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Abdominal pain in pregnancy can be a common pregnancy symptom, or it can be a sign of a problem. Occasional bouts of abdominal discomfort are generally harmless and nothing to worry about. (However, if you have severe abdominal cramping or persistent abdominal pain, this may be a sign of something more serious.)
Causes of Normal Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy
Experiencing mild achiness or abdominal pain can be caused by a number of normal pregnancy changes.
Implantation – In early pregnancy, abdominal pain and discomfort can be caused by implantation. While some women have no clue that they’re going through implantation (which is the process of the embryo embedding itself into your uterine lining), some women do experience light spotting (called implantation bleeding) that comes with lower abdominal pain or period-like cramps for a day or two.
Round Ligament Pain – In the second trimester, your abdominal pain may be due to round ligament pain (which is caused by the strong bands of tissue that support your uterus stretching as your baby gets larger). Round ligament pain can feel like a dull ache that spans across your abdominal area, or it can be a sharp pain on one side of your abdomen. When pregnant women refer to a sharp abdominal pain, what they’re probably referring to is round ligament pain.
The ouch of round ligament pain should only last a few seconds or a few minutes – never longer than this. The pain is often felt after the woman makes a sudden movement, such as getting out of a chair or bed or changing positions too fast.
Braxton Hicks Contractions (False Labor) – In the second and third trimesters, you may experience abdominal achiness that feels like the muscles of your uterus tightening. This is Braxton Hicks contractions, or false labor pain. False labor isn’t painful for some women, but for others, it can feel like lower abdominal pain.
The closer that you get to your due date, Braxton Hicks contractions will start to occur more frequently. Towards the end, you may have a hard time distinguishing Braxton Hicks apart from true labor.
Gas and Bloating – Normal abdominal pain in pregnancy can be a result of gas pain or bloating. This type of abdominal discomfort can be quite painful, so you’ll want to try to prevent it by eating fiber-rich foods and drinking plenty of water throughout your day.
Abdominal Cramping: A Sign of Labor – Toward the end of your pregnancy, you start to experience abdominal cramping. If you have strong cramps that occur regularly (such as every five or ten minutes) and they feel like menstrual cramps, or a low backache, this may be a sign that you’re in early labor.
How to Cope with Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy
Normal abdominal pain or achiness is just an unpleasant side effect of being pregnant. However, when the pain strikes, try to bend toward the pain. This may help give you some relieve. Sometimes, taking a warm shower or bath can also give you some pain relief. In some cases, simply resting will help alleviate the abdominal achiness that you feel.
Severe Abdominal Pain: A Sign of a Serious Problem
Mild and occasional abdominal pain and lower abdominal discomfort is a normal pregnancy symptom, but severe cramping and pain may be a sign of a pregnancy complication.
Outside of pregnancy, there are a number of health problems and illnesses that can cause you to experience abdominal pain, including stomach viruses, food poisoning, urinary tract infections (which are quite common in pregnancy), appendicitis, kidney stones, and other problems.
Sometimes, severe abdominal pain is caused by a pregnancy complication called preeclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy).
Abdominal pain can also be a sign that you’re having an ectopic pregnancy – which occurs when the fertilized egg implants outside of the womb, usually in the fallopian tube. If left untreated, ectopic pregnancy can cause your fallopian tube to burst and you’re at high risk for maternal death.
Before 37 weeks pregnant, severe abdominal pain can be a sign that you’re in pre-term labor.
If you experience abdominal pain at any week of pregnancy, and you have a bad feeling about anything, follow your intuition and call your doctor right away. It is always better to be safe rather than sorry.