Pregnancy is an exciting time that involves a great deal of changes—and sometimes a variety of unpleasant symptoms. If frequent diarrhea or unbearable constipation are some of these symptoms, you might have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a type of gastrointestinal disorder in which your intestines don’t function properly.

The symptoms of IBS are wide-ranging and are affected by foods your body is sensitive to. Women who are pregnant have to be even more cautious with IBS because of the potential effects on their babies. Whether you already have IBS or are newly diagnosed during pregnancy, you can take steps to control symptoms now, and long after your baby is born.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms of IBS can vary between individuals. Some patients might be more sensitive to fiber, while others may have a stronger reaction to high-fat foods. Common IBS symptoms include:

  • frequent diarrhea
  • constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • cramps
  • bloating

Identifying IBS during pregnancy can be difficult, as some of the symptoms are similar to common pregnancy complaints. Constipation, for example, is extremely common. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, about a third of pregnant women suffer from constipation in the last trimester (IFFGD, 2012).

The inability to pass stools becomes more prevalent as your baby grows. This is because of the extra weight being placed on your intestines. Many practitioners recommend prenatal vitamins with added fiber to help things move along.

Bloating is another commonly overlooked pregnancy symptom in women with IBS. When you’re pregnant, you retain a lot of fluids to help support a growing fetus. Any excess bloating in the abdominal area may be difficult to identify as a symptom of IBS.

Dietary Factors on GI Tract

As a future mother, you take every step you can to make sure your growing baby has all the nutrients they need. You are likely taking a prenatal vitamin in conjunction eating a balanced diet. However, the American Pregnancy Association explains that overdoses in certain nutrients can cause diarrhea (American Pregnancy Association, 2008). These vitamins include:

  • vitamin C
  • vitamin B3 (niacin)
  • iron

It’s always important to discuss any potential nutritional toxicity with your doctor. The problem with vitamin and mineral overdoses and IBS is that it can be difficult to determine the exact causes of the symptoms in pregnancy. However, if your doctor has ruled out nutritional toxicity with a blood test and dietary evaluation, then IBS may be to blame.

IBS Control During Pregnancy

Making lifestyle changes is the best way to treat IBS during pregnancy. A large part of this has to do with what you eat. If you suffer from constipation, consider adding more insoluble fiber to your diet in the form of whole grain foods. Gas and diarrhea may warrant an exclusion of certain foods that trigger these symptoms. Common trigger foods include:

  • beans
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower

Overall, many IBS patients can benefit from avoiding certain items—especially when pregnant. These foods include:

  • alcohol
  • caffeine (coffee, soda, tea)
  • fried foods
  • high-fat dairy products


IBS is not only difficult to identify during pregnancy, but it is also harder to control. Over-the-counter medications and herbal remedies commonly used by IBS patients may not be safe for pregnant women.

Instead, it is best to work with your doctor to formulate an effective eating plan to prevent the onset of IBS symptoms. Exercise and drinking plenty of water can also help keep you regular. Never take any medicines or supplements without checking with your doctor first.