Updated on 12 January 2023 – by Dr. Kate
The short answer to the question is it depends. Abdominal ache during pregnancy may be provoked by multiple reasons and the majority of expecting mothers will feel it at any time throughout their pregnancies. In the bulk of cases, there’s nothing to worry about. Still, it’s worth learning to differentiate between the pain that is considered normal and safe from the one signaling danger to the mother and the fetus. Today, we’ll have an in-depth look into the typical causes of pain in the abdomen for you to know how to act and react in every case.
Table of Contents
Types of “Safe” Pain. Why Does It Appear?
Out of all types of pain, you can suffer during pregnancy, there are some that can be considered safe as they usually bear no danger for the baby and go away with some rest or a change of position. Another characteristic feature of “safe” abdominal pain in pregnant women is its short duration and mildness.
The pain you may feel may be sharp or dull, depending on what has provoked it. Here are some most typical causes of “safe” abdominal pain during pregnancy:
- Constipation. Pregnancy significantly affects your gastrointestinal tract as the growing womb presses over the small and big intestines, thus affecting your ability to have a bowel movement. If you haven’t pooped for more than three days, there is a chance that the belly discomfort you have results from this.
- Bloating often causes abdominal cramps in moms-to-be. Trapped gas can feel like sharp but short-lived pain sensations.
- Ligament pain is typical of women at the end of their first – beginning of the second trimester and later in gestation. You can feel sharp cramps, which are usually concentrated low on one side of your abdomen. This kind of pain results from the ligament stretch, which happens as your baby bump gets bigger.
- Braxton-Hicks contractions. These appear closer to the end of your gestations. They are also often called practice contractions.
Dealing with Harmless Pain
As we’ve already mentioned, changing your lying or sitting position will probably resolve the problem. However, this is good advice if your ache is caused by ligament stretching or trapped wind. In other cases, this may not be effective.
Anyway, it’s always better to prevent the problem than look for solutions to the one that has already appeared. Speaking about constipation, the best prophylaxis of pain related to this is drinking plenty of water and eating fiber-rich foods. Stool softeners can also be used if dietary changes bring no relief.
Serious Pain. Possible Causes and Symptoms
Unfortunately, not all cases of stomach pain are safe for the mother and the baby. In some situations, pregnant women should seek immediate medical attention to save their lives and the lives of their babies.
The American Family Physician journal claims 19.7 pregnancies per 1,000 are ectopic. This means that the fetus develops outside the womb. In 95% of cases, the fertilized ovum implants in the fallopian tubes. Such a pregnancy is non-viable and is dangerous for the female health if it ends in tubal rupture. Ectopic pregnancy can be detected with an ultrasound and required surgery or medicinal abortion to stop its development.
It may show through:
- pain low down in your abdomen, concentrated on one side;
- wave-like pain going up from your lower abdomen;
- discomfort when passing urine or during bowel movement;
- vaginal bleeding with brown watery vaginal discharge.
These manifestations usually show up between 4 – 12 weeks of pregnancy. In case of tubal rupture, the pain is acute and severe. Remember, this is a medical emergency, so never delay calling for help.
Infections of the Urinary Tract
The incidence of this health problem tends to increase in pregnant women compared to non-pregnant individuals. Urinary tract infection is related to the shortness of the urethra in expecting mothers and other hormonal and physiological changes taking place in the female body during pregnancy. UTI manifests via pain and burning when passing the urine as well as abdominal pain in some cases.
Abruption of the Placenta
Placental abruption is a rare pathology, which affects about 1% of pregnancies. If this occurs, the placenta separates from the womb while you are still pregnant. The precise cases of this condition are unknown. It manifests via sharp stabbing pain in the stomach that doesn’t improve and vaginal bleeding. Placental abruption is a medical emergency that may require surgery to save the lives of the mother and the baby.
In severe cases, there is a risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, stillbirth, and perinatal death. The risk of maternal death from this pathology is also higher than the average maternal death rate.
One more cause of stomach pain in pregnancy is pre-eclampsia. This is a pregnancy-specific medical condition, which shows through the following symptoms:
- high blood pressure and protein in the urine;
- swelling of the hands, legs, and feet;
- severe headache;
- vision disturbances;
- persistent bad pain on the right side of your baby bump.
Pre-eclampsia develops in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy but no sooner than 20 weeks of gestation. If you have some of the listed symptoms, you’d better call your doctor for medical advice. It is likely that you will stay in the hospital to monitor your condition until they take control of it and reduce your symptoms.
Intense, wave-like abdominal cramps accompanied by heavy vaginal bleeding that appears before 24 weeks of gestation (the official fetus viability term) signals the beginning of a miscarriage. In some cases, this process can be stopped, and the pregnancy will continue. Anyway, this requires medical assistance.
Regular abdominal cramps and pain in the lower back are the signs of premature labor for women who are 24 – 36 weeks pregnant. There is a chance that healthcare specialists can prevent early delivery and keep you under close monitoring in the hospital. But if they fail to do this, you should get ready for giving birth. In any case, you should try to keep calm and seek medical attention promptly.
Abdominal pain during pregnancy is always a reason to inform your doctor about it. In most cases, there’s nothing to worry about as this is just a part of pregnancy. But if you feel the pain different or more intense, wave-like, or long-lasting, you’d better not delay a visit to the emergency room.