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What’s the Deal With Stomach Tightening During Pregnancy?

Your body goes through a lot of changes in pregnancy, and a hard belly is very common. But when should you be concerned?
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By Dani Wolfe, Contributing Writer
Updated October 19, 2023
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Your body goes through about a million changes when you’re pregnant. (Hey, you’re creating a human being—rock on!) But when you feel your stomach tightening during pregnancy, it’s natural to be a bit concerned. It’ll likely happen on and off, and you might wonder: “Why is my pregnant belly sometimes hard and sometimes soft?” After all, it can feel pretty bizarre. Luckily, it’s usually nothing to worry about—but it’s good to keep in mind that there could be multiple reasons for it, depending on which trimester you’re in. Read on for everything you need to know about stomach tightening in pregnancy.

What Causes Stomach Tightening During Pregnancy?

So, what exactly causes stomach tightening during pregnancy? The answer could depend on which trimester you’re in.

Stomach tightening in the first trimester

Everything in the first trimester can feel new and exciting. But there’s also a feeling of nervousness as you start to experience some unfamiliar sensations in your body—such as stomach tightening. Here are some reasons you might feel your stomach tightening in the first trimester, according to Shelly Chvotzkin, DO, an ob-gyn in Sarasota, Florida.

  • Your uterus is expanding. As baby grows, your uterus stretches to accommodate them.
  • Constipation, gas and bloating. Hormonal shifts in pregnancy influence digestion and are known to cause constipation, gas and bloating, says Chvotzkin. Add the extra pressure from your growing uterus, and it can start to feel uncomfortable in there.
  • Potential miscarriage. Stomach tightening by itself is not a definitive sign of miscarriage. But it’s always best to check in with your doctor, especially if the tightening starts to get painful and you experience other symptoms of miscarriage, such as heavy bleeding.

Stomach tightening in the second trimester

As your bump grows in the second trimester, you might notice more stomach tightening. Here are the possible reasons, according to Chvotzkin.

  • Round ligament pain. As your uterus grows, the ligaments supporting it, called round ligaments, will stretch. This can result in a dull pulling sensation on the pelvis. Sometimes this can also feel like stomach tightening.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions. These false-alarm contractions typically start in the second or third trimester and are the most common reason for stomach tightening in pregnancy, according to Chvotzkin.
  • Where baby is positioned. Depending on where baby is positioned at the moment, you could feel a bit more tightness in your stomach. This is because baby changes positions, which can push on a new area of your uterus or nearby organs.
  • Preterm labor. Stomach tightening alone is not a sign of preterm labor. But if you’re feeling tightness along with worsening pain, it’s best to play it safe and give your doctor a call.

Stomach tightening in the third trimester

The countdown to meeting your bundle of joy has begun! In the final stretch of pregnancy, baby is growing rapidly and so are you—and stomach tightening is very common. Here are some possible reasons, according to Chvotzkin.

  • Round ligament pain. This sensation can become more intense as your uterus continues to expand.
  • Braxton Hicks contractions. Just as in the second trimester, Braxton Hicks contractions can be a reason for stomach tightness in the third trimester. Your body is practicing for labor—it’s completely normal!
  • Your wiggly baby. Wiggle room in the uterus is getting sparse by the third trimester. So when baby changes position, you’ll feel it more intensely. This can be a reason for stomach tightness.
  • Labor. Late in the third trimester, labor contractions can cause the feeling of stomach tightening. The uterus will contract much stronger than during Braxton Hicks contractions, and you’ll experience other signs of labor too. If the tightening is getting stronger or more powerful over time, it doesn’t resolve on its own and it continues to happen in a consistent pattern (or more frequently as time progresses), it might be showtime! If you think you’re going into labor, contact your provider right away for next steps.

When Does Your Stomach Get Hard During Pregnancy?

The typical stomach hardness during pregnancy generally occurs in the second and early third trimester as your uterus expands, shifts and prepares for labor.

Related Video

When to See Your Doctor About Stomach Tightening During Pregnancy

While stomach tightening in pregnancy is generally considered normal, in some cases it’s best to seek medical attention. According to Ellen Smead, CNM, a certified nurse-midwife at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta, Georgia, there are a few instances when you should reach out to your provider immediately:

  • Your stomach tightening is getting more intense over time
  • You’re experiencing back pain with stomach tightening
  • Your stomach tightening is happening every five or six minutes, and you’re preterm (before 37 weeks)

Playing it safe is always best when it comes to your well-being and baby’s health. If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, call your doctor. “OB providers are there for you, so don’t hesitate if you’re worried,” says Smead.

But if you’re worried that stomach tightening could hurt baby, you can rest assured that the most they’ll feel is a soft, big hug around them. “The uterus is a thick, walled muscle protecting baby,” says Smead.

How to Deal If Your Pregnant Belly Feels Tight and Heavy

If you’re craving relief from stomach tightening during pregnancy, Smead says there are quite a few things you can do:

  • Change positions. If you’re sitting, try standing. If you’re laying down, try rolling over to a different side. Getting your uterus to move around will normally get stomach tightening to subside.
  • Drink water. According to the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Braxton Hicks contractions, which are a very common reason for stomach tightening, are often caused by dehydration. So drinking a glass of water can help.
  • Walk around the room. When you feel your stomach tightening, get up and start moving around. Getting your body moving can help get rid of that uncomfortable tightening sensation.
  • Put your feet up. If you’re experiencing uncomfortable stomach tightening, take a seat and put your feet up on a chair. This can help relieve the unpleasant feeling.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Shelly Chvotzkin, DO, is an ob-gyn with over 20 years of experience based in Sarasota, Florida. She helps patients, including parents, find answers about their family’s health through JustAnswer.com. She earned her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Ellen Smead, CNM, is a certified nurse-midwife at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from Emory University in 2011 and is an advanced practice midwife with the American Midwifery Certification Board.

American Pregnancy Association, Constipation in Pregnancy

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, False Alarm: Braxton Hicks Contractions vs. True Labor, July 2016

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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