Stomach Tightening During Pregnancy: When To Consult A Doctor?

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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 the growing uterus and 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 formation can cause abdominal cramping

Image: Shutterstock

  1. Gas or constipation: Gas formation and constipation are common issues not only during early pregnancy but can be bothersome throughout the pregnancy. Both cause abdominal cramping and could be painful (1).
Quick fact
During pregnancy, increased progesterone levels can cause the intestinal muscles to relax more than usual, leading to slow digestion and gas buildup (9).
  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 brownish discharge.

During the second trimester

  1. Stretching: Due to the hormonal changes in pregnancy and growth of the uterus, the muscles and ligaments in the abdomen are stretched, resulting in abdominal cramps or sharp and shooting pains along the abdomen (3).
  1. Round ligament pain: Round ligament is the structure that acts as a support to the uterus. Due to the growth of the uterus in the second trimester, this ligament gets stretched, leading to 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).
Quick fact
Pain due to round ligament stretching usually lasts only for a few seconds. It may increase when the baby presses against these ligaments or due to specific actions such as coughing (10).
  1. 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).
These contractions can lead to an uncomfortable feeling

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  1. 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).

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

  1. 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).
Your baby's kicks can give you a tickling sensation

Image: Shutterstock

  1. 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.
Stomach tightening during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

  • Having severe pain, bleeding per vaginum, water like or brownish discharge along with tightening.
  • Perceiving less baby movements than usual.

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.
Consuming water can relieve stomach tightening

Image: Shutterstock

  • Take a warm shower (sitting in hot water bath tub not advisable) 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. Always take a lateral turn before getting up from lying down 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.

Stomach tightening during pregnancy or a little discomfort of this kind is expected. However, you should not worry about it as it can all be brought into control once the cause is identified. At the same time, do not ignore any major changes or pains in your body. If you feel like more symptoms are making you feel uncomfortable, it is best to consult a medical professional at the earliest to get the care and attention you require. It is better to get clarity on what you are experiencing rather than waiting and assuming things that are not right.

Infographic: What Causes Stomach Tightening In Pregnancy?

Stomach tightening in pregnancy can be due to various reasons in each trimester. Some causes are normal, and a few can be due to conditions that can be managed with simple measures at home. Go through the infographic to learn common causes of stomach tightening in each trimester.

notable causes of stomach tightening in each trimester [infographic]
Illustration: MomJunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Stomach tightening during pregnancy is a common phenomenon where your tummy may tighten and relax at irregular intervals within minutes.
  • The cause for stomach tightening varies from one trimester to other, and in most cases, the reason is not a matter of concern.
  • Prompt medical guidance is essential to avert complications if the tightness gets longer and stronger.
  • Taking a warm shower and sipping on a cup of hot water or milk cup are simple home remedies to relieve mild and irregular stomach tightening episodes.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Abdominal pain; American Institute for Preventive Medicine
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. JMichelle Brubaker; Ouch! Managing Labor Pains; UC San Diego Health (2018)
7. Am I in labor; NIH
8. Charlie C. Kilpatrick; Abdominal pain in early pregnancy; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
9. Pregnancy Gas;American Pregnancy Association
10. What you should know about round ligament pain; Kaiser Permanente
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