Diarrhea During Pregnancy: Causes & Treatment Options

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, and so they don’t usually signal something serious. 

However, if the expectant mother has diarrhea crises that are frequent or persistent, she may get dehydrated which can cause her or the baby to have complications. 

The ideal thing is for diarrhea to be treated as soon as it appears, by increasing water intake and undergoing dietary changes, and if possible, eliminating the root cause. If the diarrhea crisis doesn’t go away in 3 days, it is best to go to a hospital or visit an obstetrician.

Diarrhea During Pregnancy: Causes & Treatment Options

Main causes of diarrhea during pregnancy

Diarrhea can have several causes, from food poisoning to intestinal worms. However, it is more common for diarrhea to be caused by simple conditions like:

1. Hormonal changes

Natural hormonal changes resulting from pregnancy can change the way the body works quite significantly, including the digestive system. So, depending on the stage of pregnancy, some expectant mothers get constipation or diarrhea, depending on the hormones that are causing or delaying the digestive process.

2. New food intolerances

Amongst the many changes that pregnant women may undergo, new food intolerances are some of them due to the increased sensitivity of the intestines to some foods. That means that foods that were well tolerated before, can start causing gastrointestinal changes, such as increased gas and diarrhea. 

3. Changes in diet

Many women go through several changes in their diet during pregnancy, whether it is because they want to have a healthier pregnancy or because they want to compensate for some nutritional needs. These changes can also be one of the causes of diarrhea, especially during the first days of the new diet. 

4. Use of supplements

The use of supplements during pregnancy is relatively common, as it can help the baby to develop. Even though these supplements are safe and have been indicated by obstetricians, many times they can cause diarrhea and stomach sensitivity, especially in the first days. 

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 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 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 after three days or if there are other symptoms such as vomiting or fever which may indicate food poisoning, it is important to visit a doctor or an obstetrician, to get a prescription for medication for diarrhea or even antibiotics.  

Is it safe to take medication for diarrhea?

Some medication for diarrhea, such as Imodium, Kaopectate or Pepto-Bismol are considered safe during pregnancy, however they should only be used under doctor supervision, as 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 the result of a stimulus for the body to get ready for labor.

However, the classic signs of labor do not include diarrhea. The most common signs of labor are the waters breaking and contractions increasing in frequency and intensity. 

When to go to the doctor

The expectant mother should go to the doctor when diarrhea takes more than three days to pass or when there are other symptoms, such as:

  • Stool with blood;
  • 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 he can identify the cause and prescribe adequate treatment.

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References

  • RIDDLE, Mark S. et al.. ACG Clinical Guideline: Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention of Acute Diarrheal Infections in Adults. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2016
  • ELSEVIER. Constipation and Diarrhea in pregnancy. Available on: <https://www.gastro.theclinics.com/article/S0889-8553(05)70353-8/pdf>. Access in 22 Apr 2020
  • AMERICAN PREGNANCY ASSOCIATION. Dehydration During Pregnancy. Available on: <https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/dehydration-pregnancy/>. Access in 22 Apr 2020
  • GOMES, Catarina Frias et al.. Gastrointestinal diseases during pregnancy: what does the gastroenterologist need to know?. Annals of Gastroenterology. Vol.31, n.4. 385-394, 2018
  • NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF DIABETES AND DIGESTIVE AND KIDNEY DISEASES. Treatment for Diarrhea. Available on: <https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/diarrhea/treatment>. Access in 22 Apr 2020
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