Vomiting and diarrhea are common during pregnancy. They can vary in duration and severity.
Pregnant women frequently experience vomiting and diarrhea, and these issues sometimes overlap. This does not always indicate an underlying health problem.
It is also worth keeping in mind that the two symptoms may have different causes, and one, both, or neither may stem from pregnancy.
So what causes digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea during pregnancy? The answers can vary, based on the stage of the pregnancy:
During the first trimester, one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy is morning sickness. This involves nausea and vomiting and typically occurs before week 17.
For most women, morning sickness lasts for a few weeks to months, but it can last for the entire pregnancy. Some women vomit once or twice a day, while others feel nauseous all day.
One medical review reports that anxiety, depression, and negative relationships with family can each make nausea and vomiting worse or occur more frequently.
Meanwhile, stress can also cause gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhea.
Other common causes of diarrhea during pregnancy include viral and bacterial infections and certain medications. It is important to note that diarrhea can be dangerous, leading to potentially serious issues such as dehydration.
Learn more about dehydration during pregnancy here.
If vomiting starts or continues into the second trimester, it may indicate hyperemesis gravidarum.
This rare disorder causes vomiting and nausea that can be severe enough to require hospitalization. It can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, dehydration, and a 5% loss in original body weight.
About 22% of women with hyperemesis gravidarum experience the symptoms — nausea and vomiting — throughout their pregnancies.
On the other hand, nausea and vomiting that appear after the end of week 16 may not be related to pregnancy. In this case, the cause can range from a stomach virus to a more serious issue, such as an ulcer or hepatitis.
Heartburn is common during pregnancy, especially later on, as the growing fetus places pressure on the stomach. Also, the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus relaxes during pregnancy.
As a result of either or both factors, stomach acid can rise up into the esophagus, causing heartburn.
It is important to note that a sudden onset of nausea and vomiting during the second half of pregnancy can stem from preeclampsia, a serious complication that can lead to preterm delivery.
Some other signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include high blood pressure, heartburn, and swelling of the face and hands.
Also, diarrhea can be a sign of preterm labor. In some cases, a woman experiences no other signs, or there may be mucus-like vaginal discharge and lower back pain.
Various common health issues can cause both diarrhea and vomiting, including:
However, having diarrhea and vomiting at the same time does not necessarily mean that they are symptoms of one health issue.
Factors such as stress and preexisting conditions can also lead to either or both of these symptoms.
Mild vomiting and diarrhea during pregnancy typically require no specialized treatment. The symptoms may resolve on their own.
Some home care strategies include:
- eating bland foods, such as toast, bananas, crackers, and rice
- taking a prenatal vitamin
- eating more frequently
- eating toast or crackers in bed first thing in the morning, before moving
- taking frequent, single bites of foods such as nuts or crackers
If symptoms are more severe or are otherwise negatively affecting daily life, the following treatment options are safe during pregnancy:
- vitamin B6, which is available over the counter
- doxylamine, an ingredient in sleep aids
- prescription medication that contains both B6 and doxylamine
- prescription antiemetic drugs
It may not be possible to prevent nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, but taking the following steps may help:
- eating smaller meals
- eating foods that are easy to digest
- drinking plenty of fluids
- avoiding taste or smell triggers for nausea
A pregnant woman should see a doctor about vomiting or diarrhea that is severe or lasts for more than a few days.
In general, it is a good idea to contact a doctor about any diarrhea, lower back pain, and an increase in vaginal discharge.
Also, see a doctor about any symptoms of dehydration, including:
- dizziness or fainting when standing
- low amounts of urine, which is dark
- an inability to urinate
- a pounding heartbeat
- being unable to keep down liquids
It may be best to contact a doctor about any health concerns or unusual physical changes during pregnancy.
Diarrhea and vomiting are common during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester.
Either issue can lead to complications, and a woman should receive prompt medical care for severe diarrhea or vomiting. A doctor may recommend dietary changes, vitamins, medications, or a combination.