Stomach tightening is the feeling of tightness in the abdomen. You might have sharp, shooting pain on the sides of the lower belly when the uterus grows and the skin stretches with the progressing pregnancy. Your stomach may tighten at irregular intervals and relax within minutes.
The tightening of the stomach is usually associated with increasing weight and could be followed by Braxton Hicks contractions in the second and third trimesters.
In this post, MomJunction tells you why stomach tightening happens in each trimester, and when you should see a doctor.
Causes Of Tightness In Stomach During Pregnancy
There are various reasons for the tightening of the stomach, and they may vary from one trimester to the other.
During the first trimester
- Gas or constipation: Gas formation and constipation are common issues during early pregnancy. Both cause abdominal cramping and could be painful (1).
- Miscarriage: In some cases, stomach tightening may indicate a miscarriage. However, this could be true only if the cramping comes along with the more indicative symptoms of miscarriage, such as vaginal bleeding, lower back pain, and tissue discharge (2).
During the second trimester
- Stretching: As the uterus grows, it stretches the muscles and ligaments in the abdomen, resulting in abdominal cramps or sharp and shooting pains along the abdomen (3).
- Round ligament pain: Sometimes, you might have sudden, stabbing pain in your lower abdomen or groin area on one or both the sides. This pain could also feel like a tightening in the stomach with the change in your positions such as standing, sitting or bending (4).
- Braxton Hicks contractions: During the latter part of this trimester, you might have false labor or practice contractions. When these contractions occur, you can have a tightening and uncomfortable feeling in the abdomen. However, these contractions last for 30 to 60 seconds and are not as painful as the true labor contractions (5).
- Irritable uterus: In rare cases, you may experience frequent and regular contractions (or stomach tightening) that causes no changes in the cervix. They are similar to Braxton Hicks’ but could be stronger and do not respond to hydration or rest (6).
[ Read: Constipation During Pregnancy ]
During the third trimester
Tightness in your stomach in the late pregnancy could be a sign of labor. Braxton Hicks contractions also become common as you progress through the third trimester. True contractions increase in strength and frequency over time (7). It is the time to keep a track of them and see your doctor.
Other causes of stomach tightening during pregnancy
- Fetal movements: When your baby pushes or kicks, it might feel ticklish. Although you feel good about it, there is also a tightening feeling in the belly (8).
- Overconsumption: Overeating can make your belly feel tight and stiff. Along with accommodating the growing baby, a large meal can shrink the space in the belly.
The feeling of tightness is mostly harmless as it is only for a few seconds to minutes and arises out of some regular pregnancy reasons. However, in some cases, you might have to see the doctor.
When Should You See A Doctor?
If the tightness gets stronger and longer or you have a high-risk pregnancy, you should check with your doctor. Also, the following situations will require medical assistance:
- Experiencing tightness more than four times in an hour.
- Having any breathing difficulties along with the tightening of the abdomen.
- Having severe pain along with tightening.
If you do not have any serious problems with tightening but just a little discomfort, you can try some relaxation techniques to get relief.
How To Deal With Stomach Tightening?
If your stomach tightening and pain are mild and irregular, you can take the below measures.
- Change your position as some positions could trigger false contractions. Move your body or lie down to see if the tightening sensation goes away.
- Dehydration could sometimes trigger false contractions. Therefore, have water and take rest for some time.
- Take a warm shower or sit in a warm bathtub as it helps relax the achy and tired muscles.
- If you are having a full bladder, then empty it to ease the pressure on the abdomen.
- Have a cup of warm tea or milk as it is hydrating and relaxing.
- Do not get up too quickly from your bed or any other position.
If you find no relief after trying these home measures, check with your doctor. Also if you have not crossed 36th week, and have preterm labor signs such as increased pressure in the pelvis, bleeding and fluid discharge, go to the hospital. Your doctor will try to understand the cause for the tightening sensation and advise you accordingly.
A little discomfort is normal during pregnancy, and you should not worry about it. But at the same time, you cannot ignore any major changes or pains in your body.
Do you have any experience to share? Share them with our readers in the comment section below.
2. Miscarriage: The silent loss; North Carolina Women’s Hospital (2004)
3. Aches and pains during pregnancy; NIH (2012)
4. Sanoop Koshy Zachariah et al.; Management of acute abdomen in pregnancy: Current perspectives; Int J Womens Health (2019)
5. Deborah A. Raines and Danielle B. Cooper; Braxton Hicks contractions; StatPearls Publishing (2019)
6. John C. Morrison, John P. Elliott and Stephen Jones (2012). Uterine Contraction Monitoring, Maintenance Tocolysis, and Preterm Birth, Preterm Birth – Mother and Child, Dr. John Morrison (Ed.), ISBN: 978-953-307- 828-1, InTech, Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/preterm-birth-mother-and-child/uterinecontraction-monitoring-maintenance-tocolysis-and-preterm-birth
7. Am I in labor; NIH
8. Charlie C. Kilpatrick; Abdominal pain in early pregnancy; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality