Many women experience diarrhea or frequent watery bowel movements, often within a few hours of taking a meal, during various stages of pregnancy. There is a common misconception that diarrhea or constipation during pregnancy can cause miscarriage [1], but in truth, it is perfectly normal to have this symptom, especially during the earlier trimesters [2]. Some women also report having diarrhea before labor [3].

Is Diarrhea an Early Sign of Pregnancy?

It is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy, occurring along with nausea and vomiting (morning sickness) [4] and food cravings or aversions.

Diarrhea during Late Pregnancy

Diarrhea during the third trimester is quite common and is often caused by the same reasons as in the earlier trimesters [3]. Passing watery stool during the later pregnancy weeks may also indicate upcoming labor or a preterm labor [4]. However, having the symptom does not always mean that the baby is coming immediately. Sometimes, it occurs as the body undergoes certain changes in its preparation for labor and delivery.

What Causes Diarrhea during Pregnancy?

One or more of the following factors may contribute to cause the problem:

  • Like constipation during pregnancy, diarrhea can occur due to certain hormonal changes that take place within the body during this time
  • Changes in the diet to provide the fetus with all the necessary nutrients [5]
  • The extra water intake for keeping the body hydrated
  • Pregnancy workouts that improve the intestinal functions and sleep patterns [4]
  • The iron content in prenatal vitamins [6] (changing the brand of the vitamin may also be responsible)
  • Food poisoning [7]
  • Stomach flu (caused by certain bacteria or viruses)
  • Maternal gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome (chronic diarrhea) [3]

Apart from the above common and relatively harmless causes, upset stomach and diarrhea may also be caused by certain bacterial and viral infections (e.g. listeria, group B streptococcus) of the uterus and placenta.Ectopic pregnancy is another possible cause of painful diarrhea, especially during the first 3 months [8].

Is diarrhea during Pregnancy Harmful for the Baby?

In most cases, it does not cause any harm to the baby. However, severe diarrhea can dehydrate the mother, hampering the blood flow to the fetus. Diarrhea occurring due to some serious pregnancy complications such as abdominal or uterine infections, especially during the second and third trimesters, may also be dangerous for the baby.

How to Treat Diarrhea during Pregnancy

Although, it is a common symptom of pregnancy, one should not neglect constant diarrhea as it is one of the most common causes of preterm labor [10].

Home Remedies

Diarrhea occurring due to changes in the diet or a new pregnancy workout schedule generally subsides automatically after a couple of days. In such instances, the following natural remedies help to retain water and electrolytes, preventing dehydration and providing relief from the symptoms. However, they are insufficient for curing any serious underlying conditions causing the diarrhea [11].

  • Drinking plenty of water (1 liter per 1-2 hours until symptoms subside) and snacking on salty crackers [12]
  • Ginger tea prepared by boiling some ginger in water, letting it seep for around 10-15 minutes before straining it [11]
  • Drinking a mixture of one glass water and 3-4 tablespoons of honey once every day
  • Consuming a blend of lemon juice, ginger powder (half a teaspoon each) and crushed black pepper (quarter teaspoon) twice every day
  • Drinking a mixture of water (half cup) and some peppermint extract 2-3 times a day
  • Psyllium husk [13]

Anti-Diarrhea Medication for Severe Diarrhea in Pregnancy

  • Imodium (FDA pregnancy category B; to be used only for 24 hours after 12 weeks of gestation) [14]
  • Polycarbophil (FDA pregnancy category C) [13]
  • Kaopectate (kaolin-and-pectin) [15]
  • Parepectolin (not classified by FDA; not recommended unless benefits outweigh potential risks) [14]

Dietary Measures

Doctors often suggest certain dietary alterations to manage frequent diarrhea with the BRAT diet (Banana, Rice, Applesauce, Toast) [16] being commonly recommended. One should opt for whole wheat toast (without butter) and brown rice for better results [11]. Additionally, it is advisable to eat starchy foods to provide the body with vitamins and minerals essential during this time.

Foods to eat

  • Vegetable soups (non-milk base)
  • Chicken soup
  • Lean meats (turkey breast or skinless chicken) [10]
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Unsweetened cereals
  • Yogurt [16]

Foods to avoid

  • Carbonated and caffeinated drinks [11]
  • Dried fruits (e.g. prunes)
  • Fried fatty foods
  • Dairy products [2]
  • Spices
  • Red meat
  • Sugary foods like chocolates and candies

Is it Normal to Have Green or Black Diarrhea during Pregnancy?

The leafy vegetables, diet supplements and prenatal vitamins taken during pregnancy are often responsible for the green coloration of the stools [9] while black diarrhea is usually caused by iron supplements. So in most cases, there is nothing to worry about in having green or black bowel movements.

When to Call the Doctor?

Diarrhea continuing for more than 1-2 days should be reported to the doctor, even if the symptoms are mild. Watch out for the following symptoms along with diarrhea:

  • Blood or mucus in the stool
  • Severe stomach pain or cramping [17]
  • Fever (over 100°F) [18]
  • Severe vomiting
  • Severe headache
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Decreased urine production
[ref]
  1. http://miscarriage.about.com/od/miscarriagecauses/f/Can-Constipation-Or-Diarrhea-Cause-Miscarriage.htm
  2. http://www.whattoexpect.com/blogs/pregnancycareformoms/diarrhea-during-early-pregnancy
  3. http://www.babycenter.com/404_is-it-normal-to-have-diarrhea-in-late-pregnancy_2649.bc
  4. http://www.ipregnancysigns.com/diarrhea-during-pregnancy.html#.UjLIPNLPWgQ
  5. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-concerns/diarrhea-during-pregnancy/
  6. http://pregnant.thebump.com/pregnancy/pregnancy-symptoms/articles/diarrhea-during-pregnancy.aspx
  7. http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/symptoms-and-solutions/pregnancy-diarrhea.aspx
  8. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/abdominal-pain-or-cramping.aspx
  9. http://www.pregnancy-baby-care.com/articles/515/during-pregnancy/green-diarrhea-during-pregnancy.html
  10. http://pregnancysymptoms.pregnancybymonths.com/diarrhea/diarrhea-during-pregnancy/
  11. http://www.yogawiz.com/blog/home-remedies/home-remedies-for-loose-motions-during-pregnancy.html
  12. http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/tc/diarrhea-age-12-and-older-home-treatment
  13. http://www.babycenter.com/0_chart-over-the-counter-medications-during-pregnancy_1486462.bc
  14. http://women.webmd.com/pharmacist-11/pregnancy-medicine
  15. http://www.babycenter.com/406_is-it-safe-to-use-anti-diarrhea-drugs-during-pregnancy_1246906.bc
  16. http://www.babymed.com/pregnancy-symptoms/diarrhea-during-pregnancy
  17. http://blessedmom.hubpages.com/hub/Diarrhea-during-Pregnancy-How-to-detect-and-treat
  18. http://www.babymed.com/pregnancy-complications/diarrhea-causes-and-treatment [/ref]