Are Sharp Pains in Your Stomach Normal During Pregnancy?

Reviewed on 1/22/2021

What are sharp stomach pains during pregnancy?

Many women experience sharp pains in their stomach during pregnancy. Learn when you should see a doctor for sharp stomach pains during pregnancy.
Many women experience sharp pains in their stomach during pregnancy. Learn when you should see a doctor for sharp stomach pains during pregnancy.

It can be difficult and stressful for pregnant women to tell the difference between normal pregnancy pains and signs that something is wrong. As your body adjusts to accommodate the fetus, some discomfort or pain is natural.

While some abdominal pain can be normal, it can sometimes be a symptom of pregnancy complications. If you’re experiencing unfamiliar, sharp abdominal pain, contact your doctor who can help you tell the difference. During routine check-ups, you also should update your healthcare provider on any pains you’re experiencing.

Symptoms of stomach pain during pregnancy

The location, severity, and intensity of your stomach pain can all help determine its cause. It is also important to know how far along in your pregnancy you are.

Normal pregnancy cramps may start as early as implantation. After that, they are most common during the first trimester as your body begins to change. You may experience occasional cramps later in the pregnancy. It can feel like an aching or pulling feeling on either or both sides of the abdomen. They often resemble menstrual cramps and are rarely severe.

Starting in the second trimester, many women experience sharp pain in the uterus, groin, or either side of the lower abdomen. This may or may not be accompanied by a dull ache in the lower abdomen or sides.

As your uterus grows, it can stretch the supporting ligaments, creating what is known as round ligament pain. The pain is often described as sharp or shooting. Sudden movement or exercise may make it worse. It should go away after a few minutes of rest.

Causes of stomach pain during pregnancy

In addition to round ligament pain and cramps, other conditions may cause stomach pain during your pregnancy. Many women who are pregnant can experience:

Any of these conditions can cause sharp stomach pain. In addition, women may experience completely unrelated issues. For example, kidney stones occur as frequently in pregnant women as in women who are not.

While plenty of stomach pains are normal during pregnancy, if the pain is sharp and sudden, call a doctor. Sharp stomach pain is also one of the primary symptoms for the following serious pregnancy complications:

Ectopic pregnancy

In an ectopic pregnancy, the egg implants outside of the uterus, most often in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable. If they are not caught in time, the eggs may cause the fallopian tubes to rupture, which can cause severe abdominal pain. A ruptured fallopian tube is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical treatment.

Early pregnancy loss

Also known as a miscarriage or spontaneous abortion, early pregnancy loss can occur during the first trimester. The fetus may be damaged, have an abnormal number of chromosomes, or fail to develop correctly. Early pregnancy loss affects about one in ten pregnancies.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine. It can also produce sharp stomach pains. This condition can pose a threat to a healthy pregnancy, so it’s important for your doctor to help you manage it carefully.

Placental abruption

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta detaches from the uterus during pregnancy. It can be life-threatening to both mother and child. Doctors don’t always know why it has happened, but it sometimes occurs during trauma, such as a car accident.

Preterm labor

Preterm labor also may cause abdominal pain if your cervix starts dilating before 37 weeks.

QUESTION

The first sign of pregnancy is most often: See Answer

When to see the doctor for stomach pain during pregnancy

If you’re experiencing sharp and worrisome stomach pains, it’s best to check with your doctor as soon as you can. Keep your doctor informed of all symptoms, but watch out for these warning signs in particular:

  • Continual (rather than intermittent) pain
  • Fever
  • Pain accompanied by nausea or vomiting
  • Heavy or continual bleeding
  • A change in vaginal discharge
  • Severe pain that makes it difficult to walk, speak, or breathe

Diagnosing stomach pain during pregnancy

Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms, check your blood pressure, and perform a physical exam. They will most likely look at the fetus with an ultrasound as well.

Additional tests will depend on what the doctor suspects may be causing the pain but may include blood tests and other imaging.

Treatments for stomach pain during pregnancy

There are several things you can do to help ease stomach pain. If you are experiencing round ligament pain, it should subside if you rest on your side with your stomach supported by a pillow.

The following exercises may also help with pregnancy pains:

  • Stretches that are safe for pregnant women
  • Controlled breathing
  • Walking
  • Experimenting with different positions for sleeping and sitting

If the pain persists, talk to your doctor about finding other methods to manage it.

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References
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "Ectopic Pregnancy."

American Pregnancy Association: "Pregnancy Cramps."

American Pregnancy Association: "Sharp Pain During Pregnancy."

American Pregnancy Association: "What Is Implantation Bleeding?"

American Urological Association: "Pregnancy and Kidney Stones."

Cedars Sinai: "Placental Abruption."

Marshfield Clinic: "Abdominal Discomfort During Pregnancy."

NorthShore University Health System: "Pregnancy-Related Problems."

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