Abdominal Pain and Pregnancy: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on March 19, 2023
4 min read

Pregnancy is an exciting time, and your body is going through lots of changes. Unexpected symptoms or brand new discomfort can be worrying. Here’s a breakdown of the common and less-common causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy and when you should talk to your doctor about it. 

As your body goes through significant changes, sometimes you’ll feel uncomfortable. As your baby grows, you carry more weight in your belly, and your other organs are pushed out of the way. This can lead to some common causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy that are easily managed and will likely go away on their own:

Digestive problems. Your baby puts a lot of pressure on your stomach and intestines, especially in the second and third trimester. Digestive pain in your stomach may be anything from gas to bloating to constipation. If your pain seems to be linked to when you eat, then focus on drinking lots of water and adding more fiber to your diet.

Strained muscles. Most women gain anywhere from 25 to 35 pounds during their pregnancy to support their baby. This weight, combined with the effects of your hormones on your muscles and ligaments, can easily lead to strained muscles in your back, sides, and abdomen. Muscle strain pain generally feels tender and sore and stays in the area of the pulled muscle. 

Cramping. Just because you aren’t having periods while you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you won’t have cramps. Your uterus is stretching dramatically, and especially in your first and second semester, you may feel cramps as it adjusts. These cramps will feel like an aching or stabbing pain like menstrual cramps, but they will often be relieved by heat or go away on their own.

Braxton Hicks contractions. Your body will sometimes practice for true labor with Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as “false labor” pains. They are generally much milder than true labor, they are irregular, and they tend to start strong and then get weaker. Braxton Hicks contractions can be uncomfortable or painful, but they will stop on their own if you change position or move around.

Most causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy are nothing to worry about, but some causes of abdominal pain need medical care right away. If you suspect you may be facing one of the following problems, get medical assistance immediately.

Appendicitis. Appendicitis is an infection of your appendix, which can happen even during pregnancy and needs immediate treatment. Appendicitis causes: 

  • Pain on your right side 
  • Stomach pain near your belly button
  • Nausea
  • Lack of appetite 
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Fatigue

Gallstones. Your gallbladder helps you digest fatty foods. When you’re pregnant, hormones and your digestive system can affect your gallbladder, causing you to develop gallstones. These stones will cause:

  • Sharp, stabbing pain in your upper right side
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever

Gallstones may go away on their own, or they may require medical treatment. Talk to your doctor if you get any of these symptoms. 

Preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition that’s only found in pregnant people. Your body reacts to being pregnant by developing high blood pressure. Your blood pressure can get so high that it may damage your liver and kidneys. The best treatment for preeclampsia is delivering your baby.  

Signs of preeclampsia include:

  • Upper abdominal pain on the right side
  • Blurred vision
  • Severe headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea 
  • Urinating less

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor right away. 

Miscarriage. If you get severe pain on the right side of your lower stomach and spotting, you may be having a miscarriage. Anywhere from 10% to 20% of women have miscarriages after finding out that they’re pregnant. Once a miscarriage has begun, it cannot be stopped.

If you’re spotting, having red bleeding, or passing clots, then a miscarriage is possible. Talk to your doctor immediately. 

Minor causes of abdominal pain generally go away on their own after a little while, especially if treated with heat pads. But in some cases, pain is a sign of an emergency.

Reach out to your doctor immediately if you experience:

  • Constant or severe pain in your stomach or back
  • Pain that’s worse at night or when you’re lying down
  • Pain that has redness or swelling along with it
  • Painful urination
  • Contractions before 37 weeks, happening within 10 minutes
  • Noticeable decrease in the baby’s movement after 28 weeks
  • Vomiting and nausea or diarrhea
  • Extreme or constant headaches
  • Bleeding or leaking vaginal fluid
  • Fevers
  • Blurred vision

If you’re concerned about any symptom you have, contact your doctor for help.