pregnant woman eating a sandwich in the kitchen

How to Handle Diarrhea During Pregnancy

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
April 02, 2024

Diarrhea is never pleasant—and less so when you’re dealing with other pregnancy symptoms. Here’s what to know, including how to feel better if you’re having diarrhea during pregnancy.

Is Diarrhea Normal During Pregnancy?

Simply put, diarrhea happens. “People definitely develop diarrhea during pregnancy, but I think that happens for all the reasons people develop diarrhea when they’re not pregnant,” explains Eve Espey, M.D., chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, in Albuquerque.

Diarrhea is defined as having three or more loose stools in a day. It can also cause abdominal pain.

Common causes include things like stomach flu, food poisoning, or eating foods that weren’t regularly part of your pre-pregnancy routine, says Danica Lapid, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn with UT Health Houston in Bellaire, Texas.

Diarrhea could also be related to a preexisting condition, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or celiac disease. Pregnancy can make you more prone to flares, notes Lapid. And though it’s rarer, taking prenatal vitamins could lead to diarrhea, as well.

Hormones can come into play, too. “Hormonal changes can cause changes in intestinal motility that can lead to either diarrhea or constipation,” Espey says.

When During Pregnancy Is Diarrhea Most Common?

A bout of diarrhea may happen at any point throughout pregnancy, especially when the cause is related to diet or gut health.

Some people experience diarrhea during early pregnancy because of hormone shifts or starting on a new prenatal vitamin.

In your third trimester, you may be more prone to it as your body preps for labor. And in that case, the diarrhea is due to the hormones that are getting your body ready for birth, Lapid says.

What Can Help Ease Diarrhea?

A few tips can help when you have diarrhea. Be sure to get enough fluids so that you’re staying hydrated. Drink water or electrolyte drinks instead of soft drinks and caffeine, Lapid says. It can help calm your digestive system if you follow the BRAT diet, too—that is, eating bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.

To help avoid diarrhea, consider adding probiotics to your diet. Be sure to follow food safety rules, too. For example, cook food thoroughly and avoid things like deli meat and unpasteurized cheeses, Lapid says.

If you’re thinking of taking an antidiarrheal medication, like Pepto-Bismol or Imodium, call your provider and get their approval first. Pepto-Bismol and other medications may contain a small amount of aspirin, which might not be safe during pregnancy, both doctors say.

When to Call Your Provider About Diarrhea

It’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you still have diarrhea after two days, Lapid says. Also call if you have fever, muscle pain, nausea, or vomiting along with the diarrhea. These could be signs of a more serious issue, like a listeria infection, says Lapid. Listeriosis can cause pregnancy complications, so be sure to seek medical help.