Diarrhea is defined as stool with a consistency that is looser than normal stool or watery stool; they can also be associated with urgency and a frequency higher than normal. Due to the hormonal forces at work during early pregnancy, it is quite common to have diarrheal episodes in the first three months of pregnancy. These episodes are not usually serious, unless they are accompanied by fever, mucus or blood in stools and pain in the abdomen.
An episode of diarrhea in pregnancy is usually short lived but despite that, it can cause dehydration especially if accompanied by frequent vomiting. In that case, precautions would have to be taken to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
Causes of Diarrhea in Early Pregnancy
Different people have different opinions regarding pregnancy related diarrhea. Many experts see it as being totally unrelated to pregnancy and argue that there is no connection between pregnancy and diarrhea. Others see it as a manifestation of the hormonal changes taking place in the body, especially during the first trimester. The increased hormones of pregnancy like progesterone, estrogen and Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) can have an effect on the digestive system; thus along with nausea, vomiting, morning sickness and food cravings, diarrhea too, may be a symptom of pregnancy. This diarrhea, however, is not harmful for the mother or the baby. Diarrhea in early pregnancy can also be caused by other conditions that need attention. Here are all possible causes:
1. Hormones. Pregnancy hormones can have various effects on the gastrointestinal system. These effects may be increased bloating, constipation, diarrhea or a slowed digestive system. According to the Utah Department of health, this is beneficial for the baby because it enables the body to absorb nutrients for better growth and development.
2. Dietary Changes. Many women change their diet as soon as they learn that they are pregnant. This change can include an addition of fruits, vegetables and fiber in the diet. If the body of the mother is not used to so much fiber, then this diet can cause diarrhea in early pregnancy. This is an unintentional side effect of eating fruits and vegetables during the first trimester. However, this is a temporary reaction of the body and will go away after some time.
3. Lactose Intolerance. Another dietary change that can cause diarrhea is lactose intolerance. Because many women increase their consumption of milk during pregnancy, they can experience lactose intolerance and have consequent diarrhea. According to Dr. Spock, having a few milk-free days may help alleviate symptoms if it is indeed lactose intolerance. But during these milk-free days, it is important for the mother to get calcium from other sources like yogurt and cheese.
4. Prenatal Vitamins. Some multivitamins can cause diarrhea too. While iron in the supplements can cause constipation, there are other ingredients that according to Dr. Spock cause diarrhea. To be sure that it is indeed the vitamins causing diarrhea, try skipping them for a few days and monitor the effect.
5. Viruses. ‘Women’s Healthcare Topics’ website states that stomach viruses are an important cause of diarrhea during early pregnancy. It might be because pregnancy makes a woman vulnerable to acquiring stomach bugs and getting consequent diarrhea.
Warnings. If you suspect that your diarrhea is due to causes other than pregnancy, then you should talk to your health care provider to determine the exact reason behind the diarrhea. If the diarrhea does not resolve on its own, then the cause could be bacterial or viral in origin, in which case you may need antibiotics or antimicrobial medications.
How to Deal with Diarrhea in Early Pregnancy
It is quite normal to have diarrheal episodes early in pregnancy. This diarrhea is a normal physiological response of the body and will not harm you or your baby. Nonetheless, it is important to treat it as early as possible. You can try the following measures to help with your diarrhea:
- Dietary changes can help alleviate diarrhea. Foods like apples, bananas, brown rice etc. help in binding of the intestinal content can be beneficial. It is important to maintain a balanced diet and prevent malnutrition because things tastes differently in pregnancy and women can have aversion to food. Along with a balanced diet, adequate fluid intake is also important. While this is applicable throughout the pregnancy, it is most helpful during the first trimester, when women are getting used to the changes in their body.
- Most episodes of diarrhea occur during the first three months of pregnancy and can be relieved by adequate hydration and dietary modification. Whole foods, non-caustic foods and vegetables, all can be beneficial for your digestive system. Do not feel stressed by this situation, it is temporary and will go away before you know it.
How to Prevent Diarrhea During Pregnancy
The key to preventing diarrhea during early pregnancy is again dietary modification. Foods that are natural laxatives like prunes can cause diarrhea, as can eating fatty food, spicy food and milk products etc. Fatty or spicy foods can be difficult for the body to digest sometimes and consequently cause diarrhea. As mentioned before, increased milk intake can cause diarrhea in lactose intolerant women. Such pregnant women should try some other source of calcium to prevent this form of diarrhea.
Drinks with high sugar content like sodas or energy drinks should also be avoided during pregnancy, as they too can disturb digestion. They are also a major source of weight gain in pregnant women. The right drinks are very important during pregnancy; you should stay away from grape juices, cokes, coffee, tea and energy drinks to prevent diarrhea in pregnancy. Sports drinks, however, can be a good choice for you because they are packed with electrolytes that can help rehydrate you. But be sure to pick the right sports drink after consulting your doctor as not all drinks have positive effects.
What about Diarrhea in Late Pregnancy?
Often enough, diarrhea occurs late in pregnancy, this is not an alarming sign and is quite common in many women. As mothers approach their due date, they can experience diarrhea. It can be right before labor or even a couple of weeks before it. Either way, it is just the mechanism by which the body of the mother prepares itself for labor and does not in any way indicate that your baby is coming right now. Be aware of other signs of labor too and do not rely solely on this one sign.