In this article
- Is it normal to feel abdominal pain in pregnancy?
- How can I ease pregnancy abdominal pain?
- What if I feel unwell and have abdominal pain?
- When is abdominal pain a worry in the first trimester?
- When is abdominal pain a worry in the second trimester?
- When is abdominal pain a worry in the third trimester?
Is it normal to feel abdominal pain in pregnancy?Pains, aches and cramps in your belly while you're pregnant are normal (Crafter 2009:334). They're usually nothing to worry about, if all is otherwise well.
Carrying a baby puts a lot of pressure on your muscles, joints and veins. This can make you feel uncomfortable around your stomach area.
Throughout your pregnancy, the tough tissues (ligaments) that connect your bones stretch to support your growing uterus (womb). So when you move around, you may feel mild pain on one or both sides of your body.
As your baby grows, your uterus (womb) tends to tilt to the right and the ligament may spasm or contract (Aguilera 2005). So you may feel cramping pain more often on your right side.
How can I ease pregnancy abdominal pain?Resting when the pain happens usually eases cramping, along with taking these steps:
- Try sitting down for a while.
- Lie down on the side opposite to where the pain is, and put your feet up.
- Have a warm bath.
- Use a hot water bottle or wheat bag on the painful areas (Aguilera 2005).
- Try to relax.
Sometimes, having sex and reaching orgasm can give you cramps and a slight backache. An orgasm makes pulsations ripple up through your vagina and uterus, which can leave a feeling of cramp afterwards.
Having sex when you're pregnant can make these ripples feel more like contraction cramps, particularly in the third trimester (von Sydow 1999). But don't worry, there's no evidence that orgasm sets off labour, even at term (Tan et al 2009).
You could ease potential cramps by taking sex soft and slow. A gentle back massage afterwards may help, too.
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Watch our short video to find out what medicines you can safely take when you're expecting.More pregnancy videos
What if I feel unwell and have abdominal pain?Abdominal pain could be a sign of something that's not related to pregnancy. Appendicitis, an ovarian cyst, kidney stones, a urinary tract infection (UTI), or gall bladder problem can cause abdominal pain.
Your pregnancy may even have triggered a problem. Fibroids in your uterus that didn't bother you before you conceived may feel uncomfortable now that you're pregnant (Crafter 2009:334-5).
Keep a note of what you're feeling and tell your midwife or doctor about it. They can work out whether there is more to your discomfort than pregnancy aches and pains. However, don't wait to get help if the pain doesn't go away after several minutes of rest, or if you feel cramping along with:
- pain or burning when you wee
- unusual vaginal discharge
- spotting or bleeding
- tenderness and pain
When is abdominal pain a worry in the first trimester?Abdominal pain is usually nothing to worry about in early pregnancy. But if you're having other symptoms, you may need to get help.
Sadly, early miscarriage is fairly common. It usually happens because a baby isn't developing properly (RCOG 2008a). You'll have cramps, bleeding and pain in the centre of your lower belly at some time in the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy. Call your doctor, midwife or hospital, and then lie down or sit with your feet up.
If you have heavy bleeding, and are soaking more than one pad an hour, go straight to the accident and emergency department (A&E) of your nearest hospital. You may be able to go straight to an early pregnancy assessment unit, if there's one in your area.
An ectopic pregnancy develops outside the uterus. Unfortunately, the pregnancy can't be saved. It's a serious condition, so you'll need swift treatment. Just over one per cent of pregnancies in the UK are ectopic(RCOG 2010).
You'll feel painful cramping with tenderness that usually starts on one side and spreads across your stomach. You may also have bleeding that is dark and watery. It usually happens between five weeks and 10 weeks of pregnancy. Call your doctor or go to A&E immediately, as an ectopic pregnancy needs treating quickly(NCCWCH 2012,NHS Choices 2012, RCOG 2010).
When is abdominal pain a worry in the second trimester?Abdominal pain on its own in the second trimester is probably nothing to worry about. There's a very slight chance of it signalling a late miscarriage, but only if you have bleeding as well.
Bear in mind that late miscarriages are far less common than early miscarriages. Only about one in 100 miscarriages happens later in pregnancy (Symonds 2009).
If you're having a late miscarriage, you'll feel cramps with heavy bleeding after 12 weeks and before 24 weeks of pregnancy. If you have light vaginal bleeding or discharge, call your doctor or midwife for advice. If you have heavy bleeding, go straight to your nearest A&E or maternity department (NHS Choices 2013).
When is abdominal pain a worry in the third trimester?By the third trimester, abdominal pain could mean your body is limbering up too soon for birth, so the main worry is premature labour.
Going into premature labour doesn't always mean that your baby is going to be born there and then. Sometimes, as long as your waters haven't broken, it's just a false alarm.
If you're in premature labour, you'll feel pain in your pelvic or lower tummy area, backache, mild tummy cramps and diarrhoea. You may feel your waters breaking, and regular contractions, or your uterus tightening, often painlessly. This could happen any time between 24 weeks and 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Call your doctor, midwife or the delivery suite of your nearest hospital immediately. If you think your waters have broken, call the maternity unit first (RCOG 2008b).
Having cramps once you're past 37 weeks may mean you're in the early stages of labour. At this stage your pregnancy has reached term, so the cramps are a normal part of your body gearing up to give birth. You may also feel constant lower backache, caused by the increased pressure on your pelvis and back passage.
Early labour cramping is usually much less severe than the contractions you'll have during active labour. You may find that resting on the sofa helps, or try going for a walk (Nolan et al 2009). Finding your own way to cope with any discomfort now will help to prepare you for active labour.
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Last reviewed: September 2013
ReferencesAguilera PA. 2005. Pregnancy, round ligament pain.eMedicinehealth. emedicinehealth.com [Accessed July 2013]
Crafter H. 2009.Problems of pregnancy. In: Fraser DM, Cooper MA. eds. Myles Textbook for Midwives. 15th ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 333-59
NCCWCH. 2012. Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage: diagnosis and initial management in early pregnancy of ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health, NICE Clinical Guideline. London: RCOG Press. nice.org.uk [pdf file, accessed June 2013]
NHS Choices.2012. Ectopic pregnancy. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. nhs.uk [Accessed July 2013]
NHS Choices.2013. Miscarriage. NHS Choices, Health A-Z. nhs.uk [Accessed July 2013]
Nolan M, Smith J, Catling J. 2009. Experiences of early labour (2): strategies for coping at home. Practising midwife 12(8): 36-7
RCOG. 2010.An ectopic pregnancy: information for you. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. rcog.org.uk [pdf file, accessed June 2013]
RCOG. 2008a. Early miscarriage: information for you. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. rcog.org.uk [pdf file, accessed July 2013]
RCOG. 2008b. When your waters break early (preterm prelabour rupture of membranes): information for you. Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. rcog.org.uk [pdf file, accessed July 2013]
Symonds IM. 2009. Abnormalities of early pregnancy. In: Fraser DM, Cooper MA. eds. Myles Textbook for Midwives. 15th ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 313-32
Tan PC, Yow CM, Omar SZ. 2009. Coitus and orgasm at term: effect on spontaneous labour and pregnancy outcome.Singapore Med J50(11):1062-7
vonSydow K. 1999. Sexuality during pregnancy and after childbirth: a metacontent analysis of 59 studies. J Psychosomatic Research. 47(1):2-49