Loose Bowels Before Labor Begins | Why and What It Means

| Reviewed By Amanda Lundberg, BSN, RN

Loose stools may be a sign that labor is approaching and usually occur within 24-48 hours before labor begins. However, there are several factors that may contribute to having loose bowel movements.

Call your doctor if loose bowels occur in conjunction with other labor signs, such as the loss of the mucus plug, backache, water breaking, and regular contractions.

Loose stools occur due to a release of the prostaglandin hormones, which also stimulate uterine contractions.

Emptying both the bowels and bladder allows for more efficient contractions.

The American Pregnancy Association advises: 

“Diarrhea during the third trimester … is more likely to happen as you approach your due date.

It could be a sign that labor is near, and it can occur right before labor or a couple of weeks before labor. If it is a couple of weeks before your due date, a premature birth should not be expected.”

Key Takeaways

  • Loose bowels can be a sign that labor is near. 
  • Staying hydrated is critical, especially when experiencing loose bowels.
  • Contact your doctor if you are running a fever in conjunction with diarrhea.
  • Watch for other labor signs including backache, loss of the mucus plug, water breaking, regular contractions, and pelvic pressure.

Loose Bowels Before Labor – What To Know

With your pre-labor hormones in flux, your bowels can also begin to respond in kind.

Expect to see changes to your usual habits and the appearance of your stools in the days leading up to your baby’s arrival.

When Loose Bowels Might Be a Sign of Labor

Loose bowels indicating imminent labor can vary from person to person. 

Some women experience loose stool in the days leading up to labor, others might not experience it at all, and some may experience it along with other signs that labor is approaching.

If you’re experiencing loose bowels along with other signs like regular contractions, a “bloody show” (a discharge of mucus tinged with blood), or your water breaking, it may be a strong indication that labor is imminent.

It’s crucial to consult with your healthcare provider if you’re unsure or if you’re experiencing any unusual symptoms.

They will be able to provide personalized advice based on your specific situation and help determine if you should go to the hospital or birthing center.

Why Loose Bowels Often Occur Before Labor

Loose bowels often occur in the pre-labor phase due to hormonal changes and the body’s natural preparation for childbirth. Here’s why this happens:

  1. Prostaglandins: These are hormones that play a role in the process of labor. They help to soften and thin the cervix, causing it to efface and dilate. Prostaglandins can also stimulate the muscles in the intestines, leading to increased bowel movements or diarrhea.
  2. Relaxin: This hormone is produced during pregnancy to relax the uterine muscles, preventing contractions. However, it can also affect other smooth muscles in the body, including those in the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to increased bowel movements.
  3. Stress and Anxiety: As labor approaches, many women experience increased stress and anxiety. These emotions can stimulate the nervous system, leading to changes in bowel habits.
  4. Body’s Natural Preparation: As the body gets ready for labor, it undergoes various changes that can include the clearing of the digestive system to make more room for the expanding uterus and to ensure that there’s less pressure on the rectum during labor.
  5. Increased Pressure on the Rectum: As the baby descends into the pelvis in preparation for birth, it can put pressure on the rectum, which may lead to an increased frequency of bowel movements or diarrhea.

Other Factors That Can Contribute to Loose Bowels as Labor Nears

As the labor date nears, factors other than hormonal changes and the body’s natural preparations can also contribute to diarrhea.

Some of these include:

  • Nervousness and Anxiety: The anticipation of labor, especially for first-time mothers, can lead to increased stress and anxiety. This can stimulate the nervous system and result in changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea.
  • Dietary Changes: Some women may make changes to their diet in the days leading up to labor, either consciously or due to changes in appetite. This can include consuming more fiber-rich foods or trying to stay hydrated, both of which can lead to looser stools.
  • Gastrointestinal Upset: Some women may experience gastrointestinal issues, such as food sensitivities or intolerances, that can lead to loose stools.
  • Infection or Illness: In some cases, diarrhea may be caused by an infection or illness unrelated to pregnancy. If you’re experiencing severe or prolonged diarrhea, it’s important to seek medical attention.

Signs of True Labor

True labor is characterized by regular, painful contractions that lead to the opening and thinning of the cervix. Here are the key signs of true labor:

  • Regular Contractions: True labor contractions come at regular intervals and become closer together over time. They typically start mild and grow stronger and more intense. They often follow a consistent pattern.
  • Increasing Intensity: The contractions become stronger and more painful as labor progresses. They may start in the lower back and radiate around to the front of the abdomen.
  • Pain that Persists: The pain from true labor contractions does not go away with rest, a change in position, or a warm bath.
  • Cervical Changes: True labor leads to changes in the cervix. It becomes softer, starts to thin (efface), and begins to open (dilate).
  • Bloody Show: This is a discharge of mucus tinged with blood that may occur as the cervix begins to dilate.
  • Water Breaking: Some women experience a gush or a slow leak of amniotic fluid when the amniotic sac ruptures.
  • Lower Back Pain: Many women experience lower back pain, often described as a constant ache or pressure, in addition to abdominal discomfort.
  • Pelvic Pressure: You may feel increased pressure in your pelvic area as the baby moves downward.
  • Change in Activity: True labor contractions typically continue and become stronger regardless of your activity level. They are not relieved by rest.
  • Gastrointestinal Changes: Some women experience diarrhea or loose bowels as labor approaches.

When To Go to the Hospital

If you think you might be in labor, it’s important to go to the hospital or birthing center in a timely manner.

Always remember to call your healthcare provider or the hospital ahead of time, especially if you have specific instructions from your prenatal care team.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Regular and Strong Contractions: Regular contractions that are becoming stronger and closer together are a good indication that labor may be progressing. Typically, you should head to the hospital when contractions are about 5 minutes apart or less.
  • Water Breaking: If your water breaks (amniotic sac ruptures) or you experience a gush or continuous leak of fluid, you should go to the hospital. Note the time and appearance of the fluid as this information will be important for your healthcare provider.
  • Bloody Show: If you notice a discharge of mucus tinged with blood, this can be a sign that labor is imminent. It’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider and prepare to go to the hospital.
  • Decreased Fetal Movement: If you notice a significant decrease in your baby’s movements, contact your healthcare provider or go to the hospital for evaluation.
  • Intense Back Pain or Pelvic Pressure: If you’re experiencing intense back pain or a feeling of increased pressure in the pelvic area, especially if it’s accompanied by regular contractions, it’s time to head to the hospital.
  • Gush of Blood: If you experience a sudden gush of bright red blood (not just a small amount of spotting), seek immediate medical attention.
  • Severe or Prolonged Pain: If you’re experiencing severe pain that doesn’t seem to subside or you’re concerned about the intensity of your contractions, it’s better to err on the side of caution and go to the hospital.
  • Preterm Labor Concerns: If you’re earlier than 37 weeks and you suspect you may be in labor, contact your healthcare provider or go to the hospital right away.

How To Treat Diarrhea When Pregnant

If you’re experiencing diarrhea during the third trimester of pregnancy, it’s important to take steps to stay hydrated and address any potential underlying causes.

Here are some tips to help manage diarrhea during pregnancy:

  • Stay Hydrated: Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which can be particularly concerning during pregnancy. Drink plenty of fluids like water, clear broths, and electrolyte-rich drinks (like sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions) to replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
  • Avoid Dehydrating Beverages: Steer clear of caffeine-containing beverages like coffee, tea, and cola as they can contribute to dehydration.
  • Eat a Bland Diet: Stick to easily digestible, bland foods like plain crackers, toast, rice, and bananas. These can help soothe the digestive system.
  • Avoid Trigger Foods: Identify and avoid foods that seem to exacerbate your diarrhea. Common triggers can include spicy foods, high-fat foods, dairy products (if you’re lactose intolerant), and foods high in artificial sweeteners.
  • Small, Frequent Meals: Opt for smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day rather than large, heavy meals. This can help ease the strain on your digestive system.
  • Probiotics: Consider incorporating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or taking a probiotic supplement (under your healthcare provider’s guidance). Probiotics can help promote healthy gut bacteria.
  • Fiber-Rich Foods: If your diarrhea is not caused by an underlying condition, increasing your intake of soluble fiber from sources like oats, apples, and carrots may help regulate bowel movements.
  • Rest: Take time to rest and allow your body to recover. Avoid strenuous activities that could exacerbate your symptoms.
  • Avoid Medications Without Medical Advice: Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medications, including antidiarrheal medications.
  • Seek Medical Advice: If your diarrhea is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms (such as fever, dehydration signs, or abdominal pain), contact your healthcare provider for guidance.
A woman with her hand on her pregnant belly against a beige background.

Common Bowel Symptoms 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 before labor.

Emptying the bowels essentially “clears out” your body in preparation for your uterus and pelvic region to produce efficient contractions.

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

High levels of the prostaglandin 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.

Less commonly, watery diarrhea can be a sign of an intestinal infection, but this is normally accompanied by serious symptoms such as a fever above 104°F, vomiting or vomiting blood, and headaches/muscle aches.

Diarrhea and Cramping

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

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

Increased Bowel Movements

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..

Diarrhea and Stomach Pain

This far into pregnancy, it’s common for the pressure on your abdomen to cause stomach pain that feels 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.

A pregnant woman sits on the couch covering her mouth because she feels nauseous.

Weird Things That Happen Before Labor

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!
  • Your other children might become clingy
  • 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

Frequently Asked Questions: 

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 many women on this 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 than loose stools alone.

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.

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.”

Braxton Hicks contractions can feel like an abdominal tightening that comes and goes, usually because of a change in position.

You’ll know they are false contractions because they:

  • Cause discomfort but not pain.
  • Do not intensify over time. 
  • Are not close together like real labor contractions.

Do Early Contractions Feel Like You Need To Poop?

Early contractions can feel like the cramps and backache you experience with period pain.

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.