Abdominal pain during pregnancy can be a normal part of the process as your body changes to accommodate your growing baby.
Although most causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy are harmless and expected, some of them may be a sign of a more serious problem.
As an expectant mother, it is important to educate yourself on all potential causes so you are able to recognize symptoms that may indicate potentially serious problems.
Is it normal to feel abdominal pain in pregnancy?
Pains, aches and cramps in your belly are common. Most mums-to-be have them at some point in their pregnancy. They’re usually nothing to worry about, if all is otherwise well.
Throughout your pregnancy, the tough tissues that connect your bones stretch to support your growing womb. When you move around, you may feel mild pain on one or both sides of your body.
As your baby grows, your womb tends to tilt to the right. The ligament that supports that side of your womb may spasm or contract. So you may feel a cramping pain more often on your right side.
Common causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy
Normal pregnancy discomforts:
In the first months of pregnancy, abdominal pain is usually caused by hormonal changes that interfere with the normal functioning of the bowels. Excessive gas, bloating, and constipation are some of the problems that result in abdominal cramps as early as the first trimester.
Braxton Hicks Contractions:
Sometimes labeled “practice contractions,” Braxton Hicks are more of a mild annoyance than a risk to you or your baby. Many women report that Braxton Hicks feel like a tightening of the stomach muscles so your stomach feels firm or hard. It is important to differentiate Braxton Hicks from true contractions. True contraction will be closer together, last for a longer period of time, and are painful. True contractions will take your breath away, so a general rule of thumb is that if you are able to carry on your normal activities, then it is most likely Braxton Hicks. Also, doctors’ report that Braxton Hick can be caused by dehydration, so drinking plenty of water can help eliminate this problem. Read more on Braxton Hicks Contractions.
Gas and Constipation:
Gas during pregnancy is caused by increased levels of progesterone. As more of this hormone is released, your gastrointestinal tract slows down, which makes food travel more slowly. Drinking plenty of water, eating fiber rich foods, exercising, and using stool softeners are excellent ways to combat excessive gas and constipation. Learn more about Constipation during pregnancy.
Round Ligament Pain:
The round ligament is responsible for connecting the uterus to the pelvic region. As the uterus grows and becomes heavier, the round ligament becomes more and more overloaded.
Stretching of the round ligament usually occurs during the second trimester, and increases as the pregnancy progresses. It usually provokes a stabbing pain in the pelvis or lower abdomen every time the woman changes position. Getting out of bed, coughing, getting up from a chair and getting out of a car are some situations that can trigger this kind of pain.
When abdominal pain during pregnancy is serious
An ectopic pregnancy develops outside the womb. Unfortunately, the pregnancy can’t be saved. It’s a serious condition, so you’ll need swift treatment. Ectopic pregnancies are most often diagnosed between four weeks and eight weeks of pregnancy, but can happen at any time in the first trimester.
A miscarriage (or spontaneous abortion) is any natural interruption of pregnancy occurring before 20 weeks of gestation. Pregnancies that come to an end after the 20th week, but before due time are referred to as preterm delivery.
Miscarriage is one of the main causes of abdominal pain during the first trimester of gestation. Most spontaneous abortions occur within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infection:
While easily treated during pregnancy, if ignored, a urinary tract infection can cause complications. Most often recognized by pain, discomfort, and/or burning when you urinate, UTIs can also produce lower abdominal pain. Should you notice pain in your lower back, the sides of your body under your rib cage or above your pelvic bone accompanied by fever, nausea, sweats, or chills, then it is possible that the UTI has spread to your kidneys. If this is the case, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Any delivery that occurs after the 37th week of pregnancy is considered normal or “term”. On the other hand, we call premature (or preterm) labor when it occurs before the 37th week of gestation. The more premature the delivery, the less time the baby has had for intrauterine development, thus increasing the risk of complications for the newborn.
Placental abruption is a life-threatening condition in which the placenta separates from your uterus before the baby is born. One symptom of placental abruption is constant pain that causes your stomach to stay hard for an extended period of time without relief. Another sign is bloody fluid or premature breakage of your water. Additional symptoms include tenderness in your abdomen, back pain, or fluid discharge that includes traces of blood. You can access the complete Placental Abruption article here.
How can I ease pregnancy abdominal pain?
Resting usually eases cramping, so if you can, sit down and relax for a while.
To ease ligament pain: Lie down on the side opposite to the pain, have a warm bath, use a hot water bottle or wheat bag on the painful areas and get in the habit of standing up and sitting down more gradually, avoiding sudden movements.