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Can Constipation or Diarrhea Cause Miscarriage?

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Updated January 24, 2012

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Question: Can Constipation or Diarrhea Cause Miscarriage?

Reader Question #1: The first time I was pregnant, I had terrible constipation in the first few weeks, and I had to push harder than usual to have a bowel movement. Could this have caused my miscarriage?

Reader Question #2: I think I have food poisoning, and I’m having a lot of stomach cramps and diarrhea. Now I’m worried that all these cramps might make me miscarry. Can having diarrhea make you have a miscarriage?

Answer:

It’s understandable why you might think a bout of diarrhea or constipation could affect your pregnancy. After all, the cramping associated with diarrhea can feel a lot like menstrual cramps, or the cramping that can signify a miscarriage. If you’ve had a baby before, you might remember that pushing at the end of labor uses a lot of the same abdominal muscles as straining with constipation. You may have even passed some stool during labor.

The good news is that neither constipation nor diarrhea can cause a miscarriage. The uterus and bowels are both in the same general area of the body, but they are completely separate systems. Changes in your bowel habits are extremely common with pregnancy, as both hormonal and physical shifts alter your digestion, the motility of your bowels, the way your body uses fluids, and more.

Diarrhea

Diarrhea can be caused by many things, and usually goes away on its own. However, diarrhea can also be a sign of infection. Although it doesn’t cause miscarriage, diarrhea can affect a pregnancy. An occasional loose stool can be normal, but if you have any of the following, contact your doctor:

  • Diarrhea for more than 3 days
  • Fever of 100.4 F or higher
  • Severe abdominal or rectal pain
  • Blood in your stool
  • Black, tarry stool
  • Signs of dehydration:
    • Dark urine
    • Decreased or absent urine
    • Dizziness
    • Dry mouth
    • Headache
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weakness

If you do have diarrhea, it’s important to take good care of yourself. Staying hydrated is the most important thing, so be sure to drink plenty of water. Some juices and milk can make diarrhea worse, so it’s best to stick to water, or sports drinks, like Gatorade. Don’t take any over-the-counter medications for diarrhea without first checking with your doctor.

Constipation

Early in pregnancy, most women become constipated at least occasionally. Constipation is rarely dangerous, but it can be very uncomfortable. The best treatment for constipation is prevention.

If you are having difficulty with bowel movements, or passing hard, dry stools, you should benefit from the following at-home treatments:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Get more fiber, especially from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Exercise more, even something as simple as walking

Consult your doctor before taking any medications for constipation. For severe cases, your provider may be able to prescribe a stool softener or gentle laxative.

Sources:

American Pregnancy Association. Constipation and Pregnancy. Accessed: 18 Jan 2012.

Varney, H., Kriebs, J., et al. Varney's Midwifery, Fourth Edition. 2003.

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