Last modified on May 2021
With inputs from Dr. Pragnya Rao - General Physician
Diarrhoea, also known as loose motions, is the frequent passing of loose or liquid stools, usually three or more times a day. Often, it is a symptom of an infection in the gastrointestinal tract and can lead to dehydration if not treated properly. It is not uncommon to experience loose motion during pregnancy.
During pregnancy stomach pain and loose motion can be attributed to the hormonal changes your body is going through during this period. Treatment of loose motion in pregnancy will depend on the type and severity of the case.
The three types of clinically recognised diarrhoea are:
- Acute Watery Diarrhoea: This type is known to last for several hours or even days. The infectious Cholera also comes under this category.
- Acute Bloody Diarrhoea: Commonly known as Dysentery, it can last up to 14 days with the passing of bloody stools.
- Persistent Diarrhoea: Recurrences of diarrhoea that mostly indicate conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or chronic infections. It goes beyond 14 days.
While the main and most obvious symptom of diarrhoea is loose and watery stools, you may experience some of these symptoms below:
- Stomach Pain: Could be dull, sharp or cramp-like.
- Bloating: May depend on the type of food consumed or pre-existing conditions like IBS.
- Weight Loss: It is usually water weight, lost when diarrhoea persists for a while.
- Fever: Common when the body is fighting an infection.
- Body Aches: May also include joint aches.
- Chills: Accompanies a fever, mostly during viral infections.
- Frequent Bowel Movements
The symptoms above are quite common and usual. However, there could be serious symptoms like the ones below, that demand immediate attention from a professional.
- Stool with blood or pus
- Persistent vomiting
- Dehydration: symptoms include lethargy, dizziness, sunken eyes, and dark yellow urine.
- Severe or unending stomach ache.
We understand that getting treatment for loose motions during pregnancy during the COVID-19 pandemic may be hard for some people. That is why we at MFine have made sure that everyone can get easy access to online doctor consultations from the comfort of their home. Chat to top gynaecologists on the MFine App through instant message or video calls to discuss your symptoms and receive treatment plans suited to your condition.
Chapter 1: Why and When does loose motion occur during pregnancy?
“Unfortunately, loose motion and stomach pain is common and a lot of women go through this and it can be attributed to internal changes such as fluctuating hormones and external changes such as stress and diet. Keeping yourself hydrated is key to controlling it. Most times, the reason behind the symptoms is nothing to be alarmed about and easily taken care of. Do not self-diagnose if it lasts for too long as leaving them unattended could impact foetal health.”
– Dr. Pragnya Rao, General Physician
Pregnancy is a period of hormonal changes that affect the body in various ways. For example, elevated levels of the hormone ‘progesterone’, which can cause your intestinal muscles to move slower, leading to constipation. A lot of times, the hormonal changes can have the exact opposite effect and cause loose motion to occur during pregnancy. Additionally, gastric acidity also increases due to gastrin production by the placenta.
Cravings and dietary habits often shift during pregnancy to accommodate your body’s changing nutritional requirements. Such changes in hormones, food habits and even stress can cause digestive issues making loose motion very common. However, expecting mothers must take caution and use necessary remedies to prevent it from causing severe dehydration or malnutrition.
It is most likely for you to have loose motion during third trimester, especially closer to the due date. This is due to prostaglandin, which is responsible for inducing labour through contractions
But keep in mind that loose motion during third trimester doesn’t necessarily mean that the due date is closer. Throughout pregnancy, there could be certain food triggers or even exposure to infections that could lead to it.
– It’s fairly common to experience loose motion during pregnancy. Many women claim to notice gastrointestinal changes from the first trimester itself.
– While the reasons for loose motion in pregnancy could vary, it is crucial to keep hydrated and contact a gynecologist in case symptoms persist.
Consult the city’s top gynecologists anytime, anywhere!
Chapter 2: Causes of Loose Motion Occuring During Pregnancy
The reason for loose motion in pregnancy could be due to different circumstances, as explained earlier, due to internal changes such as hormones and diet, and external changes such as stress.
Here are the most common reasons for the onset of loose motion
1. Changes in Diet
With the onset of pregnancy, the recommended dietary changes might be a sudden shift from the normal for a mother. Studies show that pregnancy affects the gut flora (microorganisms in the digestive tract). As this gut flora is responsible for protecting the stomach against pathogens and aiding in digestion, an effect in its development could have an adverse effect. Other changes, such as increased protein intake through dairy, are also known to cause loose stools.
2. New Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivity could develop, or sometimes even improve, during the course of pregnancy. Fluctuating hormone levels tend to affect the way the body reacts to certain foods.
Certain ingredients or foods that may have been tolerable before pregnancy could trigger reactions like excessive gas, acidity, loose motion and vomiting during pregnancy. The most common triggers are dairy, eggs and spicy foods.
3. Hormonal Changes
Studies have found the gallbladder and gut to be hormonally responsive organs. Prostaglandins, the substance that is responsible for contractions in the uterus could also cause contractions in the intestines, resulting in increased bowel movements. They can also increase electrolyte secretion, leading to diarrhoea.
4. Prenatal Vitamins
Prenatal vitamins help women meet the recommended nutrient doses, aid in fetal development and improve overall health. Since they are a mix of a variety of vitamins and minerals, some women may experience side effects like nausea, constipation or loose motion when taking them.
A study on gastrointestinal symptoms during pregnancy by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) noted iron supplements as a factor known to cause constipation in some patients and diarrhoea in some patients.
This is likely due to many brands adding stool softeners to counteract the effects of slowed intestinal movements during pregnancy. Such side effects are not uncommon and can easily be addressed with a switch in the brand
5. Food Poisoning
Food poisoning is the blanket term for the adverse effects of consuming contaminated food or liquids. The cause could be bacterial, viral, parasitic, allergen-related or even toxin-related. Hence, it is one of the more serious causes of diarrhoea that should be addressed immediately.
What sets it apart from a harmless bout of diarrhoea would be symptoms like vomiting, fever and stomach aches. Contact your general physician promptly if you experience these symptoms to rule out food poisoning.
The most common types of food poisoning are:
- Listeria (bacteria): Found in unpasteurised milk, raw foods and refrigerated meats. Symptoms have been known to appear as late as 2 months after consumption.
- E. coli (bacteria): Can be picked up from undercooked food, contaminated water and even person to person contact.
- Salmonella (bacteria): Caused from raw or undercooked meat, eggs and exposure to infected animals.
6. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
While the exact cause of IBS needs more research to ascertain, an overly sensitive colon or immune system have been considered as common causes.
IBS is usually a set of intestinal symptoms that differ in people. Studies have shown hormones like estrogen and progesterone are more likely to trigger symptoms of IBS and any changes to them (such as pregnancy) could aggravate the symptoms.
Worrying too much could further the problem by creating a cycle of stress-induced hormone surges.
The symptoms of IBS include:
- Abdominal aches
- Stool that is lumpy with more mucus
- Gas and bloating
- Worsening of symptoms after meals
IBS is known to show up and disappear over time, but there is no permanent cure for it. Therefore, managing the symptoms of IBS through diet and stress reduction during pregnancy is crucial for both the mother and child.
7. Traveller’s Diarrhoea
Traveller’s diarrhoea is any digestive tract infection that is picked up while travelling. The causes are mostly unsanitary conditions or unhygienic food and water. Its symptoms are the same as any stomach infection:
- Stomach cramps
- Loose stools
Seeing as it is a common custom for Indian women to visit their maternal home during pregnancy, the chances of contracting a stomach infection increase while travelling. This could be because pregnant women have been found to have lowered gastric acidity and increased gastrointestinal transit time, making them more susceptible.
Hence, to avoid loose motion problems during pregnancy, take extreme caution while travelling by sanitising or washing hands before meals, limiting or avoiding outside food, reheating food before consumption and thoroughly washing and cleaning raw fruit.
8. Viral Infection
During pregnancy loose motion can be caused by viral infections is a common occurrence, mainly due to careless hygiene or consuming contaminated food or water. Also commonly known as stomach flu, such viral infections are usually contagious. They cause inflammation of the stomach and diarrhoea, accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Fever and chills
- Muscle or joint aches
- Stomach cramps and pain
- Loss of appetite
– Loose motion in early pregnancy or loose motion in last month of pregnancy could stem from various causes. The most common reason is hormonal changes that make the digestive system more sensitive, alter gut health and even react differently to diet changes.
– Prenatal vitamins have also been noted to cause loose stools due to certain components like Iron or stool softeners.
– Pregnancy can also trigger conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) through hormone fluctuations and stress, further increasing the chances of diarrhoea.
– Infections can also cause diarrhoea along with more serious symptoms, making them important to treat and take care of immediately.
Consult a gynaecologist to evaluate your risk factors
Chapter 3: Remedies for Loose Motion During Pregnancy
During pregnancy, the causes of loose motion vary and thus there is no one specific remedy for it. However, there are some remedies for loose motion that help you manage loose motions in pregnancy symptoms and ease the discomfort.
1. Give It Time to Subside
Some amount of constipation and loose motion in pregnancy is natural, and often taken care of at home. Diarrhoea is the body’s way of fighting pathogens by flushing out of the system, clearing the digestive tract of toxins, bacteria and viruses.
Especially when loose motions in pregnancy symptoms are mild, it’s best to let the body do its job and settle down on its own, without any medication. This usually lasts for one to three days when it is infection-related and mostly a day in isolated incidents when it comes to food aversions. The important thing to remember is to keep yourself hydrated throughout this period. You can even take electrolytes to protect yourself from dehydration. Raw fruits such as apples and bananas are advised to be consumed during this period.
Most doctors generally recommend avoiding over-the-counter drugs during the early stages of pregnancy to avoid any chances of potentially harmful side effects. During pregnancy if you experience loose motion in first trimester and are looking for medicinal relief, it’s best to contact your gynaecologist for advice.
While it is safer to take medications for loose motions in second trimester of pregnancy, as a general rule, consult your doctor before taking any medication. Before consuming any medication, read the label for warnings for pregnant women.
3. Meet a Gynaecologist
If the symptoms of diarrhoea continue even after three days or are accompanied by others like fever or blood in stools, visiting your gynaecologist is a must. Be sure to mention all symptoms experienced and if any trigger or allergens were noticed. Ask for a change of prenatal vitamins brand if symptoms worsen on taking them.
Physicians mostly conduct physical examinations and might ask for samples of blood or stools for a diagnosis. Most loose motion and gastrointestinal cases during pregnancy are handled by the obstetrician if they are mild. However, a specialist may intervene in more complex cases.
4. Manage Diet
Conditions such as IBS can be best managed through dietary changes. Increasing fibre uptake and eliminating foods that worsen symptoms work well for this. Stress relief activities can also be supplemented along with dietary changes for IBS.
For overall management of diarrhoea and support of a healthy digestive system, the following dietary tips could be followed:
- Foods to Avoid
Spicy foods as they can further irritate the digestive system. Fried or high-fat foods, as they could be difficult for the already overloaded system to process. Too much fibre could also irk the digestive system by adding to the bowel movements.
Dairy products have been known to aggravate and prolong the diarrhoea. It happens because the enzyme’ lactase’, which is needed to digest dairy products, depletes during this time. Hence, it’s best to stay clear of dairy products when experiencing loose stools.
- Foods to Consume
Probiotic foods help the digestive system by improving gut flora, increasing the balance of good bacteria. It’s best to consume fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut (which also adds fibre) and even apple cider vinegar (also known to neutralise stomach acid).
Some other food to eat in during pregnancy that could give the digestive system a healthy boost are listed below.
- 1. Apples: Apples contain pectin, which helps prevent intestinal infections and help in the growth of good bacteria.
- 2. Chia Seeds: Along with providing fibre, they promote healthy stools and gut bacteria.
- 3. Ginger: Commonly used in Indian households, this family remedy is used to reduce inflammation, nausea, gas and stomach cramps.
- 4. Turmeric: The chemical ‘curcumin’ has been known to ease diarrhoea along with providing antiviral benefits.
5. Staying Hydrated
Dehydration is undoubtedly one of the most dangerous effects of loose motion occurring during pregnancy. Prolonged diarrhoea leads to loss of fluids from the body, in turn affecting its functioning adversely. This also leads to loss of salts and electrolytes, which are electrically charged compounds that help with producing energy, transmit nerve signals and moving muscles.
Symptoms of dehydration include dry skin, lethargy, infrequent urination and dark urine
Dehydration during pregnancy can put both the mother and child at risk through low amniotic fluids, premature birth and dizziness.
Seeing how severe dehydration can get, it is important to promptly start hydrating at the onset of diarrhoea to prevent it from becoming serious. Drinking plenty of water, along with oral rehydration solutions, must be a priority. During recovery, foods like spinach, oranges, potatoes, beans and bananas, which are rich in electrolytes, can be consumed.
– Most of the time, diarrhoea goes away on its own as it is the body’s way of ridding the digestive system from pathogens and toxins.
– If it continues to persist, it’s best to visit the gynaecologist for further inspection to rule out infections or disorders like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
– A lot of the symptoms of diarrhoea can be managed with diet change and monitoring. Prevention can be done through the consumption of foods that support the digestive system.
– When it comes to medication for diarrhoea when pregnant, it’s best to consult a physician before taking any, to be sure that it is safe for pregnancy.
Chapter 4: When Should You Consult a Doctor During Pregnancy for Loose Motion?
Women must make a note of when they experience symptoms of an upset stomach to narrow down the cause. If any of the symptoms persist beyond the usual time or any abnormal symptoms are observed, it’s best to see a professional as soon as possible.
Here are some instances when you must seek treatment for loose motion in pregnancy:
1. When You’re Feeling Excessively Dehydrated
Dehydration can adversely affect your system, with a lack of electrolytes and salts, hampering the normal functioning of the body. You will start to feel dizzy, lethargic, thirsty, experience a loss of appetite and also have dry skin. But the internal effects are much more serious. In very serious cases, dehydration can lower the amniotic fluid, which can put the foetus in danger.
Contact your general physician as soon as you feel the onset of these symptoms to let them assist you. If you’re called into the hospital, the doctor may also have a blood or urine sample taken to confirm dehydration. Treatment may include IV drips and monitoring over a few days.
2. Lasts for More Than 2 Days
If your diarrhoea goes beyond 2-3 days, there’s a risk of dehydration and severe infection. Hence, you should contact your physician immediately.
They might ask for blood samples to make a diagnosis. In the case of infections, they might prescribe medication. You may also have developed an allergy to certain foods, which is not uncommon during pregnancy or be reacting to the brand of prenatal vitamins.
But sometimes during pregnancy, prolonged loose motions could be a sign of an underlying disease. Therefore, it’s best to consult a doctor to be sure and avoid any adverse effects on the foetus. Even if diarrhoea goes away within two days, but is recurring, ensure you let the doctor know.
3. Abdominal and Rectal Pain
Severe abdominal pain may point towards stomach infections or even IBS. While it is common to have some pain and cramping during diarrhoea, severe pain must be inspected by the physician to rule out anything major.
Severe or prolonged loose motion in pregnancy could sometimes cause anal fissure, which are tiny painful tears within the external skin of the anus. Even changes during pregnancy are known to increase pressure on the anus due to the growing uterus, causing haemorrhoids
These haemorrhoids can get irritated and swollen due to diarrhoea, making them extremely painful, but not necessarily serious. However, if you experience rectal pain along with bleeding, contact your doctor.
4. Bloody/Black Stools
Conditions like bloody stools or bloody mucus stools could be an indication of something serious. Notice the colour; if the blood is bright red, it usually indicates bleeding in the rectum or colon. You can also experience bloody stools if you have haemorrhoids. This is because of the strain on bowel movements.
Bloody diarrhoea may also be associated with IBS and bacterial infections. The difference is that it lasts no longer than 2 weeks during an infection. Certain strains of the E.coli bacteria could cause bloody diarrhoea along with other symptoms.
Black stools usually point towards bleeding or injuries in the gastrointestinal tract, indicating a more serious issue internally, requiring immediate attention from a gastroenterologist.
5. High Fever
Fever commonly occurs as a natural defence against infections. Your immune system attempts to kill the bacteria or viruses by raising the body’s temperature. Hence, it could be the first sign of stomach infection-related diarrhoea.
In most cases, upon contacting your physician, a blood sample is taken for diagnosis and treatment is given according to the type of infection.
– Consult a doctor when diarrhoea either persists beyond 2 to 3 days or is accompanied by symptoms like fever, bloody or black stools, severe stomach ache or rectal pain.
– Most times, the reason behind the symptoms during pregnancy for loose motionis nothing to be alarmed about and easily taken care of. Do not self-diagnose or treat when you experience these symptoms, as leaving them unattended could impact foetal health.
Chapter 5: Is Loose Motion During Pregnancy a Sign of Preterm Labour?
Labour that is induced before 37 weeks of pregnancy is known as preterm labour. There are certain signs that could indicate it, but not necessarily mean that you’re going into preterm labour. They are:
- Vaginal discharge that has changed. It could be water, mucus-like or even bloody. You may also notice more than the usual amount of discharge.
- Abdominal cramps that may or may not be accompanied by diarrhoea
- Unusual pressure in the lower abdominal region
- Contractions that are periodical
- The amniotic sac rupturing, which is known as water breaks
Can Diarrhoea Be a Symptom of Early Labour?
Prolonged diarrhoea could lead to uterine contractions that may feel like going into labour. A common observation is that women experience loose motion in third trimester of pregnancy and more so in the days that lead up to the due date.
This could be the body preparing for labour through the release of prostaglandins. However, diarrhoea doesn’t necessarily mean labour is near.
Depending on the symptoms your diarrhoea exhibits, it could indicate if you’re close to labour.
If you’re facing diarrhoea before the third trimester, it could mostly be due to diet shifts, hormonal changes, stomach infections or even food aversions.
If you notice diarrhoea accompanied by any of the preterm labour symptoms mentioned above, contact a gynecologist immediately.
Reducing the Risk of Preterm Labour
Prevention of preterm labour is quite hard as it can be unpredictable. Still, you can ensure to maintain a healthy pregnancy, in turn, reducing the risk of the happening by doing the following:
- Monitor your health and let the doctor know about any abnormal issues or symptoms.
- Eat clean and nutritious foods, and avoid processed or raw options.
- Avoid caffeine, smoke/smoking and alcohol.
- If you have a chronic condition, work on managing the symptoms and keeping it under control.
– Loose motions could mimic the feeling of contractions during pregnancy or even make the uterus contract as well.
– This does not mean the onset of preterm labour. Most times, it is reactions to food, hormones or infection in the digestive tract.
– Diarrhoea does not cause symptoms of preterm labour to show up. Rather, it could sometimes on its own be a sign of it when accompanied by other preterm labour symptoms.
Talk to top gynaecologists on MFine to effectively treat diarrhoea during pregnancy!
Chapter 6: Frequently Asked Questions on Loose Motion during pregnancy
Q1. Is it fine to repeatedly go to the bathroom, but not have loose motion in pregnancy?
Yes, diarrhoea is known to be the frequent passing of loose stools. If you notice that the consistency is normal but you have to visit the bathroom frequently, it may mostly be due to changes in the diet. During pregnancy, bowel movements change, so it is normal to see a shift
Q2. Can I drink milk to soothe diarrhoea during pregnancy?
Studies have shown that during pregnancy dairy can cause loose motion since the body might not have the required enzyme lactase to break it down. Therefore, it’s best to avoid dairy products at this time. However, adding yoghurt to your diet will help as it is a fermented food and works by building healthy bacteria in the gut.
Q3. Are loose motions during the first trimester common?
Loose motion can happen during any trimester of your pregnancy. It is a common occurrence due to hormonal changes and dietary shifts. It can be managed by eliminating foods that trigger it and managing a diet that promotes digestive health. Though it must be noted that it is most likely for loose motions to occur in the third trimester, closer to the due date.
Q4. What to do if I have loose motion and vomiting during pregnancy?
It’s common to experience loose motion and vomiting during pregnancy. The causes can vary from food aversions to stomach infections. If symptoms persist beyond 2 days or if you experience severe abdominal pain, bleeding or dehydration, contact your gynecologist immediately.
Q5. What are some remedies for loose motion experienced during pregnancy?
You can get relief through the consumption of foods like ginger, turmeric and yoghurt. Ginger soothes the stomach, turmeric is known to have antiviral properties, and yoghurt helps build gut bacteria. Avoid spicy and fatty foods and keep hydrated.
Q6. Is it normal to have frequent loose motion in the 9th month of pregnancy?
Diarrhoea in the 9th month of pregnancy is commonly reported by women. It is known to happen in the time leading to the due date. This is mostly the body’s way of preparing for labour by emptying the bowels.
Though this doesn’t necessarily mean the onset of labour, if loose stools persist and are accompanied by symptoms like nausea, fever or bloody stools, contact your gynecologist promptly.
Q7. I have been experiencing loose motion and stomach pain during pregnancy. What should I do?
Loose motion, along with stomach pain, can happen during pregnancy due to changes in diet, hormonal fluctuations or stomach infections. Symptoms should usually go away on their own in 2 to 3 days.
If they persist or you experience any other symptoms like nausea, dehydration or blood in stools, reach out to your gynecologist immediately.
Women often experience loose motions while pregnant. A study showed that 89% of women find either no difference or an increase in bowel movement frequency when pregnant. This could be attributed to changes in hormones, shifts in dietary habits, certain types of prenatal vitamins or even infections of the digestive system.
Loose motion during pregnancy is mostly harmless and goes away on its own in about 2 to 3 days. But when symptoms worsen or prolong, it could lead to dehydration and other serious conditions. Hence, it is best to keep hydrated and monitor oneself to prevent any harm to your health or the fetus.
Consult top gynaecologists on MFine to get started on your treatment for diarrhoea during pregnancy!