cramps in pregnancy

Stomach Tightening During Pregnancy: When To Consult A Doctor?

Pregnancy is a wonderful time in the life of a woman. It is filled with pleasant and unpleasant experiences that lead to a different impact on the physical and emotional state of a woman. One of these experiences is aches, and pains that are linked to the tightening of the stomach/abdomen.

Many women experience this issue in different semesters of their pregnancy. It starts in the first trimester with the expansion of the uterus. As the pregnancy advances, it can be an indication of miscarriage, premature labor, impending labor or just a normal contraction. In this article, we will look at the causes of this condition and when to seek medical assistance.

Reasons For Stomach Tightening in the First Trimester

Growth of uterus: Stomach tightening starts in the first trimester with the growth of the uterus. It starts to stretch itself to accommodate the baby. So, enlargement of the uterus is one of the reasons why you may feel a tightening sensation in your stomach. In this condition, due to lengthening and stretching of ligaments, and tissues, a woman faces intense pain throughout the abdomen.

Gas: Another reason for stomach tightening is the build-up of gas in the stomach. It is a common problem in pregnant women and leads to shooting pain in the abdomen. Changes in the level of pregnancy hormones are attributed to the buildup of this condition. It reduces the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract and slows down the digestion. This leads to constipation and the formation of gas in the stomach. Besides changes in pregnancy hormones, the intake of prenatal vitamins, and iron supplements can also contribute to this issue.

Is it an indication of Miscarriage?

Painful abdomen/stomach tightening can be a sign of miscarriage. This condition is defined as a loss of pregnancy before week 12. In such a case, a woman can experience symptoms along with abdominal pain.

  • Cramps in the abdomen
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Bleeding or spotting
  • The passing of tissue, or fluid from the vagina

If you experience the above signs, then you should seek the immediate assistance of your doctor.

Second Trimester

In this period, you feel cramps and severe pain on the sides of the uterus. Such condition is referred to as round ligament pain. These ligaments are present on the left and right sides of the uterus. They serve as a connecting link between the uterus and the groin region.

A majority of pregnant woman feels that their uterus begins to contract and tighten between 14 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. These contractions are called Braxton-Hicks contractions, or practice contractions. Such contractions happen to tone uterus muscles, encourage blood flow to the placenta and prepare it for the delivery.
If you find below signs then you need to rush to the doctor.

  • You experience strong and powerful contractions
  • Contractions are not calmed by either drinking water or rest
  • You find fluid passing through the vagina
  • You also notice vaginal bleeding

Your doctor will evaluate such symptoms to figure out complications or preterm delivery.

Third trimester

You feel intense cramps and tightening sensations in the stomach during this trimester. As the uterus is preparing for delivery, the contractions become increasingly strong. It causes more pain to the woman especially in the last few days of pregnancy. At this critical stage, a woman should talk to the doctor about her observation. These contractions may come off as a mild cramp but eventually, get stronger. It may be an indication of a true labor contraction. Such type of contractions gains strength over time.

When to consult a doctor?

If you are less than thirty-six weeks pregnant and notice more than four contractions in one hour, then tightening and cramps in the stomach can be an indication of preterm labor. Watch out for a few more signs that include

  • Bleeding
  • Leakage of fluid
  • Pressure in the vagina, or pelvis

If you notice these signs, then it is best to urgently contact your doctor.

Things you can do at home to get relief from stomach tightening:

Follow the below tips when the cramps and pains are mild and irregular:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water
  • Change your body position to get relief
  • Do not get up from sitting or sleeping position quickly
  • Get a massage to relax your muscles
  • Use a heating pad, or a warm shower to feel reduce the pain
  • Drink a cup of warm milk to feel relaxed

Also read: What Do Labor Contractions Feel Like?


Stomach tightening is experienced during different phases of pregnancy due to various reasons. It is important to understand its causes and warning signs to prevent any medical urgency. Though many instances of stomach tightening are attributed to false labor contractions, or Braxton-Hicks contractions, there is a slight chance of real labor too. Getting timely medical assistance will help in the safe delivery of the baby.

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