Diarrhoea during pregnancy: Is it normal and what can cause it?

Analysing your bowel habits can be a little uncomfortable, but get used to it.
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Gemma Kaczerepa
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October 16, 2023
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Diarrhoea in Pregnancy: Is it Normal & What can Cause it? | Kin Fertility
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First things first, we totally get it: analysing your bowel habits can be a little uncomfortable. But get used to it — because if you’re pregnant, you’ll soon become very familiar with all things poo as soon as bub comes earthside.

If you’re constantly running to the loo and the contents of your bowel is a little runnier than usual, it’s very likely you’ve got diarrhoea. You’re also probably wondering if it’s normal and, if it’s not, what it could be a sign of. Here’s what you need to know about diarrhoea at any stage of pregnancy.

Is it normal to have diarrhoea during pregnancy?

Diarrhoea is classified as having 3 or more loose, watery stools in 1 day [1]. For the most part, diarrhoea is quite mild, but if you’ve got it during pregnancy, you totally have a good reason to be concerned.

While there aren’t any official stats on the prevalence of diarrhoea among pregnant women, know that it’s a fairly common thing to experience [2][3]. Many women get diarrhoea at different stages of their pregnancy and for different reasons.

That being said, diarrhoea isn’t usually related to the pregnancy itself but to something going on alongside it. While some people do get diarrhoea from hormonal fluctuations and other pregnancy goings-on, the usual causes are things like tummy bugs, food poisoning and dietary changes [4].

The good news is that diarrhoea tends to pass relatively quickly — after about 2 days or so. If it doesn’t, or if there are some more sinister symptoms accompanying it (which we’ll get to shortly), reach out to your doc for a check-up.

Is diarrhoea a symptom of early pregnancy?

If you’re suffering from diarrhoea and suspect you might be in the very, very early stages of pregnancy (like, weeks in), could it be a sign you’re preggers? 

Not really. While you can certainly get diarrhoea in your first trimester, it’s not necessarily an indication that you're pregnant. The most common early pregnancy symptoms include [5][6]:

  • Missing your period
  • Nausea, sometimes with vomiting (AKA morning sickness)
  • Food cravings or aversions
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Tender or enlarged breasts
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Weeing more than usual
  • Light spotting, often referred to as implantation bleeding

So, what do loose bowel movements mean at this stage of pregnancy? There are several reasons why diarrhoea can crop up in the early weeks, but it’s more likely to be one of the causes we mentioned earlier.

What causes diarrhoea during pregnancy?

As we know, most diarrhoea causes aren’t a direct result of being pregnant. However, there are a few cases where pregnancy can induce loose or watery bowel movements.

Here are the most common reasons behind diarrhoea in pregnancy.

Hormonal fluctuations

Especially if you’re in early pregnancy, your diarrhoea may just be due to pregnancy-related hormonal changes — namely, a hormone known as progesterone [7]. 

Progesterone plays an important role in conception and pregnancy. Progesterone levels go up substantially after ovulation and keep increasing if your egg becomes fertilised.

The hormone then helps to support a number of bodily functions, like suppressing ovulation and helping your breasts grow milk glands. It also loosens up your uterus and intestines. In most people, the result of that relaxation is constipation, but some experience diarrhoea. 

Impending labour

As your due date draws near, you may notice changes to your bowel habits. For some women, diarrhoea can be a sign that labour is just days or weeks away. Third-trimester diarrhoea is caused by the release of prostaglandins, which your body uses to soften your cervix in preparation for delivery — and your stools, too. 

If you experience an increase in vaginal discharge or mucus and lower back pain as well as diarrhoea, it could be an indication that you’re nearing labour [4]. Call your doc, OBGYN or midwife to check.

Dietary changes

Another reason why diarrhoea can crop up in pregnancy is that you’re eating different foods — especially if you have unusual cravings or you suddenly can’t stomach your normal diet.

You might be consuming more fibre or foods you’re not used to, or perhaps you’re drinking a heck of a lot more water to keep up your hydration levels. Any of these can lead to loose stools.

Infections and food poisoning

Tummy infections and food poisoning can strike anyone at any time — including when you’re pregnant. Alongside vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain and fluey symptoms, diarrhoea is one of the most common signs [8].

If you reckon you’ve been struck down with a tummy bug or food poisoning, call your doctor immediately. These issues can cause some pretty serious complications in pregnancy.

Chronic tummy issues

You might already have a chronic health issue that causes loose stools, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease or food allergies [9]. Unfortunately, pregnancy doesn’t put a stop to these.

Medications and supplements

A few medications — particularly antibiotics and some antidepressants — can have diarrhoea as a side effect [10].

The same goes for supplements, including prenatal vitamins. Some prenatal vitamins can cause pretty unpleasant aftereffects, like nausea, constipation and diarrhoea [11]. Often, this is due to their high iron content, which can be hard on your tummy.

When should I be worried about diarrhoea during pregnancy?

Even though diarrhoea is something many women experience during pregnancy, there are some instances where it could be cause for concern. 

If your diarrhoea goes on for longer than it should — that is, more than 2-3 days — make an appointment with your doc. A lengthy case of diarrhoea can lead to dehydration, which isn’t good for you or your unborn bub.

If you’re becoming dehydrated, you may also see other symptoms like increased thirst, decreased urination, headaches or dizziness, dry mouth and urine that’s darker than usual.

You should also see a medical professional if you notice any of the following alongside your diarrhoea — regardless of how long you’ve had it.

  • Blood or pus in your stools, or stools that are almost black in colour
  • More than 6 loose or liquid stools in 24 hours
  • Severe rectal or abdominal pain
  • Fever that reaches 39C or higher
  • Repeated vomiting 

It bears repeating that if you suspect food poisoning is the cause, call your doctor straight away. There are some types of food poisoning, such as listeriosis, which can be dangerous to your growing baby.

We know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.

How to manage an upset stomach during pregnancy

If you’ve got a funny tummy, there are several easy ways to take care of yourself at home.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

Did we mention you should hydrate? Drink plenty of fluids to replace the water your body loses through diarrhoea. You want to aim for about 8-10 cups per day [12].

Plain old H20 is important, so make sure to drink lots of it. But also include fluids that contain electrolytes, like sports drinks, fruit juices or broths [13]. You can make your own electrolyte liquid at home by mixing electrolyte powder with water. 

Kin's Electrolyte Powder is formulated to support your body's mineral and fluid balance and restore key electrolytes. It also has low osmolality, meaning less sodium and glucose, making it more gentle on the stomach.

While you're at it, try to stay away from tea, coffee, energy drinks and caffeinated soft drinks. While none of these will lead to dehydration, it’s best to consume a moderate caffeine intake during pregnancy — about 200mg per day, which equates to 1 cup of strong espresso or 4 cups of tea [14].

Try a probiotic supplement

Supplements can be helpful with bloating, which is why Kin created the Daily Digest, which helps to promote and restore digestive health in 1 easy-to-drink formula. Our supplement contains pre and probiotics, fibre and digestive enzymes to ensure your gut’s nutritional needs are being met.

Gut health is important for more than just digestion, it also supports your mental health through the gut-brain axis. That's why our formula contains patented probiotics that promote mental well-being, to look after your body and mind.

Stick to a simple diet

If you can, try to stick to eating bland foods, as these likely won’t aggravate the situation. These include plain noodles, white rice, toast, crackers, potatoes, apples, bananas, eggs, lean meats and yoghurt [12].

Foods with lots of spice, fibre, lactose and sugar can be poorly tolerated when you’re suffering from diarrhoea, so try to steer clear of them. Anything designed to encourage bowel movements — think prunes, wholewheat cereals and bran — should also be avoided [12].

Remember that your body will need extra nourishment once the diarrhoea subsides. Keep eating the same simple foods as when you had diarrhoea, as your digestive system will still be sensitive.

If you can stomach them, add manageable portions of vegetables like carrots, sweet potato, green beans and zucchini. These pack more of a nutritional punch but won’t irritate your digestive tract.

Diarrhoea can also lead to a loss of protein, so continue eating lean protein sources like eggs, chicken, turkey, pork and tinned tuna (ideally packed in water rather than oil).

You can also consider a pregnancy-friendly protein supplement like Kin’s Essential Protein. It contains high-quality protein to help nurture your body (and your growing baby), as well as probiotics to help repair your gut and keep it healthy.

Switch up your prenatals

If you suspect your prenatal is making you sick, consider switching to a different brand to see if your symptoms ease up.

Looking for a prenatal that won’t lead to feeling awful? Kin’s Prenatal not only contains 12 bioavailable ingredients to support you and bub, but it’s also been formulated with a type of iron that causes less nausea, constipation and reflux.

Plus, its smaller size means you’re able to spread your dosage into 2 tablets across the day, instead of 1 big tablet that can make you feel ill. 

Image credit: Getty Images

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