Are Stomach Pains Normal During Pregnancy?

Woman suffering from abdominal pain
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Minor stomach pain and cramps are common during pregnancy and are rarely a sign that anything is amiss. But if you have severe pain you should seek medical help immediately as it may be due to an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, placental abruption, or other serious problems. Learn what these symptoms indicate at different stages of pregnancy and when to see your doctor.

Stomach Pain and Discomfort

Nausea during pregnancy (morning sickness) is normal and usually nothing to be concerned about. Morning sickness can begin as early as the first week of pregnancy and extend into the fifth month of pregnancy. Symptoms of morning sickness include nausea and vomiting. Many women with morning sickness don't need medication; however, prescription medications are available that treat morning sickness like Zofran.

If you experience cramping or pain in the stomach (the organ that digests your food) this may be a sign of digestive issues but isn't likely to be a miscarriage symptom. Digestive problems are common during pregnancy, but mention the pains to your doctor and call right away if you have flu-like symptoms (mild fever, muscle aches, headache, and so forth) that go beyond your typical morning sickness. Pregnant women are prone to food poisoning and other infections in the GI tract. Some infections (such as Listeria) can cause complications for the baby even if they aren't especially dangerous for non-pregnant individuals, so it's good to be checked out if you suspect you might be sick.

General Abdominal Pain

If you are having general pain in the abdomen but not specifically in the stomach, it could be due to a benign cause or it could be of concern. Your abdomen is growing and your organs are shifting, so some dull pain and an occasional sharp jab are normal. The usual causes are:

  • Cramping may be felt due to the expansion of the uterus. It is usually not severe and subsides after a few minutes of rest.
  • Gas, bloating, or constipation is common due to the high levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy, which slows down digestion.
  • Round ligament pain may be felt in the second trimester as this ligament that runs from your uterus to your groin is stretched. This can be a sharp stabbing pain when you make a change in position or it can be a dull, achy pain.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions are often without pain, but some women have discomfort or pain associated with these "practice" contractions you may feel in the second and third trimester.

Abdominal Pain Associated With Miscarriage

If you are having painful cramps in your lower pelvic region or lower back, especially with vaginal bleeding, these symptoms could mean miscarriage and you should call your doctor. However, cramping can also occur during normal pregnancies. Thus, if you have no bleeding and the cramps are not particularly painful, it's probably fine to just mention it to your physician at the next visit.

The specific symptoms of miscarriage vary depending on the individual. Here are some common symptoms of miscarriage:

  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramping
  • Fever
  • Bleeding that becomes progressively heavier
  • Back pain

Please note that many pregnant women occasionally experience some of these symptoms and don't go on to have a miscarriage. Nevertheless, if you experience any of these symptoms, or are otherwise concerned, contact your OB-GYN immediately.

Severe Abdominal Pain

If you are having severe pain anywhere in your abdominal region during early pregnancy, go to the emergency room. You need to make sure that ectopic pregnancy is ruled out, as this can be life-threatening if not treated.

If you are later pregnancy and having abdominal pain, you also need to see a physician right away to rule out placental abruption and other such complications. In placental abruption, the placenta separates from the uterus after the 20th week of pregnancy and you may need close monitoring or early delivery of the baby. Abdominal cramps can also be a sign of preterm labor. In any case, don't delay in seeking treatment. Early treatment of complications can make a big difference.

Preeclampsia, which is a condition that includes high blood pressure and protein in the urine, also can have the symptom of upper abdominal pain. If this condition is not treated it can lead to multiple organ problems, eclampsia (a condition with seizures or coma), and poor fetal growth.

In addition to these pregnancy-related causes of severe abdominal pain, you could also be experiencing pains related to non-pregnancy conditions that need immediate treatment. Some of these happen more frequently during pregnancy, while others are coincidental. These include:

A Word From Verywell

Experiencing minor stomach or abdominal pain may be part of an uncomplicated pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about what you should expect and what should be treated as the sign of a problem, especially if you have a chronic condition or gastrointestinal condition.

View Article Sources
  • Abdominal Pain During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. http://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/abdominal-pain-during-pregnancy/.
  • Mehta ND, Chen KK, Monzon C, Rosene-Montella K. Chapter 223. Common Medical Problems in Pregnancy. In: McKean SC, Ross JJ, Dressler DD, Brotman DJ, Ginsberg JS. eds. Principles and Practice of Hospital Medicine. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2012.