Diarrhoea in Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment and When to Seek Help

Dealing with diarrhoea (sometimes spelt Diarrhea) during pregnancy can be uncomfortable and stressful, but you're not alone. Many mums-to-be experience this common condition, and it's important to know that there's no shame in seeking help or advice.

In this article, we'll explore the causes of diarrhoea during pregnancy, share tips for managing symptoms, and provide guidance on when to see your doctor.

Is it OK to Have Diarrhoea While Pregnant?

Although it might be worrying to experience stomach cramps and diarrhoea, whether in early pregnancy or later, in most cases the diarrhoea will be unrelated to your pregnancy. It’s most commonly triggered by a tummy bug (gastroenteritis) , but other causes include food poisoning, a food allergy or intolerance.

Diarrhoea Symptoms

The most common symptoms associated with diarrhoea can include

  • loose, watery stools

  • an urgent need to poo

  • stomach cramps or pain

  • feeling bloated

  • nausea.

Is Diarrhoea a Sign of Pregnancy?

While diarrhoea isn’t a sign of early pregnancy in itself, you may experience changes to your bowel movements in the first trimester.

For example, early in your pregnancy, hormonal changes can cause your digestive system to slow down, often leading to constipation.

Changes to your diet and nutrition during pregnancy may result in changes in your bowels, too. For instance, if you’re eating more fibre now or taking prenatal vitamins, these changes can affect the frequency and consistency of your bowel movements.

If this happens, eating fibre-rich foods like fruits, vegetables and wholegrains can help with constipation, but for some people this sudden change in diet can lead to bloating, cramps and even diarrhoea.

Drinking plenty of water can help with constipation. It’s also essential to help replenish the fluids lost by having diarrhoea, especially when you’re pregnant. Talk to your midwife or doctor if you’re having trouble with digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhoea during pregnancy.


Pregnancy Symptoms
Morning Sickness: Causes and Remedies

Is Diarrhoea a Sign of Premature Labour?

Having a runny tummy – on its own – isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re going into labour, but mild abdominal cramps or period-like pains with or without diarrhoea before week 37 of pregnancy could be a sign of premature labour.

Other signs of premature labour can include

Call your midwife or maternity unit immediately if you’re less than 37 weeks pregnant and think you might be going into premature labour.

Other Common Causes of Diarrhoea During Pregnancy

Whether it strikes during pregnancy or just before or afterwards, there are many things that can cause diarrhoea. Here are some of the most common causes it’s worth knowing about:

Viral infection

Viral infections are among the most common causes of diarrhoea during pregnancy. One of these, norovirus, is sometimes known as the ‘vomiting bug’. Besides the diarrhoea, viral tummy bugs may come with some or all of these other symptoms:

  • Nausea (feeling sick)

  • Vomiting

  • High temperature

  • Aching limbs.

Viruses like norovirus are transmitted easily through close contact with other people who have it, or from touching surfaces or objects that have been infected. To lower your chances of catching it, wash your hands frequently, and avoid sharing tableware and touching your mouth after touching anything else.

Keep in mind that alcohol-based hand gels don’t kill norovirus, so always use soap and water for handwashing.

Food Poisoning

Even during pregnancy, anyone can fall victim to food poisoning. If you do get food poisoning while pregnant, you may experience symptoms similar to those of a viral infection.

The good news is that most cases of food poisoning go away on their own within a week, but it's always best to check in with your doctor if you think your diarrhoea was caused by something you ate.

Reduce your chances of getting food poisoning by avoiding certain risky foods. For example, avoid unpasteurised dairy products and undercooked or raw seafood. If you’re eating food containing raw or partially cooked hen eggs, make sure it’s made with eggs produced under the British Lion or Laid in Britain scheme.

Be extra careful about how the food you eat is prepared. Always wash your hands before preparing any food, and make sure all the surfaces in your kitchen have been cleaned with hot, soapy water.

Some forms of food poisoning can lead to pregnancy complications that may affect your foetus’s development. That’s why, if you have any symptoms of food poisoning (nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhoea) during pregnancy, it’s best to see a doctor as soon as possible.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

If you’re living with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or frequently experience the symptoms of IBS, such as cramps, bloating and frequent swings between diarrhoea and constipation, talk to your doctor about how you can manage this condition during pregnancy.

The causes of IBS aren’t fully understood, but it’s believed that triggers can include stress or eating certain foods. It’s also possible that IBS can run in families.

Traveller’s Diarrhoea

If you plan on travelling while pregnant, continue to follow the guidelines on foods to avoid for mums-to-be.

Before you head off, it’s a great idea to research any extra precautions you need to take, depending on where you're going. Although each travel destination is unique, here are some general recommendations that may be relevant:

  • Drink bottled water instead of tap water.

  • Avoid anything that may have been washed in tap water, such as salad greens or raw fruits.

  • Use bottled water for brushing your teeth.

  • If you eat raw fruit, opt for ones that have skins that you peel yourself.

  • Stick to eating well-cooked meals.

If you do get traveller’s diarrhoea, drink plenty of fluids to keep from getting dehydrated. Avoid dairy products and caffeinated drinks, which might make diarrhoea worse. To be on the safe side, you may want to see a doctor in case you need antidiarrheal medication or some other treatment.

Treatment for Diarrhoea in Pregnancy and Preventing Dehydration

With diarrhoea, you can lose a lot of body fluid and be in danger of dehydration, so if you have diarrhoea, especially during pregnancy, try to drink plenty of water.

To treat diarrhoea, your GP may recommend a safe over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication, or in some cases prescribe other steps, such as getting intravenous fluids to help replenish any fluid loss.

If you have diarrhoea, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids and to call your doctor right away if you notice these signs of dehydration:

  • Excessive thirst

  • Dry mouth or skin

  • Little or no urination

  • Dark-coloured urine

  • Weakness, dizziness, or light-headedness.

When to See Your Doctor

Call 111 or see your doctor if

  • your diarrhoea lasts more than a few days

  • you’re dehydrated

  • you have strong abdominal or rectal pain

  • you pass bloody or black stools.


Although it might be worrying to experience diarrhoea when you’re pregnant, in most cases the diarrhoea will be triggered by something unrelated to your pregnancy, like a tummy bug. Check in with your doctor and make sure you get plenty of fluids (to avoid dehydration).

The Bottom Line

Diarrhoea when you’re pregnant can be a symptom of something normal, such as a change in diet, but it can also be a sign of something potentially more serious, such as food poisoning. Besides that, it’s a pretty uncomfortable condition that can also lead to dehydration, so it’s always safest and best to get checked by your doctor sooner rather than later. With the right treatment and plenty of rest you'll feel better soon.

How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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