Abdominal pain is one of the most common concerns that pregnant women express to their obstetricians. They wonder if their pain is something normal or if it is something to be worried about. They do not want to raise the alarm to their doctor if the problem is normal and should be expected during a typical pregnancy. In most instances, abdominal pain that is not severe is nothing most pregnant women need to worry about. However, there are exceptions to that rule. In all cases, a pregnant woman should always err on the side of caution and involve her doctor if she is worried about the problem.
What Causes Pregnancy Pain?
The overall changes to a pregnant woman’s body often lead to many pains. First, there is the weight gain, which can cause aches, including in the abdominal cavity. Second, some hormones naturally relax the joints all around the woman’s body in slow preparation for birth. Third, a pregnant woman may also notice pain that comes along with digestive changes, including heartburn and constipation. Finally, when labor is coming within the next few weeks, the body also changes more, which can lead to pregnancy pain all around the body.
What Is Normal Pregnancy Pain?
One common complaint of pregnancy pain is when the round ligaments around the abdomen stretch unexpectedly. It can happen with sudden movements, and it can happen one time and not happen again when a pregnant woman makes a repetitive motion. It can come as sharp pain across the abdomen, or it may come as a dull ache that is little more than annoying.
Another possible, and normal, pregnancy pain is back pain. It is due to the increased pressure the abdomen puts on the lower back, especially at the later stages of pregnancy when the baby reaches his or her full-term weight. The hormones going through the woman’s body relax the joints and ligaments specifically around the pelvis, which includes the area across the lower back. It can lead to constant back pain around the end of pregnancy.
Normal pregnancy pain also includes the pain that comes when labor begins. It is when the cervix opens enough to allow the baby to pass through and be delivered. This type of pain can be dull at first and slowly progress into a sharper pain, or it can be an overwhelming pain from the onset. It can also appear as abdominal pain, or it can show up as back pain. Some women have some combination of both abdominal and back pain during labor, and this often depends on the direction the baby is facing.
Are Braxton-Hicks Contractions Something to Worry About?
Many women face Braxton-Hicks contractions, especially during the second half of pregnancy. These are considered trial contractions for the woman’s body. It is the uterus trying to contract to make sure that everything goes well during labor and delivery. These contractions are considered benign by obstetricians, but they can be difficult to discern from traditional contractions. The differences between Braxton-Hicks contractions and those that are connected to labor include:
- Timing. When traditional labor starts, the contractions are equidistant and become closer over time. Braxton-Hicks contractions do not stick to any time schedule and come when they want. They also typically range in intensity and are typically only uncomfortable.
- Pain. Contractions that go with labor become increasingly painful as it comes closer to delivery. Braxton-Hicks contractions are intense enough to get a pregnant woman’s attention, but the pain does not become more intense.
- Position. When contractions begin for traditional labor, moving around does not do anything to reduce the discomfort of the contraction. For a woman experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, moving around can cause the contractions to stop altogether.
- Hydration. Braxton-Hicks contractions often show up when a pregnant woman is dehydrated. Once she gets properly hydrated, they usually subside. Traditional contractions do not stop with increased water consumption.
Managing Pregnancy Pain
For the most part, pregnant women find coping with pregnancy pain easier by staying active and listening to their bodies. The body gives off signals when it is getting overused or overwhelmed. Pregnant women need to listen to these signals and take it easy when their body indicates that it has had enough. Going into pregnancy and being inactive is likely going to increase the pain a woman goes through. Instead, go for regular walks, keep up with any exercise that the doctor says is safe, and rest when the body shows it needs to.
Another way of managing pain is making sure to remain hydrated. Dehydration can increase the pain a pregnant woman feels, and it can also cause an increase in pain that a pregnant woman goes through. Simply making sure to consume at least 100 ounces of water per day can be all she needs to do since the need for water is higher during pregnancy. If the pain is extreme or if it interferes with the ability for a normal daily routine, the woman needs to speak with her doctor about it.
What Is Serious Pregnancy Pain?
Pregnancy pain is difficult to discern at times. The same symptom could point to a urinary tract infection or a miscarriage in progress. The best way to know for sure if the issue is serious is to get a doctor’s advice on the specific type and location of the pain. Here are some general guidelines as to when the pain is serious and needs immediate attention.
- Sharp pain on the right side of the body could point to a problem with the appendix and may require surgery if that is the problem.
- Preeclampsia shows up as a sharp pain in the upper right corner of the abdomen, as well, and usually comes with severe nausea. It requires immediate medical intervention and should not ever be ignored.
- Sharp pain in the upper part of the abdomen could point to a problem with the gallbladder. It is especially prevalent toward the end of pregnancy when all of the organs are pushed aside to make room for the growing baby.
Symptoms of Preterm Labor to Be on the Lookout For
Early labor happens to pregnant women between 37 weeks gestation and 39 weeks gestation. However, that is not considered preterm labor. Preterm labor is when a mother goes into labor before 37 weeks gestation. It means the baby has not fully developed and could be more susceptible to ailments or struggles at birth.
A baby born before 23 weeks is often considered too early to be viable. It means the baby likely passes away during or shortly after birth, so knowing the signs of preterm labor is crucial. If caught early enough, sometimes preterm labor can be stopped or stalled, buying the baby more time inside the womb to finish developing.
For pregnant women, any pain that is sharp, unexpected, and does not go away right away needs to be checked out by an obstetrician. It could be any number of things, including problems with the placenta, internal bleeding, or the baby struggling.
Cramping that feels similar to menstrual cramps is another sign pregnant women need to be wary of. Mild cramping can happen because of dehydration or being sick, but with hydration, the cramps should subside. If they do not, it could point to preterm labor.
Bleeding or watery discharge are also signs of preterm labor. These are serious signs of a problem that should never be ignored. It could point to the imminent delivery of the baby or that the baby is in danger. The sooner the pregnant woman can get to a hospital for an exam, the better.
Understanding the normal pregnancy pains, women can feel more in control over their pregnancy. It can be difficult to decide if there is a reason for concern, so hopefully, this gives pregnant women a sense of empowerment over whether they need to worry. When in doubt, a call to the doctor’s office is always the best option. It can be what needs to happen to save a woman and child from danger.