Is it Normal to have Sharp Shooting Pain in my Abdomen during Pregnancy?

1Abdominal pain is always a little disconcerting when you are pregnant, and women often fear for the worst.  Being doubled over your rounding belly in pain is shocking to most, and unfortunately can be a normal part of your pregnancy.   A common cause of abdominal pain is from the stretching of the ligaments supporting your growing uterus.  Round ligament pain affect up to 30% of women in their pregnancies.  It can present itself it different ways but is often easy to identify.

What does it feel like?

RL pain

Imagine what this image feels like. It is pretty darned accurate!  Most women describe the pain as stabbing or burning pain, anywhere along the pathways seen above.  It usually starts quickly and only lasts seconds to a couple of minutes.  Some women feel it on one side or both, most commonly on the right side as the uterus tends to veer to the left in pregnancy, causing more of a stretch for the right side.  Odd fact. Also likely linked to the rearrangement of organs as the uterus pushes them out of the way.

It is often in the second trimester when people start experiencing round ligament pain. This is a time of big physical changes in a woman’s pregnant body.  For first time moms, this is the time that they typically start to “show”, or develop a new baby bump.  It is a time of rapid growth of the baby as well.

anatomyAll of this leads to quick stretching of the round ligaments as they follow the upward and outward growth of the uterus.   As you may imagine, any quick movements or physical strain can add to the already stretching ligament and cause a sudden stabbing pain, much like pulling a muscle.  It usually dissipates quickly but may continue to spasm with movement.  Though it is uncomfortable, it is not at all harmful to your body or your baby.

So, how do you deal with this?

A good start is prevention.  Though you may not be able to avoid it completely, you can help your body be more accommodating with a few of these tips:

  1. Stay stretchy: incorporate daily stretching into your day to keep your body supple. If you haven’t tried yoga, now is a great time to look into prenatal yoga – there are often classes running in the community and there are many online resources.  Heading out to a prenatal yoga class has the added benefit of meeting other pregnant moms in the community and creating connections.
  2. Carry your body well: Keep good posture during your pregnancy and get some good exercise in at least three times a week. Avoid twisting at the waist during activities like rolling over in bed and getting in and out of your vehicle. Try to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time and ask for special arrangements at work, if needed.
  3. Rest well: Getting good sleep is always a good thing. It may be hard to get comfortable in bed during the second half of pregnancy so stock up on good pillows and surround yourself with them; between the knees, under the belly, behind the back.  It is also normal for some partners to get kicked out of the bed to maximize sleep.
  4. Drink lots of water: It can be daunting to think about drinking more water with the seemingly tiny bladder of pregnancy but staying well hydrated keeps your body more stretchy on the inside.  Aim for a minimum of 2.5 litres a day, as your pregnant body requires more water to help absorb and transport nutrients, minerals, and hormones through your body and to your growing baby.  It can also help prevent hemorrhoids and constipation, and keep your skin more supple to avoid stretch marks.

If you do develop the signs and symptoms of round ligament pain, there may be help out there.  Speaking with your care provider during your prenatal appointments can reassure you that it is normal and give you tips for help.  Treatment in the moment would include resting, and using a hot pack on the area or soaking in a warm bath.  Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be used as pain relief and is safe to take in pregnancy.  Longer term help may be available with treatment from a massage therapist, chiropractor, osteopath, or physiotherapist as these four therapies focus on the body and it’s movement.  There are also many different types of pregnancy supports available on the market that can support the belly and hips.  Check online for pregnancy support belts and belly slings if you like, but be prepared to pay a pretty penny.  There may be belts available second hand in local moms group or swap sites.

So, sleep, stretch, hydrate, move, and love your growing body.

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Becca Raper is a registered midwife with Generations Midwifery Care. Learn more about Becca here.