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Anonymous Pregnant Woman Lying on a Bed

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Pregnancy is a weird ride. On top of all the feels about life changing forever, your body gets all strange and achy.

One unexpected symptom of pregnancy is stomach tightening. And we’re not just talking tight skin in the ninth month, when you feel like you’re about to pop.

Stomach tightening and ab clenching happen for several reasons, though the causes differ in each trimester. Here’s what’s up with that tight-stomach feeling during each chapter of your preggo journey.

In the first trimester, there are three reasons for stomach tightening: stretching, bloating, and (in rare cases) miscarriage.

Bloat happens

And sometimes it’s because No. 2 isn’t happening. Gas and constipation are common in early pregnancy, which can make your stomach feel hard and tight.

Being stopped up is no fun, but this, too, shall pass. Blame your changing hormones and maybe even your new prenatal pills — the iron in prenatal supplements makes your poo hard and painful to push out.

Growing pains

Your uterus is growing like cray. Sometimes the tissue and ligaments around it feel the strain. All that stretching can cause tightness, cramping, or even sharp jabs of pain on the sides of your belly.

Miscarriage warnings

Less commonly, stomach tightening in the first trimester can indicate a miscarriage. Miscarriages are most common before 12 weeks, though a tight stomach could be an indicator up until week 20.

Miscarriages have other warning signs, too, so ping your doctor ASAP if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • severe pain or cramps in your lower back
  • red or brown spots in your underwear
  • blood clots in your vaginal discharge

Some miscarriages happen without warning. First trimester miscarriages are usually caused by factors completely outside your control..

As your bump grows, you might feel tightening called round ligament pain. Basically, the ligaments around your uterus get stretched out like a rubber band.

As disturbing as it is to feel shooting sharp pains around your belly, round ligament pain is totally normal. You’re most likely to feel it when changing positions, like when bending over to zip up your boots or standing up after a long Netflix session.

Another possibility: You have an irritable uterus. Yep, that’s the technical term. Irritable uteruses (uteri?) do a little tighten-and-contract dance that doesn’t let up even when their owners take a nap or zen out with hot tea. They’re just… irritable. (How rude!)

And then there are the contractions you might start to notice in your second trimester. Don’t worry — you’re not going into labor! Mini contractions are called Braxton-Hicks, and they’re your body’s rehearsal for the real deal. Braxton-Hicks can be pretty uncomfortable, but they’re harmless.

Trying to nix the Hicks? Consider avoiding these triggers:

  • the big O (You’ll go from “oooh!” to “ouch!” in a hot second.)
  • dehydration
  • a full bladder

If you think your stomach tightness is something more than Braxton-Hicks or ligament pain, call your doctor. If you notice any of these symptoms, definitely mention them, because they could indicate preterm labor:

  • contractions getting stronger and more frequent
  • little gushes of clear liquid coming from your vag
  • bloody streaks in vaginal discharge

The Braxton-Hicks are comin’ in hot, and yes, you might be in danger of real labor. Stomach tightening during the third trimester is suuuper common, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

In fact, it’s a good idea to time the contractions and note the differences between false labor and “OMG, it’s really happening!”

Braxton-Hicks (aka “Chill, mama.”)Real labor (aka “Whoa, baby, it’s go time!”)
irregularly timed, usually lasting 30–60 secondsgetting stronger and closer together by the minute
“Ugh, this is uncomfortable.”“Maybe it’s ti — ooouch!!!”
Drinking water or lying down helps.Nothing helps. Your body has no chill.
no other labor signspaired with other labor signs:
• back cramps
• wet panties
• bloody discharge

You know your body best. Trust your gut and call your doctor if you think you might be in labor for real.

Stomach tightening is totally normal, but there are a few things you can do to make your bump chillax already.

  • Stay hydrated! Keep a bottle of water on hand and sip it regularly.
  • Switch positions. Sometimes lying down or sitting differently can help calm false labor.
  • Slow down. Don’t stand up too quickly or move too quickly.
  • Treat yourself. Prenatal massages can relax muscles and ligaments.
  • Get cozy. Warm baths, heating pads, and hot water bottles are your new besties.

If none of these tips relax your tight stomach, consider your odds of being in real live labor. It’s totally OK to call your doctor if you’re concerned. Safety first!

If you’re less than 36 weeks pregnant, signs of labor are even more worrisome. For the sake of your health and baby’s, get to a hospital ASAP if you have any of these symptoms before 36 weeks:

  • more than four to six contractions per hour
  • period-like cramps in your belly or back
  • leaking clear fluid or blood
  • sudden pressure in your pelvis
  • vomiting or diarrhea

Stomach tightening and Braxton-Hicks contractions are a normal part of many pregnancies. But if you ever feel like the tightness is a sign of something more — a miscarriage or premature labor — don’t hesitate to call the doc.

Though Braxton-Hicks contractions become more frequent in the third trimester, it’s also possible that the tightness in your belly means it’s the real deal. Call your doctor or head to the hospital if there’s any chance you’re in labor.