Diarrhea usually clears on its own, but prolonged cases can lead to dehydration that harms the fetus. Learn more about the causes and treatment options for pregnancy diarrhea.

By Dr. Laura Riley
Updated April 30, 2020
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Pregnancy comes with a host of annoying and embarrassing symptoms—and this might include diarrhea. According to experts, diarrhea is having three or more watery, loose bowel movements in a day. It can be triggered by hormonal and diet changes, but gastrointestinal bacteria may also be to blame. If left untreated, persistent diarrhea may cause dehydration in pregnant women, which could have negative effects on the fetus. Read on to learn more about diarrhea as a symptom of pregnancy, with tips for alleviating loose stool. 

What Causes Pregnancy Diarrhea?

Pregnancy diarrhea could be triggered by hormonal shifts, new food sensitivities, and changes in diet. Generally, though, it’s brought on by gastrointestinal bacteria that you either picked up from someone else or contracted by eating spoiled food. Other symptoms of gastrointestinal infections include nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fever, and chills. These cases rarely last more than 72 hours, according to Laura Riley, M.D., medical director of labor and delivery at Massachusetts General Hospital, in Boston. 

Other non-pregnancy-related causes of diarrhea include stress and medications. If your diarrhea is long-lasting, you may have an underlying bowel disorder like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, or Crohn’s disease . 

Diarrhea in the Third Trimester

Experiencing pregnancy diarrhea near your due date? Loose stools could mean your body is preparing for delivery.  Toward the end of pregnancy, your body releases prostaglandins that help soften the cervix. These hormones could also soften bowel movements. While this may sound yucky, keep in mind past generations of mothers were given enemas when they started labor. Loose stools are typically nature's way of clearing things out.

How to Treat Diarrhea in Pregnancy

Although it's a lousy way to spend a day, you're better off letting diarrhea run its course than trying to stop it. It may worry you if the food you eat passes right through your body. However, missing out on nutrition for a couple of days isn't going to hurt you or your baby. The most important thing is to keep replenishing your fluids with clear liquids such as water, chicken broth, or juices.

If you have a severe or prolonged case of diarrhea, diarrhea accompanied by a fever, or stools that look bloody or contain mucus, contact your healthcare provider, says Dr. Riley. Your provider may check you for other infections and parasites, especially if you've been around people with other serious illnesses or if you've traveled someplace (such as a foreign country) where the water isn't considered potable. If you are very dehydrated, you may be treated with an IV, and your doctor may suggest an antidiarrheal medication

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