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Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy: What's Normal and What's Not?

Katlyn Joy |11, August 2014


When you find out you're pregnant, every ache and twinge is accompanied by at least a bit of concern. "What's that?" or "Is this something I should call the doctor about?"

You shouldn't panic. The majority of abdominal pains in pregnancy are benign and simply annoyances that will subside soon enough. Some can be alleviated, or even prevented, while a few things can be a signal that something needs medical attention.

Adbominal Pain In Early Pregnancy

In the first several weeks of pregnancy, you may feel abdominal pressure or bloating not unlike the warning symptoms of an impending period. Sometimes the pain is slightly more uncomfortable or changed a bit, but it can be enough to throw you off from suspecting pregnancy, since you are confident your period is about to start.

The rush of hormones in early pregnancy can mess with your typical digestion patterns, and constipation is likely to occur at any point in pregnancy. This can cause abdominal pain. Likewise, the hormones relax muscles including those that keep your food where it belongs, which means an increase in indigestion and heartburn. Add a growing baby to the equation, and you have a reason for a tummy ache throughout your pregnancy.

More serious causes of abdominal pain in early pregnancy would include ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage. Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus, most typically the fallopian tube, hence the other term for the condition; tubal pregnancy.

The symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include light bleeding, cramping, tenderness and pain in your abdomen, back, or shoulder pain, faintness or dizziness. If you suspect an ectopic pregnancy, seek medical attention right away. Ectopic pregnancies can be serious, and the faintness and lightheadedness can be associated with a rupture of the fallopian tube. To save the tube and possibly a life, get medical help as soon as possible.

The symptoms of a miscarriage include spotting or bleeding, which will typically increase. Cramps and pain will also increase in severity. Should you be in early pregnancy and experience spotting or cramping, call your doctor. It may be perfectly normal, but it's always best to check.

Abdominal Pain in Later Pregnancy

One big cause of abdominal pain in pregnancy is a condition called round ligament pain. This is caused by a particular ligament that attaches to your uterus being stretched or strained with movement. It will feel much like a jabbing pain, or a rubber band snapping in your lower abdomen or groin area on either or both sides. Sneezing, coughing and laughing can all trigger this type of pain. To help, avoid sudden movements, and do stretching exercises regularly such as prenatal yoga.

Many moms feel a lot of pressure on their bladder during later pregnancy, as the baby weighs down on the area. Another cause however, can be a urinary tract infection. It can be difficult during later pregnancy to adequately empty the bladder, leading to an infection. UTIs are common in pregnancy, and this is one reason for all that peeing in a cup at each doctor appointment. Left untreated, it will lead to a more serious infection, affecting the kidneys.

Later in pregnancy, harmless practice contractions called Braxton Hicks, can cause some abdominal discomfort. Just relax; your body is getting ready for the big event of labor.

More serious causes of abdominal pain are much rarer and include placental abruption, preterm labor and uterine rupture.

Placental abruption happens when the placenta shears from the uterine wall prior to labor. It will cause severe pain and bleeding and is a life-threatening situation. It can cause fetal demise and the mother can hemorrhage. Should this be suspected, call 911.

Uterine rupture is most commonly seen in women who have had previous cesareans and are having a vaginal birth. It will cause heavy bleeding and severe abdominal pain. It is less likely to occur at home, unless you stay at home in later labor. Should you suspect this, however, call 911 without delay.

Finally, preterm labor will come on with spotting, back pain, abdominal pain and cramping. If you suspect early labor, call your doctor immediately.

Related Articles

Causes of Bleeding During Pregnancy

Ectopic Pregnancy

Anemia in Pregnancy

Coping With Bedrest During Pregnancy

How to Cope With a Pregnancy Loss


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