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Pregnancy brings with itself a lot of strange symptoms – a tightening sensation in the stomach being one of them. If you are pregnant, on some days, you may feel a tightening sensation in your stomach, which can be a troublesome experience for you. Sometimes, a woman may experience a tightening sensation in her stomach from the first trimester of pregnancy itself, and it could be a sign of miscarriage in the early weeks, premature labour, or normal contractions. But this tightening sensation may persist towards the last few months of pregnancy too. Read on to know what it is and why you might experience abdominal tightening during pregnancy.
What Is Abdominal Tightening During Pregnancy?
Abdominal tightening is absolutely normal during pregnancy. As pregnancy advances, the abdomen tends to feel stiff and tightened. As days pass, the discomfort may escalate as the stomach becomes hard like a rock. With tight stomach in the second trimester, you may experience round ligament pain or sharp pain in your abdomen. In the 3rd trimester, abdominal tightening could be a sign of labour.
Abdominal Tightening in Early Pregnancy (the First Trimester of Pregnancy)
Abdominal tightening during early pregnancy or in the first trimester could be because of various reasons that are explained below.
1. Stretching of the Uterus – In the first trimester of the pregnancy, a woman’s uterus stretches rapidly to make space for the growing or expanding foetus. This could lead to sharp pain or abdominal cramps. In the first trimester of your pregnancy, you may also experience sharp shooting pain on the sides of her abdomen due to the stretching and lengthening of the muscles, which is also called round ligament pain.
2. Miscarriage – In the first trimester of pregnancy, if you experience a tightening sensation in your stomach and pain too, then it could be a sign of a miscarriage. If the tightening sensation in the stomach is, in fact, a symptom of a miscarriage, it will be accompanied by other symptoms like pain and cramping in the lower back, spotting or bleeding, and passing of tissue or fluid from the vagina. Look out for these signs especially if you are less than 20 weeks pregnant. However, it is most common before the 12th week.
3. Constipation/Gas – Constipation and gas is a common problem in pregnancy and most women experience it. During pregnancy, if you have a tightening sensation in your abdomen, it could be because of gas or constipation. You may also have abdominal pain, which can be very distressing.
Abdominal Tightening in the Second Trimester of Pregnancy
As your body continues to grow in the second trimester, the stabbing pain along the sides of the uterus will continue too, this is round ligament pain. As your uterus expands, the round ligaments located along the side of the uterus will stretch, which can cause pain. You might experience it even more if you try to bend down or try to stand after sitting for long.
In the second trimester of your pregnancy, chances are that your stomach may feel tight and uncomfortable due to Braxton-Hicks contractions. Braxton-Hicks contractions or practice contractions can start as early as the fourth month of pregnancy. These contractions are not as painful as actual labour and are very common but they may cause some discomfort and pain. They may even occur when you have sex or when you exercise.
Abdominal Tightening in Late Pregnancy (the Third Trimester of Pregnancy)
The growing foetus and its movements are responsible for abdominal tightening during late pregnancy. Since the abdominal space is shared by the foetus and the internal organs, the abdomen bulges and stretches. The fat deposited under the skin also stretches it further. The gastric problem during the last trimester is also the reason behind the tightening of the stomach. However, if the tightening persists longer than usual, it could be a sign of labour.
Common Causes of Tightness in Stomach During Pregnancy
A woman experiences physical uneasiness during pregnancy. It could be because of endless reasons. If you have a tightening sensation in the stomach, it could be because of the following reasons.
1. Detached Placenta: The placenta is the life support for the growing foetus. It is through the placenta that the baby gets its food and nutrients. However, in some cases, even before the delivery, the placenta may detach from the uterus wall. In times like this, the uterus starts getting firmer than usual. This results in the tightening of the belly and is also accompanied by acute pain.
2. Pressure on the Abdomen: When the baby in the uterus starts growing big, the uterus puts pressure on the abdomen. It is then that the belly expands, making it stiff. In the 2nd trimester, as the baby grows the amniotic fluid also automatically increases which expands the abdomen.
3. Gas and Bloating: A balanced and healthy diet is a must during pregnancy. Eating the wrong kinds of food can lead to gas which could bloat your stomach making you feel more uneasy and uncomfortable.
4. Baby’s Movements: Your baby’s kicks and movements could make you ticklish and giggly. You may feel good and relieved on knowing that your baby is doing fine but with his every movement, your belly may get tighter from the outside.
5. Braxton-Hicks Contractions: Braxton-Hicks contractions are similar to labour contractions, but NOT the same. These contractions may make your stomach very tight and stiff. And for some women, Braxton-Hicks Contractions may start as early as in the second trimester.
6. Pregnancy-related Problems: Stiffness in the belly can be caused due to pregnancy-related complications like a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy (a condition in which the fertilized egg implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus).
7. Nearing Delivery Time: Contractions and stiffness in your belly during your estimated delivery date could be tricky. You may feel that you are going into labour but it can be a false alarm too. You must learn to differentiate between Braxton-Hicks contractions and actual labour. For that, time your contractions – Braxton-Hicks contractions mostly last for about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Moreover, they come only once or twice an hour all through the day. With the change of position, the stiffness of the belly also goes away. However, that is not the case during labour. The time gap between two consecutive contractions during labour isn’t much and they last for a longer period of time.
8. Overeating: Many women think that during pregnancy, they should follow the old notion of ‘eating for two’. But that is not true! If you eat for two during pregnancy, you will end up overeating. This, in turn, might make your belly tight and stiff.
9. Constipation: Constipation is very common during pregnancy. It is not due to an unhealthy diet. It is because of the uterus pressing on the bowel. Moreover, the added release of progesterone in the body slows down the gastrointestinal tract and thus a pregnant woman may feel constipated. Constipation can make your stomach stiff and hard.
Treatment for Abdominal Tightening During Pregnancy
If your stomach feels tight and stiff during pregnancy, here is what you can do.
- If it’s a mild case of abdominal tightening, drink lots of water and fresh fruit juices to keep yourself hydrated.
- Sometimes, how you sit or stand decide the occurrence of Braxton-Hicks contractions. If you experience contractions while sitting or standing, try to change your position. Try putting your legs up or lying down.
- Don’t get up from a chair or bed too quickly. Take your time to do so.
- Consult your doctor and get yourself massaged well.
- Take a warm shower or a bath. You could also use hot water bags or heating pads.
These home remedial measures will relieve the stiffness in your belly. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant and notice symptoms of preterm labour like bleeding, increased pressure in the pelvis, or continuous fluid leakage from the vagina, contact your doctor immediately. Apart from these symptoms, you should also talk to your doctor if you have had 4-6 contractions in an hour.
When Should You Call a Doctor?
A hard belly during pregnancy could be because of numerous reasons. However, you should call the doctor if:
- The tightness in the belly during pregnancy becomes more intense and painful.
- You have a hard tummy during pregnancy and you experience breathing difficulties.
- If the tightness occurs more than four times in an hour.
1. How Can You Tell the Difference Between True Labour and Braxton- Hicks Contractions?
True labour or real labour contractions start after the 37th week (it can start early in case of preterm labour). The contractions come at regular intervals and with time, become very painful. There may also be other signs of labour like the leaking amniotic fluid (known as the breaking of water) and the release of mucus plug.
On the other hand, during Braxton-Hicks contractions, the time interval is large and irregular. They are also not as painful as real labour. The pain and contractions may reduce and even go away if you move or change your position.
Stomach tightening during pregnancy can be painful and scary but it’s part and parcel of most pregnancies. If you experience stomach tightening during pregnancy, try and understand the reason for it in the first place. However, if it lasts for a few days, consult your doctor.