14 Common Causes For Stomach Pain During Pregnancy And How To Ease It

Stomach Pain During Pregnancy

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Stomach cramps, pains or aches. Any difficulty or irritation in the abdomen during pregnancy makes you worry about the safety of your baby in the womb. But luckily, you do not have to worry. Abdominal pain is usually a result of mild to moderate discomforts that develop in pregnancy.

MomJunction helps you decode the various causes of those aches and pains, when to seek medical advice and how you can ease the discomfort.

Is It Normal To Have Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy?

Yes, occasional abdominal pain and cramping are often harmless. It may be associated with the first trimester conditions such as constipation and increased blood flow to the uterus, pain after eating  and to the second and third-trimester conditions including Braxton-Hicks contractions and round ligament pain.

Let’s go into the details:

Abdominal pain in early pregnancy:

Stomach pain in 1st trimester or discomfort is common, especially during early pregnancy. It is a part of the changes that your body undergoes to carry your baby for the next 40 weeks. Sometimes, abdominal pains are a reminder to watch what you eat as indigestion causes cramps. Even an orgasm could trigger abdominal pains.

Abdominal pain in the 2nd trimester:

Abdominal cramps in the second trimester aren’t usually a cause for worry unless followed by bleeding. There’s only a slight possibility of a miscarriage, less than one in 100 women miscarry in their second trimester. If the cramps are followed by heavy bleeding, visit the doctor immediately.

[ Read: Tips To Prevent Pains And Cramps During Pregnancy ]

Abdominal pain in the 3rd trimester:

Besides false contractions, severe pain around the abdomen area is not common. The contractions are usually a sign of early (preterm) labor. Other symptoms of preterm labor include water breaking, pain around the pelvic area, a decrease in fetal activity, lower backache, and contractions. Call your doctor immediately if you experience one or all of these signs.

Cramps after 37 weeks are an early sign of labor. If you experience abdominal pains after 37 weeks, look for other signs of labor such as vaginal discharge, water breaking, contractions, etc. If none of these symptoms follow, there’s nothing to worry; a backache is probably because of the baby (after assuming the head-down position) causing pressure around the pelvic area (1).

Different Types Of Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy:

You can experience upper abdominal pain, lower abdomen pain, upper right, lower left, lower right, mid stomach and more. Here we tell you about each of them:

Upper abdominal pain:

Any pain or discomfort that occurs in the area located between the lower ribcage margins and the navel is referred to as upper abdominal pain. In other words, the area is the center of the body under the breastbone to the umbilicus and falls on the both sides of the torso.

Upper left abdominal pain:

This pain is felt from the left nipple to the umbilicus and can occur due to different structures or organs present in the upper left side of the abdomen, such as the spleen, the tail of the pancreas, left lower ribs, left kidney, a part of large intestine and bowel, a small part of the stomach, heart located on the upper left side, bones, skin and muscles.

Upper right abdominal pain:

Abdominal pain is felt from the right nipple towards the umbilicus level. The structures and organs responsible for causing the upper right abdominal pain are the liver, the lower part of the right lung, right kidney, adrenal gland, bones, skin and muscles.

Lower abdominal pain:

Any pain or discomfort that occurs in the abdominal region below the umbilicus or navel is called lower abdominal pain. It is also known as suprapubic pain and is caused due to various medical issues.

Lower left abdominal pain:

This is more common than lower right abdomen pain. The structures and organs responsible for causing this pain include Sigmoid colon, lower left kidney, left ureter, ovary and fallopian tube, a part of the urinary bladder and large descending bowel, as well as muscles, nerves, skin, and blood vessels present in the left abdomen area.

Lower right abdominal pain:

It can be an acute or chronic pain in the lower right abdominal quadrant. However, it is not confined to lower right quadrant but spreads to the left or back

The structures and organs present in this region include caecum, appendix, right ovary, fallopian tube and lower kidney, ascending colon, moderate part of the liver, right part of the womb, small intestine, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and skin.

[ Read: Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy ]

Common Causes Of Stomach Pain During Pregnancy:

Some stomach pains in early pregnancy are common and pose no threat to the mother and the baby. However, if the pain is severe and persistent, or you are experiencing intense cramps and bleeding, you should see your OB-GYN. Here are some of the causes, which should not be a worry for you:

1. Round ligament pain (second trimester):

As the uterus expands, the round ligaments (two large ligaments which travel from the front of uterus towards the groin) stretch, causing lower abdominal cramps. The pain may be sharp stabbing or dull and achy when you move suddenly or change positions. These symptoms usually wear off after some time and aren’t a cause for worry (2).

If the pain is unbearable, you can ask your healthcare provider if you can take a painkiller (acetaminophen).

2. Gas and constipation:

The two common complaints during pregnancy are caused due to increased progesterone levels. As progesterone increases, the gastrointestinal tract slows down, making the food travel slower than usual, and resulting in gas formation and constipation.

Drinking more water, eating foods high in fiber and regular exercising help relieve the problem. Your doctor may also prescribe a fiber supplement or a stool softener.

[ Read: Postpartum Constipation During Pregnancy ]

3. Braxton-Hicks contractions (second and third trimesters):

They are mild, and referred to as “practice contractions”. You will experience a tightened feeling of the stomach muscles similar to the real contractions. However, unlike the actual contractions, these are not progressive, and stop after you change positions (3).

Dehydration is the most prominent reason for these false contractions, so drink enough water to avoid them. If the contractions extend for a longer time, contact a healthcare provider.

4. Growing uterus:

With the expansion of the uterus, your bowel is slightly displaced, leading to abdominal distention and nausea.

To rule out the discomfort, you should eat frequently, have smaller meals, exercise regularly, get ample rest and empty your bladder regularly.

5. Painful orgasm:

Cramping during and after orgasm is quite common during early pregnancy. There is nothing to be worried about as they are mild and short. The abdominal pain is mainly due to the normal contractions or the increased blood flow to the pelvic region. You need not worry about the baby getting hurt.

6. Common discomforts:

Apart from the above harmless causes, stomach viruses, fibroids, kidney stones, sensitivity to a particular food can all cause discomfort in the abdomen.

However, not all causes are harmless and can be ignored. Some have the potential to lead to a serious complication.

Serious Causes Of Stomach Pain During Pregnancy:

Such serious complications require an immediate medical attention to avoid any risk to you and the baby. They include:

7. Ectopic pregnancy (first and second trimesters):

One out of 50 pregnancies experiences an ectopic pregnancy, where the egg implants outside the uterus especially in the fallopian tube. As a result, you will suffer from lower one-sided sharp pain in stomach and bleed between the sixth and tenth weeks of pregnancy (4).

Women who’ve had an ectopic pregnancy in the past or those who’ve been diagnosed with endometriosis, appendicitis, and pelvic inflammatory diseases (PID) are at an increased risk of an ectopic pregnancy. Other causes of abdominal pain include tumors and abnormalities in the fallopian tube, multiple abortions in the past, use of intrauterine devices (for example copper T) or progestin-only contraceptive pills.

[ Read: Causes Of Ectopic Pregnancy ]

8. Miscarriage (first and second trimesters):

Miscarriage refers to the loss of the pregnancy before the baby reaches 20 weeks. Vaginal bleeding is the first symptom and leads to abdominal pain lasting for a few hours to a few days. The pain may be mild or severe, and you may also have cramps. You will also suffer from lower back pain and pelvic pressure.

Most of the miscarriages happen in the first trimester, and sometimes in the second trimester. Sometimes, it is hard to say whether the pain is due to miscarriage, implantation or expansion of the uterus. The pain and cramping during miscarriage can be differentiated through bleeding, which continues for some days (5).

Check with your healthcare provider if you notice the signs of miscarriage.

9. Preterm labor (second and third trimesters):

If you happen to experience labor contractions before 37 weeks of pregnancy, you are in preterm labor. This leads to persistent abdominal pain (feels like menstrual cramps), vaginal bleeding, heightened pelvic pressure and reduced fetal movements (6).

You need to check with your doctor right away if you show the above symptoms.

[ Read: Causes Of Preterm Labor ]

10. Placental abruption (second and third trimesters):

It usually occurs in the third trimester when the placenta detaches itself from the uterus. Symptoms include progressive and severe abdominal cramps, bleeding (without clots) and contractions. Sometimes, a woman may go into labor immediately after the placenta detaches, necessitating an immediate C-section.

Get immediate medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms. High blood pressure, drug abuse, or placenta abruption in the past are some of the reasons for the problem (8).

11. Preeclampsia (second to third trimesters):

Preeclampsia, which can develop any time in the second half of pregnancy, is indicated by high blood pressure and high level of protein in the urine. This is one of the reasons why doctors often monitor blood pressure levels during every prenatal visit. A severe type of preeclampsia is HELLP (Hemolysis, Elevated Liver enzymes, Low Platelet count) syndrome, which is a life-threatening condition.

Preeclampsia is associated with symptoms such as right upper quadrant abdominal pain, a severe headache, difficulty in breathing, changes in eye vision, swelling of your face, eyes, hands, feet and ankles, and rapid weight gain. If you suspect you are suffering from preeclampsia or HELLP, you should see your doctor (9).

12. Urinary tract infections:

If you ignore urinary tract infections during pregnancy, it may lead to certain complications such as abdominal pain and discomfort, burning sensation while urinating, blood in the urine and pain in the lower back. If you also suffer from fever, sweats, nausea or chill along with the above signs, then it can progress to a kidney infection.

You need prompt medical intervention. The good thing is UTIs can be treated with antibiotics (10).

[ Read: Urinary Tract Infection During Pregnancy ]

13. Appendicitis:

Appendicitis is a serious condition during pregnancy and is difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of appendicitis — nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite – are all similar to pregnancy-related symptoms and it is hard to diagnose the condition. Although appendicitis pain develops in the lower right quadrant of the abdomen, you will feel it a little higher during pregnancy (11) as the appendicitis gets moved nearer to the liver or the belly button.

14. Gallstones:

You have a higher chance of having gallstones if you are older than 35 years, overweight and have a history of the condition. You will have intense pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, and radiating pain in the back and below the right shoulder blade.

How To Ease Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy?

If there is mild to moderate pain, you can follow these simple tips to relieve it:

  • Use a hot water bottle on the pain area, or take a warm shower.
  • Exercise regularly or move around to relieve gas pain.
  • Rest as often as you can to get relief.
  • Drink plenty of water or fluids.
  • Choose fiber-rich foods such as bran, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Have small and frequent meals.

When To Consult A Doctor?

Do not hesitate to check with your OBS-GYN if you are suffering from severe abdominal pain or cramping. Call the doctor right away under the following circumstances:

  • Sharp pain accompanied by bleeding or spotting during the first trimester.
  • Abdominal pain with or without bleeding.
  • A headache, vomiting, nausea and dizziness.
  • Severe edema or swelling of the hands and feet.
  • Burning sensation during urination and pain while urinating.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Changes in the vision such as sensitivity to light, blurred vision, temporary blindness or seeing flashlights.
  • Around four contractions in an hour as it can be a sign of preterm labor.

You don’t have to panic if you get abdominal pain during pregnancy. It could be for as simple a reason as the formation of gas. But at the same time, you cannot ignore persistent pain or the one that recurs regularly. Keep a watch on your condition and see a doctor if necessary.

Did you experience lower abdominal pains when pregnant? What did you do to get relief? Share your story to help our other expectant mommy readers.

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Rebecca Malachi

She is a Biotechnologist with a proficiency in areas of genetics, immunology, microbiology, bio-engineering, chemical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals to name a few. Her expertise in these fields has greatly assisted her in writing medical and life science articles. With 8+ years of work experience in writing for health and wellness, she is now a full-time contributor for Momjunction.com. She is passionate about giving research-based information to readers in need. Apart from writing, she is a foodie, loves travel, fond of gospel music and enjoys observing nature in silence. Know more about her at: linkedin.com/in/kothapalli-rebecca-35881628
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