Did you have any idea how much your bathroom habits would change during pregnancy?! You pee more. You get constipated. And yes, you get diarrhea, too. When you’re pregnant, these issues can be frustrating and even a little alarming if you’re not sure why you’re experiencing them. So let’s go into some unpleasant territory and talk about diarrhea in pregnancy.
In this post, we’ll discuss:
- What causes diarrhea in pregnancy
- If diarrhea in pregnancy can harm your unborn baby
- When diarrhea during pregnancy signals labor
- Plus, natural remedies to keep the runs at bay
What Causes Diarrhea in Pregnancy?
If the smell of coffee or the sight of beef makes you want to hurl, it’s safe to say your body is feeling a little sensitive to food right now. Your body is very smart—if it’s not in a place to digest certain foods, it will pass them through you …quickly.
What to do: Morning sickness typically starts in the first trimester, somewhere between the 6th and 9th week, when hCG levels spike. In most cases, it begins to subside as you enter the second trimester, but until then, try:
- Practice intuitive eating. Eat foods that your body can tolerate. For some women that’s bland food like bananas and crackers; for others it’s meat and protein.
- Eat smaller meals. A large meal can overload your sensitive system. Try small, healthy snacks throughout the day—but don’t let yourself get too hungry.
- Choose nutritionally dense food. Try brown rice with sea salt, gelatin, bone broth, fresh fruit, and anything else you can stomach.
With the best intentions, many pregnant mamas think their diet requires a total overhaul. But a diet overhaul can cause some serious stomach-upset in the first trimester as your body adjusts.
What to do: It’s good to be conscious of the food that’s going into your body, but it’s important to ease your body into dietary changes.
- Listen to your body. Though there are many foods with great nutritional benefits for pregnant women, don’t be afraid to introduce these foods slowly. Your body will make sure baby has the nutrients he/she needs, even if you can’t keep much down at first.
Prenatal vitamins are recommended for all mamas once they get that positive pregnancy test (if not before!). But prenatal vitamins have a lot more iron and folic acid than your average multivitamin, which can easily irritate the stomach and cause diarrhea.
What to do: Food-based prenatals are gentler on the stomach, because they contain enzymes, phytonutrients, and co-factors that make the vitamin ultra absorbable.
- Try these food-based prenatal vitamins. Remember: You may need to try more than one. Sometimes, it’s a matter of trial and error.
- Take prenatals with food. If your prenatal vitamins make you nauseas, take them during or after meals when your stomach is full.
We often hear about hormones slowing down the digestive tract during pregnancy, leading to constipation. But in some people, hormones can actually speed up the digestive system, causing diarrhea, particularly during the first trimester and the third trimester (more on diarrhea in the third trimester below).
What to do: First, keep telling yourself, this too shall pass. There isn’t a lot you can do about hormone changes during pregnancy—unfortunately, they are inevitable. Typically, as you enter your second trimester, hormonal fluctuations begin to subside.
Of course you’re going to stress when you’re pregnant. Having a human growing in your body can be a little unnerving. Unfortunately, stress can lead to a host of bodily reactions—including diarrhea. Why? Digestion is controlled by the nervous system, and stress can trigger the nervous system to shut down blood flow, contract your digestive muscles, and decrease the secretions needed for digestion. (source)
What to do: There’s a lot on your mind right now. Don’t try to hold it all in.
- Practice daily reflection. Set aside time for yourself every day—even just 10 minutes can help. Try journaling or meditating.
- Get plenty of sleep. Pregnancy insomnia can get the best of you, but aim for at least 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Spend time outdoors. Darkness can produce a stress response. Spend at least an hour outside, or try red light therapy.
Find more surprising ways to reduce stress in this post.
A condition unrelated to pregnancy
It’s easy to blame everything on pregnancy when you’re pregnant, but it’s possible your symptoms are unrelated.
When it comes to diarrhea, the cause could be a virus, food poisoning, or even medications you’re taking.
What to do: If diarrhea in pregnancy is persistent or you can’t get to the root of the problem, talk to your healthcare provider right away. He might suggestion various medications or activated charcoal in the case of food poisoning.
When you have an existing condition like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s, colitis, or celiac, you may suddenly experience symptoms during the first trimester that you have been able to keep in check in the past. After all, your growing baby is physically squishing your organs, stressing an already delicate system.
What to do: One of the best ways to help your digestive system get back on track is to repopulate your gut with good bacteria.
- Take probiotics. This one is high in bifidophilus, which is important for good gut health.
- Eat naturally fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, miso, tempeh, and kimchi.
- Take a digestive enzyme to help your body break down your food.
Can Diarrhea Cause Harm to an Unborn Baby?
Diarrhea in pregnancy isn’t a direct threat to baby, but the main concern is dehydration and/or malnutrition.
Read on for the most effective natural remedies for occasional diarrhea in pregnancy, but see your healthcare provider if you have:
- Diarrhea in pregnancy that persists for more than 3 days
- A fever
- Severe cramping or pain
- Blood in your stool
- Symptoms of dehydration, such as dark yellow pee, very dry skin, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and/or dizziness
Can Diarrhea Be a Sign of Labor?
In the third trimester, as you approach your due date, you may experience more diarrhea in pregnancy. The reason it happens? As you get closer to labor, your body releases a chemical called prostaglandin that causes your uterus to contract. This can stimulate your bowels, causing diarrhea. But, hey, it’s not all bad: You can thank prostaglandin for clearing out your system, so you don’t poop in the birthing tub or on the delivery table. 🙃
What to do: Your body is doing what it’s supposed to at this point, so there’s no need to worry. Make sure to stay hydrated to keep up your strength and eat foods that are gentle on your digestive system such as apples, bananas, bone broth, and toast.
Natural Remedies for Diarrhea in Pregnancy
If you can’t venture far from the bathroom because of diarrhea in pregnancy, try these effective natural remedies. Just remember—our bodies are all different, so you may need to perform a little trial and error before you find what works for you.
Your body is losing more fluid than you’re taking in. Keep a water bottle in reach at all times, and drink before you get thirsty. Aim for at least 10 8-ounce glasses per day.
Boost your electrolytes
When you have diarrhea, your body loses essential electrolytes, like sodium, potassium, and chloride. And losing too many electrolytes can lead to dehydration. But don’t reach for Gatorade, Pedialyte, or other sports drinks, which are essentially sugar water with a few minerals and a lot of artificial colors and flavors. These ingredients are the last things you need when you’re pregnant. Try my DIY electrolyte drink instead.
Drink bone broth
There’s a lot of pressure on your gut right now, and bone broth is one of the best things you can ingest to heal it—it’s loaded with gelatin, which is nature’s digestive aid. It strengthens the gut lining, increases good gut bacteria, and supports healthy inflammation in the gut.
Avoid high-fat, fried, spicy, and high-fiber foods
The same chemical compounds in spicy foods that cause a burning sensation in your mouth can cause irritation in your stomach lining, because your body does not break them down during digestion.
“When fatty foods are not absorbed normally, they go to the colon, where they are broken down to fatty acids, causing the colon to secrete fluid and trigger diarrhea,” says gastroenterologist Dr. Norton Greenberger, a Harvard Medical School professor.
Probiotics, whether through supplements or probiotic-rich food, restore healthy gut balance. Published trials show a statistically significant benefit of probiotic strains—mostly Lactobacillus GG and S. boulardii—in the treatment of acute watery diarrhea. Try this probiotic—it has a clean label and comes from a trusted brand.
Eat the BRATT diet
If you experience diarrhea in pregnancy, turn to the BRATT diet, which focuses on low-fiber foods that help reduce the amount of stool produced by the body, giving your bowels a chance to rest.
Go easy on raw, fibrous foods
High-fiber foods tend to stimulate the bowel and speed up intestinal contractions—the last thing you need when you have diarrhea in pregnancy. Cooking veggies, and even fruit, softens fiber and makes cell walls less rigid, making them easier for your body to break down and digest. (source)
Take flaxseed oil
A 2015 study found that flaxseed oil not only relieves symptoms of constipation, but also helps stop diarrhea. This brand is organic and cold-pressed and comes in an opaque bottle to reduce oxidation.
Take digestive enzymes
Many people mistake indigestion with excess stomach acid, but it has a lot more to do with enzyme function. A digestive enzyme can help your body breakdown the micronutrients in your food.
Take glutamine powder
Glutamine powder helps with diarrhea by balancing mucus production, something that’s key to healthy bowel movements. Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing with glutamine powder during pregnancy.
Take bentonite clay
Bentonite clay contains many minerals, including two commonly lost when you have diarrhea—sodium and potassium. It also binds with toxins in the body to rid the body of “bad” bacteria. In one study, diarrhea was treated with 2 tablespoonfuls of bentonite in distilled water three times daily. In 97 percent of cases, the bentonite clay mixture provided substantial relief within an average period of 3.8 days. Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing with bentonite clay during pregnancy, and choose one that’s safe for internal use. Try this.
Take activated charcoal
Activated charcoal helps cleanse the digestive tract, and according to studies, has very few side effects as compared to other antidiarrheals. To treat diarrhea in pregnancy, take 50 grams of activated charcoal by mouth three times daily for eight days. (source) Just be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before supplementing with activated charcoal during pregnancy.
More often than not, we push ourselves too hard during pregnancy. Your organs are under a lot of stress. Don’t underestimate the power of a nap or an early bed time.
What is Safe to Take for Diarrhea When Pregnant?
It’s best to avoid medications while pregnant—there aren’t enough studies to verify the safety of conventional diarrhea medicine during pregnancy. That said, in severe cases, your healthcare provider may decide the benefits of taking an anti-diarrheal outweigh the risk of dehydration. If this happens, here’s what you should know about diarrhea medicine during pregnancy.
- Kaolin and pectin type medication (Kaopectate) is most often recommended for pregnant mamas.
- Pregnant mamas should avoid antidiarrheals that contain bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) or atropine/diphenoxylate (Lomotil).
Talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you and your baby if you experience severe diarrhea in pregnancy.
How About You?
It may not be the easiest topic to discuss in public, but a lot of us have suffered from it. What has been your experience with diarrhea in pregnancy? Have you found any natural treatments that have worked for you?