Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy
Abdominal pain during pregnancy is a common symptom which can have a number of different causes and is usually perfectly harmless. However, there are times when pregnancy abdominal pain can be a sign of serious complications.
Call Your Medical Professionals (or call 911) Immediately if:
- You have severe abdominal pain during pregnancy (e.g. it’s difficult to walk or talk, the pain is persistent, or comes in regular sharp pangs).
- You are showing signs of shock (cool, clammy, or ashen skin, rapid pulse, and breathing, dilated pupils, dizziness, fainting, or fatigue).
- The abdominal pain is accompanied by vaginal spotting, bleeding, or unusual discharge.
- You have chills, fever, or lightheadedness as well as abdominal pain.
- You notice swelling or puffiness in your face or hands.
- The abdominal pain is accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting (particularly after morning sickness has worn off).
- The cramps are rhythmic and regular.
- You have severe pain when you’re urinating.
Chronic Abdominal Pregnancy Symptoms can be a Sign of:
Miscarriage (before 20 weeks of pregnancy):
Severe abdominal pain during early pregnancy can be a sign that you’re having a miscarriage. This is defined as loss of pregnancy any time in the first 20 weeks, although the risk of miscarriage decreases significantly after 14 weeks of pregnancy. Other symptoms of miscarriage include vaginal bleeding or spotting and lower back pain. The bleeding often begins first and is followed up to two hours later by the abdominal pain. It is very rare for medical professionals to be able to prevent a miscarriage once it’s begun but it’s important to seek medical attention because a miscarriage can cause a medical emergency for the mother.
Ectopic Pregnancy (tubal pregnancy):
Occasionally, an embryo embeds in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus. This is known as an ectopic or tubal pregnancy and is not viable. Abdominal pain associated with this condition is often sharp and sudden but does not go away. It also frequently presents as a severe cramp in either the left or right side of the lower abdomen. As well as intense abdominal pain in early pregnancy, the symptoms include bleeding or spotting and a pain in the shoulder caused by a build-up of blood from a ruptured fallopian tube. If an ectopic pregnancy is left untreated it can be life-threatening – you need emergency medical care.
Preterm Labor (after 20 weeks and before 39 weeks of pregnancy):
Delivering your baby anytime between 20 weeks and 39 weeks pregnant (full term) is classed as preterm or premature labor. It is possible to mistake the contractions of preterm labor for abdominal cramps or pains. If your abdominal pains are rhythmic and regular intervals apart, it could be a sign that you are going into labor early and you need to contact your midwife or doctor (particularly if you’re less than 36 weeks pregnant). Other symptoms of preterm labor include increased vaginal discharge (may be streaked with blood), a rush of fluid from the vagina, and intense lower back pain. It is possible for babies to survive premature birth after 27 weeks gestation, but only with intensive medical care. The sooner you seek help, the better.
Preeclampsia (formerly known as toxemia):
This is a serious condition which can affect women after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Preeclampsia changes the way your blood cells function and is characterized by high blood pressure, trouble with vision, puffiness in the hands and feet, abnormalities in the liver and kidneys, rapid weight gain, intense abdominal cramping, and a range of other symptoms. If you experience a combination of any of these symptoms, you should contact your midwife or doctor as soon as possible.
Very rarely, the placenta separates from the uterus before the baby is delivered. If this happens, it is a medical emergency and can seriously harm both mother and baby. In addition to painful abdominal cramping, there is a varied range of symptoms of placental abruption. These include leaking amniotic fluid, vaginal bleeding, back pain, and signs of shock. Do not wait to talk to your regular doctor or midwife if you suspect you have placental abruption – call 911 immediately.
Urinary Tract Infection:
Pregnant women are far more susceptible to bladder infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs). If left untreated, a severe UTI can develop into a kidney infection, which can cause serious complications and even preterm labor. As well as lower abdominal pain during pregnancy, symptoms of a UTI can include pain while urinating, urine with a strong or foul odor, nausea, fever, and headaches.
A case of food poisoning, like E Coli or Listeria, can pose serious health risks for both you and your baby. As well as intense abdominal cramps, symptoms of food poisoning during pregnancy include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, and headaches. Food poisoning can be treated with rest and hydration but it’s important to be checked out by your doctor if you contract food poisoning while pregnant.
Ordinary Causes of Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy:
Despite these high-risk complications, most of the time abdominal pains are a normal and harmless symptom. We just thought it was best to outline the warning signs first, in case our reader needed to call 911. If your abdominal pain is not severe and is not accompanied by any of the other symptoms above, it’s probably nothing to worry about. There are a number of causes of abdominal pain in pregnancy, including:
This is a common, yet unpleasant, symptom of pregnancy and is generally caused by the increased pregnancy hormones in your body,l or sometimes fetal position. If you haven’t been able to have a bowel movement for a while, this could well be the cause of your abdominal pain. Try and eat foods which are high in fiber and drink plenty of water. If your constipation persists for more than a couple of days, have a chat with your midwife.
Gas and Bloating:
Unfortunately, this is another uncomfortable (and sometimes embarrassing!) symptom which can lead to abdominal tenderness during pregnancy. This is caused by pregnancy hormones slowing down your digestive system. There’s not a lot you can do about this symptom. Luckily, it doesn’t usually last too long!
Some women notice light abdominal pain during or after orgasm. As long as it isn’t severe and it goes away quickly, it’s nothing to worry about. Don’t let it put you off being intimate with your partner! Find out more about sexual intercourse during pregnancy here.
Round Ligament Pain:
As your uterus grows to house your baby, you may experience some lower abdominal pain during early pregnancy. This is known as round ligament pain and is simply the result of the muscles and ligaments that cushion and protect your womb stretching to allow for growth.
Your baby’s position in the womb may put pressure on your stomach or intestines and cause upper abdominal pain during pregnancy. Regular walks, gentle stretching and plenty of rest may help to shift your baby into a more comfortable position.
Braxton Hicks Contractions:
Anytime after you reach the halfway point (20 weeks) of your pregnancy, you may start to experience Braxton Hicks contractions. They are literally your body learning how to labor and are nothing to worry about. For many women, they simply feel like light abdominal cramps, but some women do find them quite painful. They tend to get stronger as you get closer to your due date. It is fairly easy to tell Braxton Hick apart from real contractions because they do not come at regular intervals. If you’re unsure about whether you’re experiencing Braxton Hicks or genuine contractions, read more here.
Relieving Abdominal Discomfort During Pregnancy:
You may not be able to avoid this pregnancy symptom altogether, but there are a few ways to ease abdominal pains if they strike. Try out these methods:
- Have a warm bath or shower (it’s important that you don’t run the water too hot while pregnant.
- Drink plenty of cool, fresh water – dehydration can worsen some symptoms.
- When you feel a pain, bend gently toward it.
- Go for a light walk or try some gentle stretches.
- Have a lie-down – this can be particularly effective for abdominal pain caused by Braxton Hicks contractions.
- Apply a warm wheat bag or an ice pack to the painful area.
More Articles on Pregnancy Symptoms and General Health and Wellness:
- First Trimester Pregnancy Symptoms and Information
- Second Trimester Symptoms and Information
- Third Trimester Symptoms and Information
- The Early Signs of Labor