Digestive Health Nutrition

Diarrhoea in pregnancy: everything you need to know

Everything you need to know about diarrhoea in pregnancy and how to safely take care of your gut health.

Diarrhoea isn’t a symptom of pregnancy itself in the way that morning sickness nausea can be, but digestive health issues are very common in pregnancy. This is partially due to natural hormonal changes, but can also be as a result of additional influences such as diet and stress. Symptoms from pre-existing digestive issues can re-emerge or change completely when you become pregnant.

Diarrhoea in pregnancy is common

Diarrhoea can be categorised as three or more loose bowel motions a day. Diarrhoea in pregnancy occurs for a wide range of reasons and doesn’t always mean that anything is wrong. For example, adopting a healthier diet that contains more fibre can cause diarrhoea in pregnancy, as can drinking more water than usual, increasing your exercise routine, or taking certain nutritional supplements or medications that your doctor has prescribed.

Normal hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy can speed up the digestive system, causing loose stools and frequent bowel motions. The body can also develop new food sensitivities which cause gastrointestinal symptoms of bloating, gas and diarrhoea.

Other reasons for diarrhoea in pregnancy can include:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Food poisoning

Diarrhoea during third trimester of pregnancy

Diarrhoea in pregnancy occurs most frequently in the third trimester. The body prepares itself for labour by releasing a large number of hormones called prostaglandins to soften and prepare the cervix for delivery. These prostaglandins also stimulate the muscles of the bowels and loosen the anal sphincter, causing diarrhoea.

NOTE: Experiencing diarrhoea in the third trimester of pregnancy doesn’t always mean that you are going into labour. Check for other signs and consult your midwife or doctor if you’re concerned.

What can I do if I have diarrhoea in pregnancy?

  • Consult your midwife, doctor or pharmacist before taking any anti-diarrhoea medicines during pregnancy. Not all medications are safe in pregnancy, including Imodium and other over-the-counter medications.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s essential to get enough fluids to support yourself and your baby. While most causes of diarrhoea don’t harm the baby, severe dehydration can reduce blood flow to the placenta, and may cause premature contractions. To prevent dehydration, drink at least 8 glasses of water per day. Vegetable broths, juices, and coconut water can help to replenish the minerals, vitamins, and electrolytes you may have lost from diarrhoea. Avoid sugary sports drinks.
  • Dietary modification and avoiding certain foods and drinks that can trigger loose bowel motions and diarrhoea such as high fat, spicy and fried foods may help.
  • Eat regularly. Even if you don’t feel like eating, try small regular meals of bland foods like rice, potatoes, or soup. It’s important to continue eating in order to replenish lost nutrients, support your immune system, and speed up your recovery.

Is diarrhoea a symptom of early pregnancy?

Diarrhoea is not a common symptom of early pregnancy but can occur due to the hormonal changes that start during the first trimester. There is a surge of hormones that also act on the digestive system – in some women, they can influence the bowels to become sluggish and cause constipation, and in others these hormones may speed up digestion and cause diarrhoea.

“Hormonal changes are unavoidable, but supporting your gut microbiome throughout pregnancy may prevent the onset of diarrhoea from other causes. A healthy gut can also support your overall wellness throughout pregnancy.”

Dr Paul Vandewalle, Principal Scientific Consultant at Clasado

Diarrhoea in pregnancy is often temporary and usually nothing to worry about. Supporting your digestive health and gut microbiome may help prevent diarrhoea but speak to your doctor or midwife if you’re concerned about your health.