It is no secret that women experience quite a few physical changes during pregnancy. After all, the woman's body during pregnancy has to shift and change and endure quite a bit in order to grow and support human life. These changes can be both exciting and scary, pleasant and painful. One of the more uncomfortable physical sensations you may experience during your pregnancy is pelvic pain.
While many types of aches and pains are normal during pregnancy, if you’re pregnant and feeling pressure in your pelvis, it may worry you, especially when it is on the severe side as pelvic pain can tend to be. So in the interest of providing you as much information as possible and calming your fears, here is a guide to pelvic pain during pregnancy, covering what it is, its causes and symptoms, how to relieve it, and more.
What is Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy?
The pelvis or groin refers to the lower half of the torso, approximately including the lower stomach and down to the upper thighs, where your abdomen ends and your legs begin. Anatomically speaking, the pelvis comprises a few different bones, including the ilium (hip bones), sacrum (lower spinal area), coccyx (tailbone), and pubic bones.
As you can imagine, this area is one of the parts of your body that will change most throughout your pregnancy, as this is where your uterus is located. Your pelvis has a big role to play to allow for your body to grow a baby, including supporting the baby’s weight and physically separating in order to allow the baby to pass through your birth canal.
With this and all of the resulting stretching of the pelvic muscles, ligaments, and skin, it’s not unusual for women to feel some pretty unusual and uncomfortable sensations during pregnancy in their pelvis. This can include:
- Feeling pressure in uterus early pregnancy
- Pressure in groin area during pregnancy
- Pressure on hips during pregnancy
- Ligament pain during pregnancy
- Back pain
- Radiating pain
- Sharp, stabbing pain
- A stretching sensation
Uncomfortable as it may be, most of the time this is completely normal and no cause for concern.
When Does Pelvic Pain Occur During Pregnancy?
Most often, pelvic pain will occur toward the middle and end of your pregnancy as your baby grows larger and your body changes the most in preparation for labour. Pelvic pain can start in the second semester and grow more intense in the third. However, some women also experience pelvic pain in their first semester, although this is less common. If you do experience severe abdominal pain in your first trimester, you should speak to your doctor, as this is often a symptom of miscarriage.
What Causes Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy?
Because there is so much going on in your pelvic area during your pregnancy, there are a lot of various things that could potentially be causing you to feel pelvic pain. These include the following.
If you experience what feels like pressure pains in pregnancy, it may very well be caused by just that: pressure. After all, your baby’s entire weight - potentially up to three or even four kilos toward the end of pregnancy - is pressing down on you, causing some pretty serious pressure on uterus during pregnancy.
If this is the cause of your pelvic pain, you’re most likely to feel the pressure in pelvis while pregnant as you stand and walk around. Conversely, pressure on pelvis while pregnant tends to be a little bit less intense when you lie down.
Round Ligament Pain
As we mentioned above, the muscles and ligaments of your pelvic region tend to stretch as your pregnancy progresses. One particular ligament that can cause some particularly uncomfortable feelings is the round ligament, which supports the uterus by connecting the front of the uterus to the groin region. Caused by the round ligament’s stretching during pregnancy, round ligament pain is one of the most common types of pelvic pain during pregnancy, affecting between 10 and 30 percent of pregnant women.
Often, round ligament pain is exacerbated by movement and feels like a deep, sharp, stabbing or stretching sensation. Sometimes, it can be triggered by taking a step forward or rolling over in bed. While many women experience round ligament pain on their right side, it’s not unusual to feel left side round ligament pain. Thankfully, round ligament pregnancy pains usually subside around the 24 week mark, though they do tend to be worse with the second, third, or subsequent pregnancies.
It’s worth noting that while round ligament pain left side is uncommon but does happen, if you think you’re experiencing round ligament pain in back, it’s most likely that it’s just typical pregnancy lower back pains not associated with the round ligament.
Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction
Another possible cause of groin pain during pregnancy third trimester is Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, also called SPD or pelvic girdle pain (PGP). While it’s not serious enough to harm your baby, SPD can be debilitatingly painful, sometimes leading to immobility. It is said to affect up to 1 in 5 pregnant women.
SPD is caused by your pelvic joints being stiff or uneven and can occur at both the front and back of the pelvis. It’s believed that SPD is a side effect of the hormones like relaxin that your body releases toward the end of your pregnancy to help loosen up your body enough to give birth. When these hormones are let loose in your body too early, it can lead to uncomfortable hypermobility, instability, and lack of balance which leads to discomfort and pain, especially in the symphysis pubis joint in the front of your pelvis.
SPD tends to worsen as pregnancy progresses and is often made worse by activities such as walking, using stairs, putting your weight on one leg, turning over in your bed, or spreading your legs wide like when you get out of a car. Most women feel SPD pain in the front centre of their pubic bone, lower back on one or both sides, and the perineum (the area between the anus and vagina).
Braxton Hicks Contractions
To help prepare you for labour, pregnant women’s bodies often do something of a “practise run,” namely a little thing called Braxton Hicks contractions, which can start happening from around 20 weeks onward. It can be quite confusing because it feels, well, like contractions, but occurring only in the front of your body. In contrast, real contractions start in the back and move to the front.
Unlike real contractions, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t actually signify that you’re going into labour, and you can typically scare them off by changing positions. Some common triggers for Braxton Hicks Contractions include having a full bladder and being dehydrated, so taking a wee and having a glass of water can also help.
Symptoms of Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
While pelvic pain during pregnancy is different from mother to mother, especially as there are so many different potential causes, there are some symptoms that tend to recur, including:
- Intense, sudden spasms in your abdomen or hip area.
- Pain on the right side.
- Pain triggered or made worse by activities such as coughing or sneezing, laughing, turning over in your bed, standing up too fast, or other sudden movements
(Note that all of the above are most commonly round ligament pain symptoms.)
Additional pelvic pain symptoms include:
- Cramping similar to menstrual cramps
- Groin discomfort
- Low back pain that may radiate into the abdomen, groin area, thigh, and/or leg
- Shooting pain in the lower pelvis area
- Hearing or feeling a snapping, clicking, or grinding in the lower pelvis area
- Pain during sex
- Electric shock-like sensations in the vagina or groin area
Learn more: 6 Ways to Relieve Back Pain During Pregnancy.
How to Relieve Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
Naturally, if you’re experiencing pelvic pain during pregnancy, especially if it is on the severe side, you may be wondering what steps you can take to help relieve the pain. Thankfully, there are a few different options that you can consider that may make you feel better.
Use a Pregnancy Support Belt
If your pelvic pain is caused by the pressure of your baby’s weight on your groin, it can be incredibly helpful to get pregnancy belly support in the form of a dedicated pregnancy support belt. Completely safe to wear for you and your baby, the best pregnancy support belt can ease your pain by lifting the weight of your baby, relieving the pressure on your joints, ligaments, and bones. This way, you’ll be much more comfortable doing day to day activities such as walking and exercising. It will also correct your posture and stabilize your abdomen, keeping your body aligned properly throughout your pregnancy.
Use a Pregnancy Pillow
Another useful tool that can help relieve some of your pelvic pain is the pregnancy pillow, especially if you like to sleep on your side. Without a pillow between your legs, sleeping on your side can drag your hip down, causing pelvic discomfort. A pregnancy pillow, or even just putting a regular pillow between your legs, can relieve pressure on your pelvis by propping up your knees and keeping your hips parallel to each other.
One form of round ligament pain treatment, in particular, is to lay down on the side that is bothering you most. Lying down should also relieve pelvic pressure. On the other hand, if laying down and switching positions aggravates your pain, it may be a sign that you’re dealing with Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction.
Go to a Chiropractor or Massage Therapist
Seeing a professional like a chiropractor or massage therapist trained in helping pregnant women can be a tremendous help as these people can offer treatments such as pregnancy massage that can be a huge relief. Osteopathy, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and physiotherapy are some more options you may also want to consider.
Exercising during your pregnancy has a double utility: not only can it relieve pelvic pain, but it can also prevent it from happening in the first place. A great way to relieve round ligament pain in particular, gentle stretching, water aerobics, prenatal yoga, pelvic tilts, and Kegels are all a fantastic way to strengthen your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to help your body withstand the demands of pregnancy.
Learn more: Benefits of working out while pregnant.
Take a Warm Bath
While it isn’t a good idea to take a hot bath, taking a warm bath can have a very soothing effect, helping to relax your muscles and relieve some of the pressure from your pelvis. As long as the temperature of the water is not above 40 degrees, your baby will just be fine - and you’ll be blissfully relaxed. Another option is to take a shower and let the water hit your back.
Generally speaking, the more you can rest and relax, the better. Don’t hesitate to lie down or take a bath in the middle of the day if you need to. Enlist your partner and/or loved ones to help you around the house with daily chores, especially those that aggravate your pelvic pain.
Sit Down to Get Dressed
Because standing on one leg and spreading your legs wide apart are both capable of making your pelvic pain worse, it’s a good idea to sit down when you get dressed, especially when doing an activity such as putting on pants.
What to Avoid Doing When You Have Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy
There are certain things that it is best to avoid doing when your experience pelvic pain during pregnancy, as they can make the pain more intense or frequent. These include:
- Wearing high heels or otherwise uncomfortable or unsupportive shoes
- Engaging in high impact or strenuous activities
- Taking triggering positions such as those that require you to open your legs wide like getting out of a car. Be especially careful when getting dressed, turning over in bed, and engaging in pushing or pulling motions.
- Standing for extended stretches of time
- Using a heating pad or a hot tub, which may not be safe for your pregnancy
- Taking pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen, which carry a bleeding risk. Tylenol is generally considered to be safe for pregnant women, though you may want to confirm with your doctor before taking it.
- Using muscle rub treatments, which often have ingredients like aspirin and ibuprofen that can be absorbed through the skin.
- Doing sharp, quick movements, turns at the waist, twisting, and bending
- Lifting heavy weights
- Climbing up stairs quickly or taking more than one step at a time
- Sitting on the floor
- Carrying a child on one hip or carrying things with only one hand
- Tossing and turning in bed
- Standing on one leg
- Crossing your legs
Is Pelvic Pain During Pregnancy Dangerous?
While pelvic pain during pregnancy is certainly uncomfortable, you may find yourself wondering if it can also be dangerous for you or your baby. The good news is that pelvic pain caused by pelvic pressure, round ligament stretching, Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction, and/or Braxton Hicks contractions are all more of a hassle and a nuisance than they are a real medical concern that could potentially cause harm. Of course, if you feel that something is wrong or want a professional medical opinion on your specific case, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor.
When to See a Doctor
In particular, if your pelvic pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor:
- Round ligament pain all day that gets worse
- Extreme round ligament pain
- Severe pelvic pain during the first semester
- Fever and/or chills
- Severe headache
- Swelling of the face, hands, or feet that comes on suddenly
- Nausea and/or vomiting that does not subside
- Watery, greenish, or bloody discharge
- More than four contractions in an hour for two hours
- Chest pain
If you have pelvic pain, we hope it will at least relieve you a bit to know that is is a very normal experience for expecting mums. After all, your body is rapidly changing, growing, stretching, and shifting to accommodate your baby. Some aches, pains, and discomfort are par for the course. But just like all of the other challenges that come with pregnancy, you’ll get through it. You’ve got this, mama.
Have more questions about pregnancy, postpartum, or breastfeeding? Ask Lola&Lykke Experts, free of charge.