Most women erroneously believe that lower abdominal pain during pregnancy indicates one of two events: a miscarriage or the beginning of labour. Not only does this mistaken assumption cause unnecessary anguish, but it ignores many other causes of lower abdominal pain during pregnancy. This type of pain can indeed be a sign of a miscarriage or labour, but it also could indicate minor side effects or other serious complications.
Types of Abdominal Pain
Lower abdominal pain during pregnancy ranges from occasional mild twinges to constant, severe, cramping pain. Although this pain is concentrated in the lower abdomen, it can extend to include other areas of your body, such as your upper abdomen and back, depending on the cause of the pain. Lower abdominal pain is not an illness itself; rather, it is an indication of an underlying problem.
Lower abdominal pain during the first half of your pregnancy could arise from a variety of pregnancy-specific causes, including implantation, miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy.
Implantation of the fertilised egg occurs approximately 10 to 14 days after conception and often is accompanied by mild, period-like cramps and vaginal spotting that last about 24 hours.
Miscarriage, the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks, is characterised by lower abdominal pain that ranges in strength from mild to sharp and often includes low back pain or pelvic pressure along with vaginal bleeding.
Ectopic pregnancies, which occur when the egg implants outside the uterus, typically become obvious by the seventh week of pregnancy and cause sharp abdominal pain that may extend to the shoulder or neck if the pregnancy ruptures.
Pain in the lower abdomen during the second half of pregnancy frequently occurs as a result of stretched ligaments, pregnancy complications, preterm labour or false labour.
The ligaments that support the uterus begin to stretch during pregnancy, usually beginning in the second trimester, causing a sharp pain or dull ache across your lower abdomen, especially when you change positions or cough.
Sudden strong abdominal pain before the 37th week may indicate preterm labour or pregnancy complications such as placental abruption (separation of the placenta from the uterus), especially when accompanied by vaginal bleeding or discharge.
If you experience contraction-like abdominal pain that comes and goes and doesn't get stronger over time, then you are most likely experiencing false labour contractions, known as Braxton-Hicks.
What to Do
As soon as you notice lower abdominal pain during pregnancy, sit or lie down: The pain will probably diminish. Before continuing with your daily activities, check to make sure you don't have other potentially serious symptoms, such as vaginal spotting or bleeding, back pain or nausea. Taking a warm shower or bath and drinking plenty of fluids frequently helps relieve mild abdominal pain.
When to Call Your Doctor
If you experience abdominal pain that doesn't show signs of lessening, contact your obstetrician or midwife for help: It could indicate a serious pregnancy problem or nonpregnancy related illnesses such as a kidney infection, appendicitis or a urinary tract infection. Other symptoms that require a call to your health care provider include cramps, vaginal discharge or bleeding, chills, a fever or faintness.