to eliminating or managing the underlying cause, women should increase their water intake as well as adapt some dietary changes - learn more about what to eat with diarrhea. If diarrhea does not improve within 3 days, you should seek medical assessment. 

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What causes diarrhea during pregnancy?

Diarrhea can generally occur for several reasons, from food poisoning to intestinal worms. However, it is more common for diarrhea during pregnancy to be caused by simple conditions like:

1. Hormonal changes

Natural pregnancy-related hormonal changes can significantly change the way the body works. They can especially affect digestion and intestinal function, and lead to constipation or diarrhea. 

2. New food intolerances

Among the many changes that pregnant women may undergo, new food intolerances can emerge due to increased intestinal sensitivity to some foods. Foods that were well-tolerated prior to pregnancy can suddenly cause symptoms like increased gas and diarrhea. 

3. Changes to diet

Many women may opt to change their diet when pregnant for health-related reasons or to compensate for other symptoms, like vomiting. The new diet can lead to diarrhea, especially in its first few days. 

4. Use of supplements

The use of supplements during pregnancy is relatively common, as they are often recommended for optimal embryonic development. Even though these supplements are safe and are often prescribed, they can often cause diarrhea and stomach sensitivity, particularly in the first days of use. 

How to treat diarrhea 

Most cases of pregnancy diarrhea can be treated at home without medication by eating lighter food and increasing intake of liquids. Here are some other important tips: 

  • Avoid eating fried food, fatty food, and very spicy food;
  • Opt for boiled or grilled food such as rice, chicken, pasta without sauce, rice pudding, or a slice of toast
  • Eat poached fruit without the peel such as apple, pear, or banana;
  • Drink filtered or boiled water, homemade saline and sugar water solutions, coconut water, or fruit juices.

However, if diarrhea does not improve within three days or if you experience other symptoms such as vomiting or fever (which are signs of food poisoning), you should see your doctor or obstetrician for assessment and possible treatment with medication. 

Is it safe to take medication for diarrhea?

Some medication for diarrhea, such as Imodium or Pepto-Bismol are deemed to be safe during pregnancy, however they should only be used as guided by your doctor. This type of medication may end up worsening the situation, depending on the cause of the diarrhea.

Can diarrhea be a sign of labor?

Diarrhea is more common in the last trimester of pregnancy, and it seems to be linked to the fear and anxiety that the expectant mother experiences in relation to labor. In addition, some women also report having diarrhea crises a few days before labor, which may be a natural response of the body to prepare for labor. 

However, the classic signs of labor do not include diarrhea. The most common signs of labor are loss of a mucus plug, placental rupture and contractions that increase in frequency and intensity. 

When to go to the doctor

You should go to the doctor when diarrhea takes more than three days to resolve or when there are other symptoms, such as:

  • Bloody stools;
  • Strong abdominal pain;
  • Frequent vomiting;
  • Fever over 38 °C;
  • More than 3 liquid bowel movements in one day;
  • More than 2 liquid bowel movements in several days.

If any of these happen, it is important to go to a doctor so that a cause can be identified and appropriate treatment can be initiated.