Weird Pregnancy Aches & Pains that Are Totally Normal (& When to Call the Doctor)

Early in the second trimester of my current pregnancy, I started feeling sudden pains in my lower abdomen. I didn’t remember feeling anything like it when I was pregnant the first time around, but since it seemed to happen when I stood up quickly, I suspected that it was round ligament pain. My doctor put my mind at ease, and the pains soon let up. If you’re expecting and wondering whether your aches and pains are normal—or not—use this list as your guide. 

1. Groin pain
The two big ligaments that stretch down from your uterus into your groin can sometimes hurt when your belly is growing. This round ligament pain can feel sharp and stabbing, especially when you change positions or stand up quickly, or dull and achy. What to do: Sandi Hoover, mother of three and co-owner of The Family Tree Yoga and Massage in Des Moines, Iowa, recommends the half bow yoga pose to help alleviate the discomfort. “Lay down on the bed, couch, or floor on your unaffected side, supporting your head with your hand,” she instructs. “Use your other hand to pull your foot of the side where you are feeling the ligament pain towards your backside and press both hips way forward for gentle stretch. Hold this stretch for three breaths in and three breaths out.” 

2. Upper GI pain
Thanks to increased progesterone levels (and squished organs), gas can build up in a pregnant mama’s system as food takes longer to travel through the GI tract. And that can hurt, a lot. What to do: “Gentle spinal twists are very good for digestion and relieving abdominal discomfort from gas or constipation,” Hoover says. “Sitting cross legged on the floor, bring your right hand across your body to your left thigh and slowly move torso into a twist while gazing over your back shoulder. Hold for three breaths in and out, then repeat on second side, making sure to allow space for the baby and to not hold the twist for too long.” She also recommends a mug of hot water with a squeeze of fresh lemon to help alleviate constipation.

Related: 6 Preeclampsia Signs That Often Get Overlooked

3. Irregular contractions
Braxton Hicks, or practice contractions, are tightening sensations of the uterus that are not associated with dilation. They might feel uncomfortable, but you should think of them as warm-up contractions. What to do: “If there’s no pattern, they aren’t lasting longer or coming closer together, and they go away with rest and hydration, they are a good sign,” says Anne Margolis, a certified nurse midwife with Home Sweet Homebirth, in Suffern, New York. “If they are coming in continually rhythmic pattern and they are intense, that’s a potential labor situation.” Check in with your care provider—especially if you aren’t yet full term at 37 weeks.

4. Breast tenderness
Often an early sign of pregnancy, breast tenderness (and breast enlargement) is a common sign that the hormones needed to grow a baby are increasing in your body. What to do: Treat yourself to supportive bras, both for daily use and workouts, since you will likely need to go up a size…or two.

5. Abdominal pain in the first trimester 
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants in a place other than the uterus, like in the fallopian tubes. It’s more common in women who have had an one previously, or in those who have had endometriosis, an IUD in place during conception, or who have had a previous abdominal surgery. What to do: “The uterus is a muscle and it’s very normal for a mom to have menstrual-type irregular cramping,” Margolis says. “Without bleeding, that’s usually nothing to worry about, but if she has one-sided pain in the lower abdomen in the first trimester and spotting, we want to make sure that it’s not an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage,” she says. Definitely call your health care provider.

6. Severe and worsening abdominal pain in the third trimester 
Extreme pain always warrants a call to your doctor, especially during pregnancy. In rare cases, the placenta—the source of oxygen and nutrients for your baby—can detach from the uterine wall. (In normal pregnancies, this happens after birth.) What to do: “An abruption is usually it’s associated with other things, like high blood pressure or drug use,” Margolis says. “It’s just not common for a mom to have intense abdominal pain.” But if you feel constant, worsening pain, and a very hard abdomen, call your care provider immediately. “A lot of women feel pain as the uterus is growing, but it could be gas pain, heartburn, or another sort of pain that is not related to the uterus.” 

Related: Crucial Questions Every Pregnant Woman Should Ask Her OB-GYN

7. Pain in the upper right part of your abdomen
Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition associated with high blood pressure and high levels of protein in the urine. Another common symptom is pain in the upper abdomen. The condition needs to be monitored closely since it often leads to preterm labor. What to do: “Swelling by itself is not a problem, but it can be along with high blood pressure, especially if there’s unusual swelling or rapid weight gain,” Margolis says. Other warning signs of preeclampsia include vision changes, such as seeing spots, and/or headaches towards the back of the head. Call your doctor. (She may also want to rule out gallstones, which can cause a similar type of abdominal pain.)

8. Backache
As your belly grows and your center of gravity shifts, it’s natural that your back might be stiff, sore, or tight. What to do: If you have a persistent backache paired with contractions before 37 weeks, it could be a sign of preterm labor, so call your health care provider. If your back just aches, try gentle twists and cat-back stretch. “Sitting, standing, or on hands and knees, round your mid back (think: bra strap area), tuck your nose towards your tailbone, and take a few breaths,” Hoover recommends. “Standing or seated pelvic tilts are also wonderful for bringing movement and relief to the low spine where so many changes are taking place.”

9. Headaches 
Whether from caffeine withdrawal in early pregnancy, surging hormones, tension in your upper back from your growing belly, poor posture, or dehydration, headaches are one of the most common pregnancy complaints. What to do: “Gentle neck circles and shoulder rolls—shrug your shoulders up to your ears and roll them gently down and towards wall behind you—can often help relieve tension,” Hoover suggests. Repeat as often as needed and feels good. Also, don’t quit caffeine cold turkey. Talk to your doctor about the safest way to cut back.

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