Bowel Changes Before Labor (And Other Strange Symptoms)

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

Hollywood often portrays labor as a quick and clean sequence of water-breaking to hospital dash to newborn cuddle, but real labor is preceded by quite a few rarely talked about changes, such as a shift in bowel habits can often be an indicator that labor is very near.

Loose bowel movements tend to happen about one or two days before you go into labor. Loose stools occur due to a release of the prostaglandins hormones, which also stimulate uterine contractions, encouraging you to empty both bowels and bladder to allow for more efficient contractions.

While loose stools are a common symptom before and during labor, every person will experience things differently in the days before their due date.

To learn more about possible changes to your bowel habits, we’ll answer some common questions about pre-labor pooping, contractions, and some of the pre-labor symptoms experienced by women.

Poop Before Labor – What To Know

With your pre-labor hormones in flux, your bowels can also begin to respond in kind, so expect to see changes to your usual habits and the appearance of your stools in the days leading up to your baby’s arrival.

Why Bowel Habits Change Before Labor

In the 24-48 hours before you go into labor, a spike of hormones released in the body (prostaglandins) causes your bowels to become looser and/or more frequent.

This is because the body “needs to begin emptying the bowels to allow the uterus to contract efficiently” according to childbirth and postpartum educator Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D.

Is Pooping a Lot a Sign of Labor Coming Soon?

If you have previously been slightly constipated and now find yourself pooping more easily (and frequently,) this can be a sign that your body is emptying your bowels in preparation for the baby to move down into your pelvis.

This seems to be true for some women on a Baby Center discussion thread about pooping frequently pre-labor.

Remember that pooping a lot isn’t necessarily always a sign of oncoming labor as every woman experiences bowel movements differently beforehand.

How Long After Loose Stools Does Labor Start?

Loose stools typically occur between 24 and 48 hours before labor.

Experiencing both uterine contractions and loose stools is a better indicator of labor starting rather than loose stools alone because the pressure your baby places on your pelvic area means you need to urinate more often.

What Color Is Poop Before Labor?

Poop can sometimes appear green shortly before labor, but green poop can be common throughout your pregnancy, so this isn’t always a pre-labor sign.

Don’t be alarmed if you also notice that your pre-labor poop is tinged red with blood as your cervix prepares for the changes. If you note any significant bleeding, please contact your doctor without delay.

Symptoms Some Women Experience Before Labor

No two pregnant women experience pre-labor bodily symptoms in quite the same way since diet, weight, hydration, and many other factors have an impact on your body’s response.

Let’s look at the range of symptoms you may experience.

Emptying Bowels Before Labor

A complete emptying of the bowels is a good thing as it is essentially “clearing out” your body in preparation of your uterus and pelvic region for efficient contracting as you push.

Diarrhea Right Before Labor

Mild diarrhea is common in the lead-up to labor and another sign your body is making way for the big changes ahead.

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids and eat lightly if you can to keep your strength up and ward off dehydration-related nausea.

Diarrhea and Vomiting Before Labor

Similar to its impact on your bowels, high levels of the prostaglandins hormones work to keep your digestive system going until after the birth of your baby, which can cause some women to feel nauseous.

Be sure to seek medical help if your vomiting and diarrhea are combined with a fever and stomach cramps that last more than 2 days.

Watery Diarrhea Before Labor

Diarrhea before labor can often appear watery due to the simultaneous changes occurring in your body. It may also reflect your diet and dehydration levels.

In less common cases, watery diarrhea can be a sign of an intestinal infection, though this is normally accompanied by other more serious symptoms such as a fever above 104°F, vomiting or vomiting blood, and headaches/muscle aches.

37 Weeks Pregnant – Diarrhea and Cramping

As you approach the end of your third and final trimester (27-40 weeks), symptoms of cramping in your lower back and groin and diarrhea are common as your muscles and bowels prepare for birth.

These are not specific or expected for week 37 though, and it’s normal for some women not to experience these at all.

Increased Bowel Movements – 37 Weeks Pregnant

In the home stretch of trimester three, you may notice that you’re pooping a lot more frequently than before as your bowels do their best to evacuate to help with future pelvic contractions.

Again, this may also occur for women in weeks 38, 39, or 36 and is not specific to the 37-week mark.

Diarrhea 38 Weeks Pregnant

By week 38, diarrhea could have less to do with the spicy food you ate and be more of an indication that the baby is on the way due to fluctuating hormones (especially alongside these labor symptoms).

Don’t take this as gospel, though, as some women can experience the runs sooner or later than this stage (or not at all).

38 Weeks Pregnant – Loose Stools and Cramps

This late into your third trimester, looser stools and the beginning of cramps can be expected as your body prepares for the uterus to contract.

You may notice that cramps fade if you sit or lie down (false labor), while true labor cramps feel closer to a deep and steadily intensive ache.

Again, everyone is different, and some women may experience loose stools and mild cramping in the days before or feel them immediately before labor.

39 Weeks Pregnant – Diarrhea and Stomach Pain

This far into pregnancy, it’s common for the pressure on your abdomen to cause stomach pain, like a pulling across your womb and a heavy feeling in your lower tummy.

The same hormonal changes responsible for this can also stimulate your bowels, resulting in very loose stools as labor nears.

Remember that this may also occur in later weeks, as most births are recorded between 39 and 41 weeks.

Explosive Diarrhea During Labor

Assuming it is not accompanied by a high fever and vomiting, an explosive bout of diarrhea is common and no less worrying than mild diarrhea.

Evacuating the bowels in all forms during labor itself is even quite beneficial!

This is caused by hormonal changes speeding up your digestive system to “clean out” your body. Prenatal vitamins and food sensitivities may also cause mid-labor diarrhea to appear messy.

Weird Things That Happen Before Labor

A pregnant woman sits on her couch and covers her mouth against the nausea she's feeling.

There are a few other rarely mentioned changes that happen before labor from clumsiness and shivering to your pets acting strangely!

  • Acne breakouts
  • Feeling cold/shivering
  • Nauseous feeling
  • Strong urge to “nest”
  • Intense baby kicking!
  • Blood and mucus-filled vaginal discharge due to loss of the mucus plug
  • Pets are more excitable/territorial
  • Loosening joints make you feel clumsier as your grasp and footing relax

What Do Early Contractions Feel Like?

Baby Centre UK editor Joanne Lewsley describes early contractions as comparable to “period pain. You may have cramps or backache, or both. Or you may just have aching or heaviness in the lower part of your tummy. You may feel the need to poo or just feel uncomfortable, and not be able to pin down why”

What Do False Contractions Feel Like?

False labor pains, known as Braxton Hicks contractions, usually begin in the fourth month of pregnancy as a way of preparing your body for the “real deal” and can feel like an abdominal tightening that comes and goes, usually because of a change in position.

You’ll know they are false contractions as these cause discomfort but not pain, do not intensify over time, and are not close together like real labor contractions.

Related Questions:

Do Early Contractions Feel Like You Need To Poop?

According to Baby Centre, the early phase of contractions can feel like “cramps and backache, similar to period pain.”

And yes, you can also feel the urge to poop or feel generally uncomfortable in that area since your baby will begin pressing on your bowels and/or your bladder as your due date nears.

Is Diarrhea a Sign of Labor at 37 Weeks?

Diarrhea is quite common during the third trimester and can occur “right before labor or a couple of weeks before” according to the American Pregnancy Association.

However, symptoms of diarrhea alone at 37 weeks aren’t a sign of labor — they are merely a sign that your body is preparing for the baby’s arrival.

Closing Thoughts

Every labor has its own schedule of bodily changes, and what’s normal for some women at 37 weeks may not occur for you until week 40 and beyond.

In the run-up to labor, bowel changes such as diarrhea and loose stools can be expected alongside cramps and aches as your body prepares for your little one to move down into the birth canal.

If you’re ever concerned about changes to your bowel habits as your due date approaches, be sure to speak with your doctor to see how things are progressing.