Stomach pain during pregnancy can at times be normal, as your body is constantly shifting, the ligaments are stretching, and the uterus is starting to expand.
Let’s not forget to mention morning sickness, which is a normal part of you being pregnant. Though rare, the stomach pain during pregnancy can also be a cause for concern and alarm.
In the guide below, we have discussed stomach pain during pregnancy, during 1st, 2nd, and 3rd trimester, lower and upper abdomen pain, as well as sharp pain in early pregnancy.
Continue reading to find out how you can relieve abdominal pain during pregnancy at home, and when to consult your OBGYN.
What does pregnancy stomach pain feel like?
Stomach pain during pregnancy can be a normal part of the pregnancy process, as mentioned in the introduction. The pain comes about due to the changes taking place in your body.
Although there exist many harmless causes of the stomach pain when pregnancy, there are those that can be a bit more serious.
How you feel, and the length of time the pain will last depends on what is causing the pain. Being an expectant mother, it will be critical to ensure that you educate yourself on all the possible causes of this pain.
You should be able to establish the likely causes, from the symptoms you are experiencing.
Stomach pain as a sign of early pregnancy
Early pregnancy is always an exciting time. Apart from the thrilling knowledge that you have been able to create a new life, the period is also accompanied by a variety of pregnancy-related symptoms, which can take a while to get used to.
Many symptoms will go away by the time the first trimester is coming to an end: but, there are others, which will continue to be present for the entire duration of your pregnancy. They include:
1. Lower abdominal cramps
About seven weeks after you have ovulated, you are likely to start experiencing lower abdominal cramping, which is in some cases known as implantation cramping.
It is associated with implantation of the egg that was recently fertilized, and which, has now become implanted in your uterus.
In some cases, the implantation cramping could be accompanied by light spotting. You could also experience abdominal cramping in the early weeks of your pregnancy because of the growth and stretch occurring in your uterus.
The cramps tend to be sporadic, and will in many cases lasts for a few weeks. However, the cramps should not at any one time be accompanied by bright red bleeding.
Consuming a calcium or magnesium supplement will assist in toning your muscles while minimizing your cramping.
When you are pregnant, production of the progesterone hormone starts to increase in the body. An increase in production of this hormone may make your gut to become less efficient, and the end-result will be constipation.
To maintain your normal body standards, you have to make certain that the body is receiving enough fiber in a day. The body needs at least thirty grams of fiber each day, which can be derived from your diet, or by taking a supplement.
Additionally, make certain to take enough water and exercise routinely.
Hormonal changes taking place in your digestive tract may also have an impact on the amount of wind produced by the body, and this can lead to bloating. The best way for you to deal with such pregnancy-related symptoms will be to:
- Seat upright when eating
- Eat small meals in the course of the day
- Do not wear clothing that is too restrictive
- Chew and swallow very slowly
- Avoid chewing gum
- Do not drink while eating
From round ligament pain to constipation, the following are harmless causes of stomach pain during pregnancy.
In case the pain being experienced continues, or you start noticing symptoms, e.g., strong cramping or bleeding, you should check in with the OB-GYN.
1. Growing uterus
As the uterus is growing, it will start displacing your bowel, and this may ultimately lead to nausea, distention in the abdomen, or feeling full very easily, according to Dr. Patrick Duff, a professor at the University of Florida.
The solution will, therefore, be to eat smaller meals more frequently, get proper rest, exercise on a regular basis, and empty the bladder as often as possible.
2. Round ligament pain
At times, as your uterus is enlarging, it begins to stretch your round ligaments. The ligaments travel from the front area of your uterus, all the way to your groin region. It can be experienced in the form of lower abdominal discomfort radiating in your groin.
In some cases, the round ligament pain can be sharp and stabbing when changing positions, or it could be dull and achy. The pain will in many cases start during your second trimester and will resolve all on its own.
In case you are extremely uncomfortable, request for pain medication from your ob-gyn.
3. Gas and constipation
Gas and constipation are unfortunately very much a part of being pregnant. The progesterone hormone, whose levels start to increase when you become pregnant, will start slowing down your gastrointestinal tract. The result will be that food will travel at a very slow pace.
To deal with constipation, you have to ensure that you are eating foods that are rich in fiber and that you are taking lots of water throughout the day.
When this recommendation does not assist in doing away with the problem, the midwife may recommend taking a stool softener.
4. Braxton Hicks contractions
According to Dr. Patrick Duff, the Braxton Hicks contractions are not in any way associated with dilation of your cervix. Even though they are annoying, the contractions are completely benign.
To help deal with them, you will need to learn how to differentiate the practice contractions from the real premature labor contractions.
The true contractions will become closer and closer together as their intensity increases. If you can be able to carry on with a conversation, read, or watch television, then you are probably dealing with the Braxton Hicks contractions.
Often, they are triggered by dehydration, and it is therefore recommended to ensure that you take plenty of water. In case they persist, or you are unable to differentiate between Braxton Hicks contractions and true contractions, call the ob-gyn.
Is experiencing a sharp pain in the stomach during pregnancy normal? When you are pregnant, your body will undergo various changes in a bid to adapt to the life that is growing inside of you.
You will not only gain weight, but your body will also start to increase in size, as a way of accommodating your baby.
Although all this is natural and essential, it could cause a number of discomforts. Additionally, first-time mothers can find the process to be very stressful, as they are unable to discern between normal pregnancies related pains, and when there might be a complication as a result of a sharp pain in the stomach during pregnancy.
Many women report experiencing sharp stabbing pain in and around their uterus, groin, or abdominal regions. Despite the fact that the pain can be uncomfortable, it may in many instances be explained by the normal changes taking place in your body due to the pregnancy.
Common causes of this pain include:
- Round ligament pain—common in the second trimester and is known to cause sharp pain in the abdominal region on both sides.
- Gas and bloating
Though the conditions mentioned above are a normal part of being pregnant, they will in many cases not cause a sharp pain. If you experience sharp pain, which is localized on one side, it may mean that you have an ectopic pregnancy. The condition is serious and will require urgent medical care.
Another cause of sharp pain is a pending miscarriage. It raises concerns for an expectant mother who would want to learn the difference between normal cramping.
The cramping can be associated with an expanding uterus, and cramping caused by a pending miscarriage. The right choice will be to contact a healthcare provider to discuss the symptoms.
Warning symptoms and signs
Although sharp pain may be caused by normal pregnancy-related changes, there exist certain warning signs you should be on the lookout for, in case this sharp pain you are experiencing is because of a complication. They include:
- Pain accompanied by change in vaginal discharge, vomiting, heavy bleeding, chills, or fever
- If you experience sharp continual pain after adjusting or resting
- If this stomach pain makes it difficult for you to speak, breathe, or walk
How to cope with it
It is always a very good idea to get in touch with your healthcare provider when you discover sharp pain during your pregnancy.
When you are experiencing stabbing or sharp pain during your pregnancy, there are certain steps, which you can carry out in a bid to try and alleviate this pain:
- Take a walk
- Perform safe pregnancy stretches
- Experiment with different sitting and sleeping positions
- Controlled breathing/breathing exercises
Abdominal pain at different stages of pregnancy
A normal pregnancy lasts forty weeks: from the first day of the last menstrual period to the day the baby is born. The process is divided into three stages known as trimesters: first, second, and third trimesters.
From conception to the twelfth weeks of your pregnancy will mark the 1st trimester, the 2nd one will start on the thirteenth week to your twenty-seventh week, while the 3rd and last trimester starts on the twenty-eighth weeks and lasts till birth.
Below, we have looked at abdominal pain at different stages of your pregnancy:
In the first trimester
In the first trimester, hormonal changes will have an effect on close to all the organs that are in your body. Early pregnancy symptoms occurring at this stage include:
- Weight gain or loss
- Extreme fatigue
- Tender swollen breasts. In some cases, your nipples could start to protrude
- Morning sickness
- Mood swings
- Frequent urination
In early pregnancy, abdominal pain should not be a source of concern. But, in case it is accompanied by additional symptoms, you may need to get professional medical help, as it may be a sign of:
Sadly, early miscarriages are fairly common. Often, the miscarriages occur because a baby is not developing correctly. Therefore, you may experience pain, bleeding, and cramps, at the center part of your lower abdomen, at one point during the twelve weeks of the pregnancy.
In case you notice heavy bleeding, and soak more than a single pad within an hour, you should immediately visit an A & E (accident and emergency department) closest to you.
Ectopic pregnancies often develop in the area outside your uterus. Normally, such a pregnancy cannot be saved. The ectopic pregnancy condition is serious and will require immediate medical treatment. According to NHS, one percent of all pregnancies in the United Kingdom are ectopic.
You will experience painful cramping that one will start on one side before spreading across your stomach. Additionally, you may also experience bleeding, which tends to be dark and watery. Often, ectopic pregnancy cases occur between five and ten weeks of pregnancy.
- Stomach pain in the 2nd trimester
The second trimester is deemed to be easier compared to the first trimester in relation to the symptoms that you experience. The fatigue and morning sickness could become less or go away altogether. But, you may also start to notice additional changes taking place in your body.
For instance, the baby bump will begin showing, as your abdomen is expanding with your growing baby. As the second trimester is coming to an end, you may start to feel the baby move inside you. Some of the changes you are likely to experience in this phase include:
- Thigh, back, groin, or abdomen aches and pain
- Tingling or numb hands
- Darkening of the skin around the nipples
- Patches of dark skin around your cheeks, upper lip, or forehead
- Itching on your abdomen, soles of your feet, and palms
Abdominal pain occurring in the second trimester on its own will in many situations not be a cause for alarm. There is a slight chance that it could be an indication of a late miscarriage, but only when accompanied by bleeding.
You should bear in mind that late miscarriages are not as common as early miscarriages. According to Symonds, 2009, only one out of a hundred miscarriages will occur later in pregnancy.
When you are experiencing a late miscarriage, you will feel cramps, which will be accompanied by heavy bleeding after twelve weeks, and will occur before the twenty-fourth week of your pregnancy.
This is the final stage of the pregnancy. All the discomforts you experienced in the second trimester will probably continue into the third trimester, in addition to a whole new set of discomforts.
As your baby continues to grow and apply pressure to your internal organs, you will find it more difficult to breathe and will need to urinate often.
The symptoms are normal and should stop after you have given birth. During this phase, you will notice additional physical changes, which will include:
- Swelling of your face, ankles, and fingers
- The belly button may protrude
- Baby moving lower in the abdomen
In this phase, it may mean that the body has started limbering up too soon for you to give birth, and therefore the primary concern will be premature labor.
When you go into premature labor, this does not necessarily mean that the baby will be born at that moment. In certain cases, it could be a false alarm, more so when the water is yet to break.
When going into premature labor, you will experience:
- Pain in the lower tummy area or pelvic pain
- Mild tummy cramps
- Regular contractions
- The uterus tightening
- Your waters starting to break
Experiencing cramps when you pass the thirty-seventh week of pregnancy could be an indication that you are in your early stages of labor.
At this point, the pregnancy will have reached term, and as such, the cramps will just be a normal part of the body preparing to give birth.
Lower abdominal discomfort
Lower abdominal pain during pregnancy is common, more so during early pregnancy. There is a probability of experiencing lower occasional discomfort in this area, but the pain should not be persistent. Additionally, its severity should not increase. It can be caused by:
- Round ligament pain
- Implantation pain
- Ectopic pregnancy
Upper abdominal pain
The pregnancy period comes with varying and wide-ranging experiences: some, which is normal and expected, while others could be unpredictable or a little unexpected.
Beginning with grumpy moods, morning sickness, to body pain, pregnant women can experience many symptoms, which could occur naturally, or be triggered by a stimulus.
Upper abdominal pain during pregnancy can be caused by:
- Development of gas in your stomach
These are just but the simple, harmless causes of upper abdominal pain during pregnancy. Serious problems could include:
- Kidney infection—if not treated, a kidney infection can spread to other areas of your body. If you already have a kidney infection and start to experience upper abdominal pain, it may be an indication that the pain is spreading to other connecting vessels.
- Gallbladder disorders—disorders of the gallbladder include stone formation, which results in inflammation. You are likely to experience extreme pain in your upper abdominal region.
How to relieve the pain
- Take small light meals—you should take light meals every few hours. This will assist in preventing abdominal pain, as well as the formation of gas in your stomach.
- Exercise as often as you can—try and conduct relaxation exercises, which will assist in relieving muscle cramps and relaxing your stretched muscles. For example, whenever you experience pain in the upper or lower abdominal region, contract your body into a fetal position, before slowly stretching the body. You should continue doing this every few minutes, and within no time, you will begin to experience some relief.
- Avoid constipation—in some cases; a pregnant woman could experience abdominal pain due to constipation, which is a common problem many pregnant women have to deal with. To prevent constipation, you should take foods that have a high fiber content. The fibers will assist in absorbing water, which will then allow the feces to pass without causing over dryness.
- Take enough fluids—taking sufficient amounts of water may also help in preventing the stomach pain during pregnancy. The pain is in some cases caused by bloating and constipation.
Taking enough water will keep your metabolic system up and running, and will also ensure that you do not become dehydrated.
- Relax in a good position—you should take a break from work at least once an hour. You can allow your body to relax during the breaks by sitting or lying in comfortable positions, during the late stages of your pregnancy.
When to see a doctor
You need to arrange a visit to your OB-GYN, if the stomach pain during pregnancy remains persistent, if your lower abdomen is cramping, or if you notice any bleeding. There are cases where you may experience slight bleeding accompanied by vaginal discharge.
Additionally, you should also visit a physician if you experience contractions for a considerable duration, or if the contractions do not respond to over the counter medication.
You should also arrange a visit if you experience cramping in the shoulder and neck, along with your stomach.
- Aguilera PA. (2005). Pregnancy: round ligament pain: www.emedicinehealth.com
- Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2010). Ectopic pregnancy: information for you: www.rcog.org.uk