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What Causes Diarrhea During Pregnancy?

Doctors break down what could be causing you to experience loose stools—plus, what you can do about it.
ByKorin Miller|Updated November 29, 2023
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Image: Lee Charlie | Shutterstock

By now, you’re likely aware that pregnancy can cause a slew of changes in your body. Unfortunately, it can impact your bathroom habits too. While most pregnant people are more likely to experience constipation, pregnancy diarrhea can also happen, says G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, an ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. But what causes diarrhea during pregnancy and how can you treat it safely? Here, doctors break down everything to know, along with when to alert your bowel habits to your provider.

What Causes Diarrhea During Pregnancy?

There are a lot of potential reasons why you may experience diarrhea while pregnant. In fact, the cause may be “multifactorial,” says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD. However, Ruiz notes that diarrhea in pregnancy usually occurs due to mild viruses that cause gastroenteritis (i.e. stomach bugs). “Most adults get them from kids,” he adds. Below, some causes of diarrhea in pregnancy:

  • Viruses that cause stomach bugs and food poisoning
  • Food sensitivities (such as lactose intolerance)
  • Fluctuating hormone levels
  • A reaction to prenatal vitamins and dietary supplements
  • Changes in diet
  • Reactions to medications (such as antibiotics)

“There are also the more dangerous infectious forms of diarrhea, which anyone can get, like C. Difficile,” Ruiz adds. “But it’s very rare during pregnancy and usually occurs in someone who has been on an antibiotic for some other disorder.”

How to Treat Diarrhea During Pregnancy

While there are a few treatment options for diarrhea in pregnancy, the right option ultimately comes down to how you feel and how your symptoms are affecting your day-to-day life, says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies in Orlando, Florida. Of course, in some instances, diarrhea during pregnancy “may resolve on its own” without the need for medication, Wider adds.

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Home remedies for pregnancy diarrhea

As long as you don’t have any worrisome symptoms, like severe pain or a fever (in which case, call your doctor), the biggest thing to keep in mind when treating diarrhea in pregnancy is replenishing your fluids. “It’s important to stay hydrated because a lot of fluid is lost through multiple bouts of diarrhea,” Wider says. If you’re experiencing mild nausea or vomiting, it’s also helpful to sip a drink with electrolytes, like Pedialyte or Gatorade, Ruiz suggests: “Typically, if you’re having nausea and vomiting as well, you want to try to have a tablespoon of liquid every five minutes until you can start to hold stuff down.”

Plus, you’ll want to eat a diet that bulks up your poop and is gentle on your bowels. Wider recommends following a BRAT diet (which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce and toast), while Greves suggests avoiding dairy products and excessive sugar.

What medications are safe for treating diarrhea in pregnancy?

First, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor before taking any new medication in pregnancy, just to be safe. Your provider may recommend that you try to sit tight to see if things improve. “Generally speaking, you let diarrhea run its course,” Ruiz says. ‘It’s usually short-lived.”

But if you’re really struggling, your doctor may give the thumbs up to take loperamide—the active ingredient in Imodium—which, according to studies, is generally considered safe to use in pregnancy. Other research suggests that probiotics may also be helpful, but you’ll want to get the okay from your doctor.

When to Talk to Your Doctor About Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Usually diarrhea in pregnancy will resolve on its own. However, if it’s lasting for more than a few days, or you’re dealing with additional symptoms like a high fever, blood in your stool, pain, dehydration or you’re not able to keep anything in, Greves recommends contacting your doctor. Additionally, if you experience diarrhea in pregnancy following antibiotic treatment, reach out for guidance.

Getting a bout of diarrhea is never fun—pregnant or not. But if you do experience diarrhea in pregnancy and it’s bothering you, it’s best to reach out to your healthcare provider. Ultimately, they’re your best resource, as they’ll be able to assess your symptoms and provide next steps.

FAQ About Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Having diarrhea while pregnant can be uncomfortable, and it’s understandable to have questions about why it may be happening to you. Below, some frequently asked questions around diarrhea in pregnancy.

Is diarrhea a sign of pregnancy?

A positive pregnancy test is the most reliable sign of pregnancy, Greves points out. That said, diarrhea can be a sign of pregnancy due to changing hormone levels—“everybody reacts differently,” she says. However, Ruiz again notes that most people are more likely to experience constipation rather than diarrhea in early pregnancy.

Is diarrhea in early pregnancy a sign of miscarriage?

Not necessarily—you can have diarrhea for a range of reasons, including viral illnesses and simply eating something that didn’t agree with you, Ruiz says. On the other hand, he notes that high levels of prostaglandins— which drive uterine contractions—can lead to loose stools. In other words, it could potentially be a symptom that your progesterone levels are dropping and that your uterus is starting to contract. However, it’s not a reliable sign [of miscarriage], nor is it a reason to panic. “Oftentimes diarrhea during a pregnancy isn’t the sign of something wrong,” Wider agrees.

high levels of prostaglandins by the uterus can cause loose stools. could it be a symptom that your progesterone levels are dropping and that your uterus is starting to contract? It could be a sign but def not what we would call a hard sign.

Is diarrhea a sign of labor?

In some cases, diarrhea can be a sign of labor, Ruiz says. “It’s not a universal thing—it’s a loose correlation.” Wider adds that diarrhea before labor could be related to hormones: ““Reports show that, if a woman has diarrhea right before going into labor, it usually starts 24 to 48 hours before.” Additionally, some medications used to induce labor may also cause diarrhea, Ruiz adds.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Christine Greves, MD, FACOG, is an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Orlando. She received her medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine.

G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, is an ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. He earned his medical degree at UC Irvine School of Medicine in California.

Jennifer Wider, MD, is a nationally renowned women’s health expert and author. She earned her medical degree from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Prospective, controlled, multicentre study of loperamide in pregnancy, March 2000

International Journal of Molecular Sciences, Effects of Probiotic Supplementation during Pregnancy on the Future Maternal Risk of Metabolic Syndrome, August 2022

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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