Abdominal pain during pregnancy isn’t unusual, but it can be scary. The pain may be sharp and stabbing, or dull and achy.
It can be challenging to determine if your pain is serious or mild. It’s important to know what’s normal and when to call your doctor.
Gas can cause excruciating abdominal pain. It may stay in one area or travel throughout your belly, back, and chest.
According to the Mayo Clinic, women experience more gas during pregnancy due to increased progesterone. Progesterone causes intestinal muscles to relax and extends the time it takes food to get through the intestines. Food remains in the colon longer, which allows more gas to develop.
As your pregnancy progresses, your enlarging uterus puts extra pressure on your organs, which can slow digestion further and allow gas to build up.
If abdominal pain is caused by gas, it should respond to lifestyle changes. Try eating several small meals throughout the day and drink lots of water.
Many women write off abdominal pain during pregnancy as gas, but there are other benign reasons for pain to occur.
There are two large round ligaments that run from the uterus through the groin. These ligaments support the uterus. As the uterus stretches to accommodate your growing baby, so do the ligaments.
This may cause sharp or dull pain in the abdomen, hips, or groin. Shifting your position, sneezing, or coughing can trigger round ligament pain. This usually occurs in the last half of the pregnancy.
To reduce or eliminate round ligament pain, practice getting up slowly if you’re sitting or lying down. If you feel a sneeze or cough coming on, bend and flex your hips. This can help to reduce the pressure on the ligaments.
Daily stretching is also an effective method for reducing round ligament pain.
Constipation is a common complaint among pregnant women. Fluctuating hormones, diet that’s short on fluids or fiber, lack of exercise, iron pills, or general anxiety can all lead to constipation. Constipation may cause severe pain. It’s often described as cramping or sharp and stabbing pain.
Try increasing the amount of fiber in your diet. Increasing fluids may also help. Pregnant women should drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water each day. Talk to your doctor before taking a stool softener. Some stool softeners aren’t recommended during pregnancy.
These “practice” or “false” contractions occur when the uterine muscles contract for up to two minutes. The contractions aren’t labor and are irregular and unpredictable. They may cause pain and uncomfortable pressure, but they’re a normal part of pregnancy.
Braxton-Hicks contractions often occur in the third trimester of pregnancy. Unlike labor contractions, these contractions don’t get progressively more painful or more frequent over time.
HELLP syndrome is an acronym for its three main parts: hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes, and low platelets. It’s a life-threatening complication of pregnancy.
It’s unclear what causes HELLP, but some women develop the condition after receiving a preeclampsia diagnosis. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, of the 5 to 8 percent of women in the United States who develop preeclampsia, it’s estimated that 15 percent will develop HELLP.
Women without preeclampsia may also acquire this syndrome. HELLP is more common in first-time pregnancies.
Right upper-quadrant abdominal pain is a symptom of HELLP. Other symptoms include:
- fatigue and malaise
- nausea and vomiting
- blurry vision
- high blood pressure
- edema (swelling)
If you have abdominal pain accompanied by any of these additional HELLP symptoms, seek medical advice right away. Dangerous complications or even death can result if HELLP isn’t treated immediately.
Abdominal pain during pregnancy may also be a sign of other, more serious conditions. These include:
These conditions require immediate medical attention.
Conditions not directly related to pregnancy may also cause abdominal pain. These include:
- kidney stones
- urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- bowel obstruction
- food allergies or sensitivities
- peptic ulcer disease
- a stomach virus
Call your doctor immediately if your pain is accompanied by any of the following:
- fever or chills
- vaginal bleeding or spotting
- vaginal discharge
- repetitive contractions
- nausea or vomiting
- pain or burning during or after urination
When considering if abdominal pain is gas or something more serious, keep all of this information in mind. Though at times severe, gas pain usually resolves itself within a short period of time. It’s often relieved when you burp or pass gas.
You may be able to connect an episode to something you ate or a period of stress. Gas isn’t accompanied by fever, vomiting, bleeding, or other serious symptoms. Gas pains don’t get longer, stronger, and closer together over time. That’s likely early labor.
Whenever in doubt, call your doctor or go in and seek treatment at your birthing center. It’s always better to err on the side of caution.