Are abdominal pains during pregnancy normal?

As your baby develops and your bump gets bigger by the day, your body will begin to adapt to the little one growing inside you. This extra strain can often lead to mild pregnancy pains such as backache and mild abdominal discomfort such as stretching.

If you are concerned, give your midwife or triage a ring to put your mind at rest. And of course, if there’s anything on your mind about your pregnancy, don’t forget our expert team is on hand 24/7.

Identifying abdominal pains

Pains such as stretching sensations or tightening around your belly are perfectly normal during pregnancy. They’re not usually anything to worry about - but abdominal pain or stomach cramps can sometimes be a sign of something more serious.
 

Here you’ll find information from reliable sources, including nhs.uk, to help you identify the causes of your abdominal pain in pregnancy, as well as ways to soothe it. But if you are concerned at all, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Careline, your midwife, triage or your local hospital.

Common causes of abdominal pain in pregnancy

There are a few harmless causes of abdominal discomfort in pregnancy, so here’s everything to expect from them and how to ease them:

Growing uterus

Feeling full a little quicker than usual, getting bloated or suffering from indigestion, nausea or belly cramps? The likelihood is that you’re feeling the effects of your growing uterus. This is completely normal and can be helped by eating smaller meals more regularly, doing some gentle exercise, getting plenty of rest and going to the toilet as soon as nature calls!

Ligament pain

As your pregnancy progresses, at times you may begin to feel an uncomfortable stretching sensation in your lower abdomen and down into your groin, especially when you change positions. One possible cause of this is the stretching of the ligaments that connect your uterus to your groin area, one of which is called the round ligament. This usually resolves itself over time, but if it is causing you a lot of pain or if you have any concerns, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP or midwife.

Constipation and trapped wind

You probably know what constipation and trapped wind feels like. Unfortunately, it can get worse during pregnancy - the culprit is usually hormonal changes that slow down the whole digestive process. To combat wind and constipation, try drinking lots of water, eating fibre-rich foods, or talking to your doctor or midwife about taking something to get things moving again.

Braxton hicks contractions

As your pregnancy develops, you may experience a tightening of the womb known as Braxton Hicks contractions. Unlike regular contractions, these tend to be short and irregular, and although they may cause some discomfort, they shouldn’t be painful. They won’t get closer together like contractions, either. If the tightening persists and you can’t identify whether they are contractions or not, call your midwife. Read more about Braxton Hicks contractions.

Warning signs of serious problems

There are a few symptoms that you should keep an eye out for that could be more cause for concern. We’ll cover all these signs and what they might mean below; however, please do bear in mind that you may not have all the symptoms listed, so if you are ever unsure, it’s always best to get checked over.

Ectopic pregnancy

Symptoms:

  • lower abdominal pain concentrated on one side
  • vaginal bleeding or brown discharge
  • pain felt in the tip of your shoulder
  • discomfort when going to the toilet

If you have any of the symptoms listed above between 4 and 12 weeks, you may be suffering from an ectopic pregnancy. This means that the egg has implanted in the fallopian tube or somewhere other than the uterus. In this case, you should contact your hospital A&E department or Early Pregnancy Unit straight away.

Miscarriage

Symptoms:

  • cramping and pain in your lower abdomen
  • abnormal discharge of fluid from your vagina
  • discharge of tissue from your vagina
  • Bleeding

Miscarriage is a common concern for all newly-pregnant mums. If you experience cramps and/or have vaginal bleeding, miscarriage may be the cause - although there may be other reasons why this can happen. It is very important to get in touch with your midwife, hospital A&E department or Early Pregnancy Unit straight away.

Premature labour

Any contractions felt before 37 weeks should be assessed even if very irregular.

Symptoms:

  • regular, painful contractions
  • a sudden breaking of your waters
  • a ‘show’ (mucus plug coming away from the cervix and out of the vagina) before the usual full 37-week term of pregnancy.

If you have any of the above symptoms you must call your delivery suite and attend your maternity unit right away. Your hospital will be able to assess you, and it's important that you are in the care of professionals who know what they are doing as soon as possible.

Placental abruption

Symptoms:

  • abdominal pain
  • frequent contractions that can seem continuous
  • bleeding from the vagina.
  • tender feeling over uterus  

The placenta is your little one's source of oxygen and nutrients, and it usually remains attached to the wall of your uterus until after you have given birth. Occasionally it can detach from the uterus too early in pregnancy, which is called placental abruption. If you experience the above symptoms with - or even without - bleeding, it's crucial that you are seen in your maternity unit as soon as possible.

Pre-eclampsia

Symptoms:

  • severe heartburn
  • pain just below the ribs
  • severe headache
  • nausea
  • fluid retention
  • vomiting
  • seeing flashing lights or starry vision
  • swelling of feet, ankles, face and hands - usually after 20 weeks of pregnancy

Pre-eclampsia is a condition that affects the development of the placenta during pregnancy. Mums suffering with pre-eclampsia may experience the above symptoms along with high blood pressure and protein in their urine. The condition can be harmful for both mum and baby, so it is very important to call your midwife or hospital as soon as any of these symptoms occur.

Urinary tract infection

Symptoms:

  • dull backache
  • constant dull pain in the pubic region
  • cloudy and unpleasant smelling urine
  • needing to urinate more often than usual, or passing small amounts of urine usually accompanied by discomfort
  • Pain passing urine

These are all symptoms of a UTI (urinary tract infection). Although not usually an emergency, UTIs are more serious when you are pregnant. If left untreated, infections can lead to complications in pregnancy, so be sure to keep an eye on your symptoms. Thankfully, UTIs are easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. If you think you might be suffering from a UTI, get in touch with your midwife or doctor, who will be able to confirm if you’re right and offer the most suitable treatment.

To recap

You know your body best.

Pregnancy discomfort is common and often nothing to worry about. But you know your body better than anyone, so if any aches or pains are worrying you, make sure you talk to your midwife.

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Ready to stop worrying about what other people think and do what feels right to you? We’ll give you the support you need to follow your instincts and enjoy parenthood to the max:

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Non-judgemental support

Free weaning plan*

Tips from real parents

*Weaning is recommended at around 6 months. Please speak with a healthcare professional before introducing solid foods.

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