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Diarrhea During Pregnancy – Causes, Remedies and Treatment

Diarrhea is less common than constipation in pregnancy. However, it may occur for the same reasons as diarrhea in non-pregnant women as well as being a consequence of the elevated hormone levels associated with pregnancy. Diarrhea in pregnancy should always be monitored closely by a medical professional as it can lead to complications that may threaten the fetus and jeopardize the pregnancy if it persists beyond two days. The greatest danger in this regard is dehydration, however, with infectious causes there is also the risk associated with fever and a spread of the infection. Sometimes diarrhea occurs early in the first trimester along with nausea and vomiting (‘motion sickness) but should not be considered as a sign of pregnancy. However, diarrhea in later pregnancy may be a sign of impending labor.

Diarrhea in Pregnant Women

The term diarrhea is often used quite loosely to describe not only an increase in frequency of bowel movements but even changes in stool consistency. The proper definition of diarrhea is three or more bowel movements in a day with the passage of 200g/200ml of stool within this period. However, some people do experience frequent bowel movements that are more often than the norm, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and related disorders and with the use of certain medication. Therefore the focus should be on the total quantity of stool passed out in a day. On the other hand stool consistency, where the stool is a loose or watery, may not constitute diarrhea as per the definition but is nevertheless a deviation from the norm.

Causes of Diarrhea in Pregnancy

One of the more common causes of diarrhea, or even just more frequent bowel movement or loose stool, is dietary changes. Many women adopt a more healthier diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and water once pregnant. The increased intake of fiber and water may cause more frequent movements and looser stool but not diarrhea as such.

Another cause is gastroenteritis or food poisoning. This is a common cause in any person, irrespective of pregnancy or even gender. Pregnant women may be at slightly greater risk with a large appetite and cravings leading to eating unusual foods or at establishments otherwise avoided.

Sometimes cravings may lead to the consumption of indigestible materials. This is known as pica and is not uncommon in pregnancy. It is more likely associated with nutritional deficiencies. Hormonal changes on its own, or in the backdrop of pre-existing bowel diseases and food sensitivities may be the cause of diarrhea.

Remedies and Treatment

Diarrhea should be assessed by a doctor and treated as necessary. Rehydration during diarrhea is essential to prevent complications. This should be done with an appropriate oral rehydration solution. At the same time, the BRAT diet should be started and a normal bland diet commenced as soon as it can be tolerated. Certain foods and drinks that are known irritants should be avoided, particularly spicy foods, caffeine and dairy.

Medication should be avoided unless necessary and other measures like activated charcoal and probiotics are often helpful for infectious diarrhea. However, antibiotics may be necessary at times. Common over-the-counter (OTC) anti-diarrheal drugs like loperamide can be safely used in pregnancy but should be advised by a doctor. Certain anti-diarrheal agents, however, are contraindicated in pregnancy and therefore it is advisable that pregnant women experiencing diarrhea discuss the choice of medication with the doctor.


Posted by in Digestive and Gut, Pregnancy, Women's Health

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