Of all the pregnancy afflictions and discomforts, lightning crotch might be the most surprising. And while it’s not exactly a clinical diagnosis, you’ll know exactly what lightning crotch is when it hits you. That signature sharp, stabbing zap down by your vagina will wake you right up, but it’s likely to go away just as quickly as it came (not that this truth makes it any less unpleasant). So what causes lightning crotch—and why doesn’t it have a more official medical name? Read on to see what experts have to say about lightning crotch in pregnancy.
Lots of different aches and pains come with the territory of being pregnant, but there’s no mistaking lightning crotch. Still, those who haven’t experienced the physical phenomenon might be wondering: What does lightning crotch feel like? It’s essentially “a sudden jolt of sharp pain that goes down the vagina and comes and goes quickly,” explains Sara Church, CNM, a certified nurse-midwife at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. “It’s not something we talked or learned about in midwifery school… and it wasn’t until I was pregnant myself that all of a sudden I experienced it and was like, ‘Oh! This is what patients have been asking me about!’”
So is lightning crotch normal? The short answer is yes; it’s also common. “I’ve seen estimates showing that as [many] as one-third of pregnant women experience it. But I’d say that up to half of pregnant women at some point have experienced it,” says Berry Campbell, MD, a maternal-fetal specialist at Prisma Health in Columbia, South Carolina.
No one knows exactly why lightning crotch happens, which is probably the reason it doesn’t have a more official medical name. “It’s not a disease; it’s not a pathology. It’s more of a symptom or sensation or feeling that can happen and will completely resolve once the baby is born,” says Abigail Morrissey Riordan, RN, BSN, a registered nurse and coach at Pregnancy by Design, an educational resource offering online courses.
Lightning crotch pain is most likely a result of some nerve compression or stimulation in your pelvic muscles that happens as baby and your uterus get heavier, explains Riordan. It tends to occur when baby’s head starts to press down harder on your cervix and the tendons and ligaments around it. “An analogy is when you hit your funny bone; you’re hitting a nerve in your elbow, and it sends that tingling sharp pain—this is the same kind of thing,” says Campbell.
The good news: While the pain can stop you in your tracks, it doesn’t indicate that anything is wrong with you or baby. And you can rest assured that it doesn’t mean you’ll be going into preterm labor, says Church.
Lightning crotch typically occurs in the third trimester, and it can be intense—even excruciating. Fortunately, lightning crotch typically doesn’t occur continuously throughout the day; rather, most women experience random episodes over the last eight to 10 weeks of pregnancy, notes Campbell. He adds that it’s sort of similar to round ligament pain, which is more likely to occur in the first 30 weeks of pregnancy, and radiates in a more lateral way as your uterus grows.
Is lightning crotch a sign of labor?
Though it typically occurs in the final two or three months of pregnancy, lightning crotch is not an indication that labor is about to start. It’s more likely related to baby’s head getting lower, as your little one assumes position for labor and delivery. With all that pressure, you might be wondering: Can lightning crotch break your water? Don’t worry, lightning crotch isn’t associated with rupturing membranes. And while it’s natural to assume any type of pain that occurs late in pregnancy means labor is kicking into gear, unlike labor contractions, lightning crotch doesn’t keep coming and going. “Labor pains are rhythmic—they come and go,” says Campbell. “[Lightning crotch] is sharp, acute and immediately goes away.”
There’s no tried-and-true way to definitively prevent lightning crotch in pregnancy, but Church says the things that generally help you cope with other pregnancy discomforts may reduce lightning crotch pain: staying active with light exercise, drinking lots of water, eating nutritiously, etc.
For women experiencing frequent bouts of lightning crotch, there are a few things that may alleviate compressed or stimulated nerves and joints:
- Shift your position when you feel pain. Jolts of lightning crotch can throw you off balance, so be sure to stop and reset your stance, advises Campbell.
- Check your posture. Your balance and posture change when you’re pregnant. “Engage your abdominal muscles when you’re standing and make sure your lower back isn’t tipping forward,” advises Riordan.
- Wear a belly support band. Riordan recommends these helpful bands, as they provide a little extra postural support and some light compression.
- Try a form of bodywork. Pelvic floor strengthening exercises and certain yoga poses may help shift baby and take the pressure off your pelvis and joints. Riordan says that prenatal massage or a chiropractic adjustment might work too. Just be sure to get the green light from your OB or midwife, and ask them to recommend practitioners who are specifically trained to work with pregnant people.
- Go for a swim or soak. Water helps your body relax and can relieve pressure at your joints and ligaments, so try swimming or relaxing in the tub may help, suggests Riordan.
You shouldn’t have constant lightning crotch; rather, it should come and go away quickly on its own, says Church. But if the pain is pervasive or gets more severe, you’re feeling crampy, you start to bleed or notice a vaginal discharge, or if you’re dizzy or have a fever, call your doctor or midwife right away.
Once baby is born, lightning crotch won’t stick around. “The pain will resolve when baby’s head is no longer pounding on your pelvis,” said Riordan. If you’re having pelvic pain postpartum, it’s likely to be an issue with your pubic joint or pain from something else, adds Church. Always follow up with your doctor if something doesn’t feel right.
“Lightning crotch is really surprising; it’s a call to connect with your body and feel your feet on the earth, feel your belly, take a deep breath and remain calm,” says Riordan. It’s certainly not enjoyable—in fact, it can be downright painful. The important thing to remember is that it’s not a signal that anything is wrong. The storm will pass.
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.
Berry Campbell, MD, is a maternal-fetal specialist at Prisma Health in Columbia, South Carolina, and the chair of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, where he also earned his medical degree.
Sara Church, CNM, is a certified nurse-midwife at Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut. She earned her nursing degree from the Columbia University School of Nursing in New York City.
Abigail Morrissey Riordan, RN, BSN, is a registered nurse and coach at Pregnancy By Design.
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