Occasional abdominal pain during pregnancy is a common and often harmless complaint, but it can also be a sign of a serious problem. Never ignore severe or persistent abdominal pain. Call your healthcare provider if your pain doesn’t go away after several minutes of rest, or if you also have any of the following:
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Chills or fever
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
- Nausea and vomiting
Is it normal to have mild pain with cramping during pregnancy?
Yes, a little bit of pain with cramping in early pregnancy is common. Later in pregnancy, cramps might be harmless Braxton-Hicks contractions or round ligament pain. And occasional mild cramps throughout pregnancy without any other symptoms are usually nothing to worry about.
When is it not normal to have pain with cramping during pregnancy?
It’s not normal to have cramping during pregnancy with pain that’s severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, vaginal bleeding, headache, or fever. Pain with cramps and vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy can be a sign of ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
It’s also not normal to have any pain in the upper abdomen. And if your abdomen is unusually sensitive to touch, especially when pressure is released, a serious abdominal infection (peritonitis) could be the culprit.
What causes harmless abdominal pain during pregnancy?
Not all abdominal pain during pregnancy is a sign of a serious problem. Common causes of minor abdominal pain include:
Gas and bloating: You’re much more likely to have gas pain and bloating during pregnancy because of hormones that slow your digestion and the pressure of your growing uterus on your stomach and intestines.
Constipation: Pregnancy hormones that slow down your digestion and the pressure of your growing uterus on your rectum can lead to constipation.
Cramping during orgasm: You may notice a bit of cramping during or right after an orgasm. As long as it’s mild and short-lived, it’s perfectly normal and nothing to be alarmed about.
Round ligament pain: Round ligament pain is generally a brief, sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache that you may feel on one or both sides of your lower abdomen or deep in your groin. It usually starts in your second trimester when the ligaments in your pelvis that support your uterus begin to stretch and thicken to accommodate its growing size.
You may feel a short, sharp pain if you suddenly change position, such as when you get out of bed or up from a chair or when you cough, roll over in bed, or get out of the bathtub. Or you may feel a dull ache after an especially active day. Call your provider if this discomfort continues even after you’ve rested.
Braxton Hicks contractions: After midpregnancy, you may start to feel a tightening sensation in your uterus from time to time. Before 37 weeks, these Braxton Hicks contractions should be infrequent, irregular, and essentially painless. (Once you’re close to your due date, this type of cramping during pregnancy can be a sign of labor.)
Call your provider if:
- The contractions are accompanied by lower back pain.
- You feel more than six contractions an hour (even if they don’t hurt).
- The contractions are coming at regular intervals.
- You also have vaginal discharge or bleeding.
- You have any other signs of premature labor.
What serious problems cause abdominal pain during pregnancy?
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, typically in one of the fallopian tubes. It may cause cramping in early pregnancy and other symptoms.
Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks. Vaginal spotting or bleeding is usually the first symptom, followed by abdominal pain a few hours to a few days later.
Placental abruption is a life-threatening condition in which your placenta separates from your uterus, partially or completely, before your baby is born.
Preeclampsia is a serious pregnancy complication that causes changes in your blood vessels and can affect organs including your liver, kidneys, brain, and the placenta. You’re diagnosed with preeclampsia if you have high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy and protein in your urine, liver or kidney abnormalities, persistent headaches, or vision changes.
Being pregnant makes you more susceptible to urinary tract infections of all kinds, including kidney infections. It’s important to call your provider if you think you might have a bladder infection because it can lead to a kidney infection, which can cause serious illness and premature labor if left untreated.
Other causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy
Many other conditions can cause abdominal pain, whether you’re pregnant or not. Some of the most common causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy include:
- Stomach virus
- Food poisoning
- Kidney stones
- Gallbladder disease
- Bowel obstruction
Both gallbladder disease and pancreatitis are often a result of gallstones, which are more common during pregnancy. Fibroids may grow during pregnancy and cause discomfort. And the pressure of the growing uterus on previously scarred intestinal tissue may cause bowel obstruction, which is most likely to occur in the third trimester.
Is there anything I can do to relieve abdominal pain during pregnancy?
If you have minor pain and no symptoms of anything more serious, try these tips to relieve abdominal pain:
- Move around or do some gentle exercises to relieve gas pain.
- Take a warm (not hot) bath or shower.
- Bend toward a pain for relief.
- Drink plenty of fluids. (Dehydration can cause Braxton Hicks contractions.)
- Try lying down. This might relieve pain caused by Braxton Hicks contractions.