Upper Stomach Pain During Pregnancy: Is It Common, Causes And Home Remedies

✔ Research-backed

Upper stomach pain during pregnancy could develop due to the changes in the positions of the abdominal organs caused by the developing fetus. Other possible causes for upper stomach pain are gas, indigestion, etc. In addition, similar biochemical and physiological changes in the woman’s body may give rise to accompanying pregnancy symptoms such as digestive issues, bloating, cramps, aches, and nausea or morning sickness. However, these symptoms may vary from one woman to another (1).

Read about the factors that might cause upper stomach pain while pregnant and home remedies to manage the discomfort.

In This Article

Is Upper Stomach Pain Common During Pregnancy?

This pain usually goes away with a little rest

Image: IStock

Upper abdominal pain is a common complaint during pregnancy. As the fetus grows inside your belly, the organs and tissues adjust themselves to accommodate it and, in the process, may get pressed or stretched, causing upper abdominal discomfort.

It may be a sharp or dull pain, but it usually goes away with a little rest, a change in position, or passing stools or gas. However, persistent pain or severe stomach pain may indicate an underlying problem (2).

What Causes Upper Stomach Pain When Pregnant?

The figure shows the organs that get re-positioned during pregnancy. Conditions associated with these organs, and with the muscles and tissues of the upper stomach wall, can contribute to pain in this region.

Common conditions that are not very serious and may be resolved with lifestyle and dietary changes are:

1. Growing pains

Ligaments in the torso often stretch to support the growing uterus, leading to sharp pains and cramps in various parts of the abdomen, including the pain in the upper stomach under the breasts (1).

protip_icon Quick tip
An elastic belly band supporting the baby bump and proper rest can help alleviate pain (16).
2. Acid reflux
Acid reflux cause upper stomach pain

Image: IStock

The stomach and intestines are pushed up by the growing uterus, causing compression and delayed gastric movements. This causes stomach acid to move up the food pipe and cause heartburn, and its severe form is termed gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD).

It may cause severe upper abdomen pain, requiring medical attention. Antacids are useful in treating this pregnancy abdominal pain, but you should consult your healthcare provider to know the safe medications during pregnancy (3).

3. Stomach gas

Increased level of the hormone progesteroneiA female reproductive hormone that plays an important role in menstruation, pregnancy, and breastfeeding is often responsible for more stomach gas formation. Progesterone relaxes the intestinal muscles and slows food movement and digestion, causing flatulence (gas build-up in the gut) and bloating. The problem increases with the pressure created by the enlarged uterus later in pregnancy and may cause upper stomach pain (4).

Yelena Wheeler, a registered dietitian nutritionist from Los Angeles, California, says, “Indigestion and pain from gas bubbles may present themselves in the upper abdomen at times since the internal anatomy is being pushed around and changed by the growing fetus.”

4. Constipation

Irregular bowel movement, passing hard stools, straining during passing stools with abdominal pain, and stomach discomfort are all indicators of constipation. Less body movement, inadequate fluid intake, low fiber intake, relaxed intestinal muscles, iron supplements, and even mental stress may cause constipation when pregnant (5).

Conditions that may harm the mother or baby and requires immediate medical attention are:

5. Cholestasis

Cholestasis may cause upper stomach pain during the second trimester, which may persist or worsen as the pregnancy progresses into the third trimester. It is a common liver disease in pregnancy caused due to reduced bile release from the liver. Bile builds up in the liver and causes malfunctions. The condition is seen in the late second trimester to the early third trimester and can complicate pregnancy. An identifying symptom is itchiness in palms and soles. Other symptoms include right upper quadrant abdominal pain, nausea, loss of appetite, dark urine, and pale stool (6). This condition typically goes away after delivery, but if you suspect that you may be having cholestasis, do speak to your doctor immediately.

6. Gallstones
Ultrasound for upper stomach pain during pregnancy

Image: IStock

Bile flow and clearance get restricted during pregnancy, increasing the risk of gallstone formation. The risk is further enhanced if you have high cholesterol and affects about one percent of pregnancies. Pain in the right upper abdomen with bloating, nausea, and abdominal discomfort after meals may indicate gallbladder stones. An ultrasound (ultrasonography or USG) is used for diagnosis (2).

Mother and blogger Tadeja Kovač was diagnosed with gallstones during pregnancy. Reflecting on her experience, she says, “I’ve visited the ER at 20 weeks of pregnancy. After an ultrasound and blood tests, they diagnosed my severe pain in the upper abdomen as a gallstone issue. It was too late for me to receive any treatment other than antibiotics and painkillers. So I was advised to follow the dietary advice and eat some pills in case of any additional colic attacks (i).”

7. Pancreatitis

It is the inflammation of the pancreas occurring mostly in the third trimester. Gallstones and high cholesterol are usually responsible for it. Dull upper abdominal pain radiating to the back along with sudden nausea and vomiting are the indicative signs. It is usually diagnosed through ultrasound and biochemical tests for pancreatic enzymes, such as amylaseiAn enzyme or a particular protein that aids in the digestion of carbohydrates and lipaseiA digestive juice necessary for the digestion of fats (2).

8. HELLP syndrome

HELLP stands for hemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells), elevated liver enzyme levels, and low platelet count. It is a life-threatening complication common in pregnant women with preeclampsiaiA pregnancy disorder characterized by high blood pressure, water retention, and protein content in urine or eclampsiaiA condition where women with preeclampsia experience seizures or fall into a coma . Symptoms include pain in the upper right or middle abdomen, swelling in hands and face, fatigue, headache, blurred vision, excess weight gain, nausea, and vomiting (7).

9. Placental abruption

The detachment of the placenta from the uterine wall is known as abruption. It is a serious condition that causes stomach pain with or without vaginal bleeding. It may lead to premature delivery or stillbirth and requires prompt medical attention (8).

10. Ectopic pregnancy

Implantation outside the uterus, such as in fallopian tubes, is termed ectopic pregnancy. Characteristic symptoms include missed periods, vaginal bleeding, and lower abdominal pain. However, rare incidences of upper abdominal and chest pain have been reported (9).

Besides these, any food intolerance, stomach infection, kidney problems, peptic ulcer disease, and hernias may cause upper abdominal pain (10), for which you should consult your doctor and take prescribed medications only.

protip_icon Point to consider
Upper abdominal pain, usually under the ribs on the right side, may be one of the symptoms of preeclampsia (13).

What Are The Home Remedies For Upper Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy?

Eat healthy to avoid this pain

Image: IStock

Mild abdominal pain can be effectively treated at home, but if you feel anything unusual, you should contact your healthcare provider. If pain persists or becomes severe, you should seek immediate medical attention. You must avoid any over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to address upper abdominal pain. No such medication should be used without consulting your doctor.

You can manage pregnancy discomfort due to acid reflux, heartburn, and stomach gas if you:

  • Take meals in small portions multiple times daily to support proper digestion and avoid getting too full.
  • Eat slowly and chew your food properly to avoid overeating. This practice becomes pivotal during pregnancy when mothers may indulge in emotional overeating due to hormonal and physiological changes.
    Kovač faced this challenge during pregnancy. She says, “I am someone who had been constantly hungry. Stress made me hungry, fear made me hungry, and my happy times were celebrated with food! Food was my friend and my comfort. However, gallstones do not go well with overeating, neither with cravings nor with a full stomach. To survive my pregnancy with as little pain as possible, I had to learn fast to distinguish which is genuine hunger and which are my emotions’ or hormones’ cravings.”
  • Limit or avoid foods that can aggravate heartburn, such as spicy foods, citrus fruits, and oily foods.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners
  • Include light exercises, such as walking, in your lifestyle to aid mobility and stimulate digestion (4) (11).
  • Keep your head elevated by several inches while lying down. Also, do not lie down immediately after a meal to prevent the stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.

You may take antacids such as Tums, but only after consulting your healthcare provider.

Constipation can be eased by:

  • Drinking lots of water
protip_icon Quick tip
If plain water gets boring, infuse it with fresh fruits and herbs like mint to create a customized, additive and sugar-free, refreshing beverage.
Drinking lots of water can help ease the pain

Image: IStock

  • Including fiber-rich food such as apples, bananas, lentils, raspberries, split peas, and whole-wheat preparations. However, excess fiber may cause gas formation, and 25 grams of fiber per day is considered ideal (12)
  • Administering stool softeners only after seeking a prescription from your physician

If your symptoms do not improve or worsen despite trying home remedies, speak to a doctor promptly for an accurate diagnosis.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does my upper stomach feel tight during pregnancy?

Besides gas or constipation, stomach muscles may also tighten due to Braxton Hicks contractions or false contractions during pregnancy (13).

2. Do contractions start at the top of the stomach in pregnancy?

No. True labor contractions are felt in the back and lower abdomen. You may feel pressure in the pelvic area as well (14).

3. When should I worry about upper stomach pain during pregnancy?

Abdominal pain during pregnancy is common but it may indicate an underlying problem if it accompanies additional symptoms, such as spotting or bleeding, fever, vaginal discharge, nausea and vomiting, and discomfort while urinating (13).

4. Can baby positions cause upper stomach pain?

Pain or discomfort in the upper part of the abdomen in the later pregnancy may occur because the baby is growing, pushing the uterus under the ribs (15).

Upper stomach pain during pregnancy is common and not a cause for concern in most cases. However, in some cases, upper stomach pain could indicate an underlying problem like an infection or ulcer. Generally, the reasons for upper stomach pain include changes in the positions of the abdominal organs, gas, indigestion, constipation, and gallstones. Mild abdominal pain can be managed at home using the tips mentioned in the article. However, consult your healthcare provider promptly if the pain persists or worsens. Your doctor may chalk out a treatment plan after diagnosis. Also, ensure not to miss your prenatal appointments to avoid complications.

Infographic: When To Seek Medical Care For Upper Stomach Pain In Pregnancy?

Upper stomach pain in pregnancy due to gas or ligament stretching is harmless. However, some conditions causing upper stomach pain require medical care. Go through the infographic to know the signs of seeking medical care for upper stomach pain in pregnancy.

indications to seek medical care for upper stomach pain in pregnancy (infographic)

Illustration: Momjunction Design Team

Key Pointers

  • Upper stomach pain during pregnancy might occur when organs and tissues adjust to accommodate the baby.
  • Growing fetus, acid reflux, stomach gas, and constipation are a few causes of pain.
  • Light exercises, less spicy food, more water intake, more fiber in the diet, etc., can relieve the pain.
  • Take advice from a doctor for severe pain as it may indicate underlying issues, such as ectopic pregnancy and placental abruption.
upper stomach pain during pregnancy_illustration

Image: Stable Diffusion/MomJunction Design Team

Abdominal pain, although uncomfortable, may be quite common during pregnancy. Learn how to ease the discomfort with this helpful video!

Personal Experience: Source

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. Stomach pain in pregnancy.
    https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/stomach-pain/
  2. Sanoop Koshy Zachariah et al. (2019), Management of acute abdomen in pregnancy: current perspectives.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6371947/
  3. Pregnancy Care Guidelines Reflux (heartburn).
    https://www.health.gov.au/resources/pregnancy-care-guidelines/part-i-common-conditions-during-pregnancy/reflux-heartburn
  4. Pregnancy Gas.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/gas-during-pregnancy/
  5. Constipation in Pregnancy.
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/constipation-during-pregnancy/
  6. Leela Sharath Pillarisetty and Ashish Sharma (2021), Pregnancy Intrahepatic Cholestasis.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK551503/.
  7. HELLP syndrome.
    https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/8528/hellp-syndrome/
  8. What complications can affect the placenta?
    https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/placenta-complications/
  9. Bonnie Woolnough (2018), An Atypical Presentation of Ectopic Pregnancy With Unicornuate Uterus and Undescended Fallopian Tube.
    https://www.jogc.com/article/S1701-2163(18)30653-4/pdf
  10. Upper Abdominal Pain.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24736-upper-abdominal-pain
  11. Common symptoms during pregnancy.
    https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000583.htm
  12. What can help with constipation during pregnancy?
    https://www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/ask-acog/what-can-help-with-constipation-during-pregnancy
  13. Abdominal pain during pregnancy
    https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-complications/abdominal-pain-during-pregnancy/
  14. Prodromal Labor.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/24163-prodromal-labor
  15. Stomach abdominal pain or cramps pregnancy
    https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/pregnancy-symptom-checker/stomach-abdominal-pain-or-cramps-pregnancy
  16. Round Ligament Pain.
    https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21642-round-ligament-pain
Was this article helpful?
Like buttonDislike button
The following two tabs change content below.
Dr. Ng Kai Lyn
Dr. Ng Kai LynMMed (O&G), MRCOG
Dr. Ng Kai Lyn is a Singapore-based obstetrician and gynecologist, specializing in urogynecology, minimally invasive surgery, and clinical interest in fertility. She has an experience of 12 years managing and treating benign gynecological conditions, including uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometrial polyps, and endometriosis.

Read full bio of Dr. Ng Kai Lyn