Nausea and vomiting are among the most common symptoms of pregnancy for most women. As many as 90 percent of pregnant women will experience some nausea, particularly during the first few months, while 25 to 55 percent will also experience vomiting. Together, these symptoms are known as morning sickness (even though they don’t just occur in the morning). But these are not the only uncomfortable physical conditions that pregnant women are likely to find themselves dealing with.
Constipation is a very common problem among pregnant women. And though it is much less frequently discussed, for many women pregnancy nausea diarrhea is also a problem during the first trimester and then again toward the end of the pregnancy. It’s estimated that up to 34 percent of pregnant women will have this problem.
The causes of diarrhea during pregnancy are quite varied. Sometimes it is traceable to the same things that cause diarrhea at any time—bacteria and infections, food poisoning, medications, lactose intolerance and pre-existing digestive tract problems, like irritable bowel syndrome. Being pregnant may lower your resistance to many of these agents. Many women also develop new or increased sensitivities to certain foods during pregnancy, contributing to both nausea and diarrhea.
Culprit number one, however, for diarrhea as for nausea, is likely to be the massive hormonal changes pregnancy introduces to a woman’s body, particularly the increase in progesterone and estrogen. Many women experience stomach and digestive maladies including diarrhea during their menstrual periods for the same reason. Heightened hormone levels can cause the muscles in the colon to relax, leading to diarrhea.
Because constipation is such a common complaint for pregnant women, they are often advised to adopt a variety of lifestyle changes that can lead to the opposite extreme and trigger episodes or a period of diarrhea. A pregnancy diet generally focuses on increasing high fiber foods, drinking extra fluids, and taking vitamin and mineral supplements All of these can contribute to diarrhea. Some prenatal vitamins also affect some women with diarrhea or loose stools, and a change of brand may eliminate the problem.
A few dietary adjustments are advisable to treat and prevent digestive problems—including both nausea and diarrhea—during pregnancy. If you find that in fact you seem to have a greater tendency to diarrhea than to constipation, skip the prune juice. Dried fruits, highly spiced and fatty foods, and even milk should be avoided, at least if you are lactose intolerant. Yogurt with live cultures is a great booster for the digestive system, and many bland, starchy items are on the list of things to try: potatoes, crackers, toast, etc. A special regime of bananas, rice, applesauce and toast (or BRAT) is frequently recommended as particularly easy to digest. Stick to cooked vegetables and lean meats, and avoid high-sugar drinks (even juice drinks). Many of these recommendations should also help reduce queasiness and nausea if you also experience those symptoms.
Diarrhea is generally more of a nuisance than a serious health concern for pregnant women. However, if it is severe or persistent (more than a couple of days), or if any blood or mucous appears in the stools, be sure to tell your doctor.
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