Along with the usual discomforts during early pregnancy, such as morning sickness and heartburn, your digestive system can go haywire as well — it can slow down, making you constipated, or speed up, resulting in diarrhea. This is due to your increasing levels of hormones, particularly estrogen, progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).1,2
New food sensitivities, dietary changes, lactose intolerance and prenatal vitamins are some of the pregnancy-related causes of diarrhea. However, there are other culprits to blame for getting diarrhea when pregnant, which include the stomach flu, intestinal parasites, viruses, bacteria and food poisoning.
Health conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, celiac disease and ulcerative colitis may also be behind a nasty bout of diarrhea during pregnancy.3 Diarrhea can be one of the early symptoms of pregnancy, but it happens less in your second trimester. However, passing frequent loose stools is a pretty common "visitor" late in pregnancy.4,5
You May Experience Diarrhea in Your Third Trimester
According to the American Pregnancy Association, you may find that diarrhea becomes more common as you near your due date: "It could be a sign that labor is near, and it can occur right before labor or a couple of weeks before labor. If it is a couple of weeks before your due date, a premature birth should not be expected."
This typically means your body is simply preparing itself for labor, but it doesn't necessarily mean that labor is imminent.6 Think of it as your body's natural means of preparation and cleaning out impurities before your baby's arrival. Take note that while some women may experience recurrent diarrhea in their third trimester, others will not.7
If you are passing at least three runny, watery bowel movements in one day, your main concern should be to stay hydrated, as you can quickly lose body fluids and get dehydrated, a major risk factor for premature labor.8,9 Severe dehydration can impede blood flow to the fetus,10 and may stimulate the uterus to contract.11
How to Deal With Diarrhea If You Are Pregnant
If you are leery of medications while pregnant, the good news is that most cases of diarrhea will clear up in a few days, without treatment.12 While staying hydrated should be your priority, a few dietary changes can help alleviate this problem:
- Replenish fluids and electrolytes your body has lost by consuming plenty of pure water (at least 80 ounces of water every day) and mineral-rich bone broth.
- Avoid food groups that can make diarrhea worse, such as spicy, high-fiber and high-fat foods.13
- Do not consume sodas and processed drinks, which are high in sugar or artificial sweeteners that can disrupt your digestive system and worsen your diarrhea.14
- Drink a half cup of water with some peppermint oil extract (two to three times a day).15
If your diarrhea doesn't clear up on its own after three days, or if you are experiencing symptoms, such as fever, abdominal pain, blood or mucus in the stool, signs of dehydration (dry mouth, decreased urine output, lightheadedness or dizziness), vaginal discharge, pressure in your pelvic area and cramps, call your doctor immediately.16,17 As a rule of thumb, diarrhea is not life-threatening, but it should not be taken lightly, especially while you are pregnant.