Shortly before labor, a woman's body prepares for the ordeal in a variety of ways to make room for the baby's emergence. One way her body can ease things is by eliminating everything in the digestive tract. For this reason, it is common for women to experience loose stools and even diarrhea in the last few weeks or days of pregnancy.
Loose, frequent passing of stool accompanied by stomach and abdominal cramping is a common complaint of late pregnancy. These symptoms and other late pregnancy complaints may resemble the flu. The cramping may be mistaken for early labor, especially by first-time mothers. In most cases, these symptoms are nothing to worry about and may be treatable with palliative care; rarely, they may indicate a more serious problem.
These digestive symptoms are probably your body's way of preparing for the impending birth. By keeping things flowing quickly through the digestive tract, your body gives the developing baby a bit more exit room when the time comes. The root cause is most likely the overall loosening of muscles in your abdomen, according to the What to Expect website.
In the past, women preparing for labor were routinely given an enema, which has about the same function as diarrhea: it removes stools from the body in preparation for giving birth. Baby Center reports that because women already typically have loose stools prior to delivery, enemas are no longer routine.
Drink plenty of liquids to maintain proper hydration, including electrolyte solutions like Gatorade if your loose stools seem to cross into diarrhea. You may be able to decrease symptoms by changing your eating habits. Keep eating, but avoid fat and high fiber. Just as for the heartburn symptoms also common in pregnancy, avoid acidic and spicy foods that may irritate your digestive tract. Look for easily digestible light foods high in protein and carbohydrates; this will ensure your energy level is high when you go into active labor. Frequent small meals instead of the standard three meals per day may also help.
When to Call Your Obstetrician
In most cases, loose stool and stomach pain are completely normal before labor. However, in a few cases you should call your obstetrician. If your abdomen is tender and very painful, you may have a sudden onset of preeclampsia, a condition that is deadly for both mothers and babies. If you are noticing an increase in vaginal discharge, spotting or menstrual-like cramping, or if you feel abnormal heaviness or pressure in your lower abdomen near your pelvis, you may be going into labor, even if you are not yet due. Contact your obstetrician about symptoms such as sudden cramping that makes your stomach hard and does not go away, burning when passing urine and sudden swelling and retention of water. Finally, any time you are in doubt about your symptoms, you should not hesitate to call a medical practitioner for advice.