Your pregnancy and baby guide

Stomach pain in pregnancy

Stomach (abdominal) pains or cramps are common in pregnancy. They're usually nothing to worry about, but they can sometimes be a sign of something more serious that needs to be checked.

It's probably nothing to worry about if the pain is mild and goes away when you change position, have a rest, do a poo or pass wind. But if you have stomach pains and are worried, call your midwife or maternity hospital.

Harmless stomach pains, which can be dull or sharp, may be caused by:

  • ligament pain (often called "growing pains" as the ligaments stretch to support your growing bump) – this can feel like a sharp cramp on one side of your lower tummy
  • constipation – which is common in pregnancy (find out how to avoid constipation)
  • trapped wind

Call your midwife immediately if you have stomach pain and:

  • bleeding or spotting
  • regular cramping or tightenings
  • vaginal discharge that's unusual for you
  • lower back pain
  • pain or burning when you pee
  • the pain is severe or doesn't go away after you've rested for 30 to 60 minutes

Any of these could be the symptoms of something that needs to be checked or treated urgently.

Conditions that can cause stomach pain and need to be checked urgently include:

Ectopic pregnancy

This is when a fertilised egg implants outside the womb, for example in a fallopian tube. The pregnancy can't survive and needs to be removed with medicine or surgery.

Symptoms typically appear between 4 and 12 weeks of pregnancy and can include:

  • tummy pain and bleeding
  • pain in the tip of your shoulder
  • discomfort when pooing or peeing

Find out more about ectopic pregnancy.

Miscarriage

Cramping pains and bleeding before 24 weeks of pregnancy can sometimes be a sign of miscarriage or threatened miscarriage (when you bleed but the pregnancy normally continues).

Pre-eclampsia

Pain just under the ribs is common in later pregnancy due to the growing baby and uterus pushing up under the ribs.

But if this pain is bad or persistent, particularly on the right side, it can be a sign of pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure in pregnancy) which affects some pregnant women. It usually starts after 20 weeks or just after the baby is born.

Other symptoms of pre-eclampsia include:

  • severe headache
  • vision problems
  • swollen feet, hands and face

You'll need to be monitored in hospital.

Find out more about pre-eclampsia.

Premature labour

If you're less than 37 weeks pregnant and are having regular abdominal cramps or tightenings, call your midwife.

This could be a sign of premature labour, and you'll need to be monitored in hospital.

Placental abruption

This is when the placenta starts to come away from the wall of the womb, usually causing bleeding and constant severe pain that doesn't come and go like a contraction pain.

It's sometimes an emergency because it means the placenta may not be able to support your baby properly.

You should go to the hospital so you and your baby can be checked.

Find out more about placental abruption

UTI (urinary tract infection)

UTIs are common in pregnant woman and can usually be easily treated. They can cause tummy pain and sometimes, but not always, pain when you pee.

Find out more about UTIs.

Page last reviewed: 01/05/2018
Next review due: 01/05/2021