You’ve just hit your second trimester, and now you’re experiencing bizarre cramping pains in your hips and abdomen. You might almost think you’re experiencing period cramps if it weren’t for the fact that you’re, well, pregnant! What gives?
Chances are, the aches and cramps you’re experiencing are a classic pregnancy symptom: round ligament pain. If you have questions about this pregnancy symptom, you’ve come to the right place — we’ve gathered the research and have all of the answers to your questions right here.
What Is Round Ligament Pain?
Round ligament pain is severe pain near your hips, groin, and lower abdominal area that frequently occurs during the second trimester of pregnancy. Many women describe it as feeling like sharp pains or period cramps or sharp pulling or stabbing sensations.
Sometimes it only occurs on one side of the uterus, while other times, you might experience it on both sides. It can also be worsened by sudden movements, such as sneezing or when you change position in bed.
While round ligament pain isn’t exactly fun, it usually isn’t anything to worry about — it typically lasts for just a few seconds and will clear up after you give birth. It’s also very common: Between 10% and 30% of pregnant women will experience this symptom at some point during their pregnancy.
So what causes round ligament pain, and how can it be treated? Keep reading — we’ll walk you through all the answers.
What Causes Round Ligament Pain?
To explain what causes the unpleasant sensations of round ligament pain, let’s take a quick detour to Anatomy 101. Picture your uterus, located within the skeletal structure of your pelvis. Your uterus is supported in your pelvis by round ligaments, which are cord-like tendons that connect bone to bone.
During pregnancy, your uterus and pelvis need to drastically expand to make room for baby (and to eventually push that baby out into the world). In order to accomplish this, your body produces massive amounts of a hormone called relaxin during the first trimester.
Relaxin loosens and relaxes your ligaments, allowing them to stretch further to make room for baby. (Basically, you can thank relaxin for the fact that you need to upgrade even your stretchiest leggings to a maternity size.) Your round ligaments stretch the most.
This softening and stretching of ligaments might be necessary, but it can also be painful. It might pull on nearby nerves or add pressure to your joints. The added pressure and pulling on your nerves and joints are the cause of the pain you might feel in your lower belly, groin area, or pelvic region during the second trimester.
How Can I Treat Round Ligament Pain?
Round ligament pain is one of the many necessary evils of pregnancy — the only cure for it is decreased production of relaxin, which happens naturally after delivery. But that doesn’t mean that you have to put up with this until your due date. There are plenty of at-home remedies for pain relief while dealing with round ligament pain.
Round ligament pain is often triggered by sudden movements. So one of the best things you can do is train yourself to avoid sudden movements such as quickly bending over, lunging, or stretching too far. Some movements (such as sneezing) are unavoidable, but by practicing working on thoughtful movement, you may be able to cut down on some triggers of this pain.
Another way to manage the pain of this pregnancy symptom is with strategic stretching, such as through prenatal yoga. Prenatal yoga is specifically designed to target the myriad dull aches and pains you may experience during pregnancy without pushing your body too far, making it one of the best options for soothing round ligament pain.
The gentle stretches and light exercise of yoga can help strengthen your hip area, lower back, abdominal wall, and pelvic floor to help minimize pain in the area — yes, please! Time to throw on your comfiest joggers and get stretching.
Just be sure to seek out a certified yoga instructor, preferably one experienced in prenatal yoga, before signing up for a class. When it comes to pregnancy, it’s always best to let the experts take the lead!
OTC Pain Relievers
Your Ob/Gyn or primary healthcare provider may recommend that you try over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or Tylenol, to manage your round ligament pain.
These medications are generally considered to be pregnancy-safe. They can do wonders for pain relief when dealing with pregnancy symptoms such as joint and abdominal pain.
Compresses and Maternity Belts
Finally, your doctor may recommend strategies such as applying hot or cold compresses to the area, taking a warm bath, or using a maternity belt to address round ligament pain. Maternity belts can be especially useful by supporting your growing baby bump and relieving the pain and pressure on your joints from all of that added weight.
In fact, maternity belts have been shown to help with round ligament pain, sciatica pain, back pain, and hip pain during pregnancy. They’re super easy to use. Most of the time, they go right under your clothes, so you don’t even have to worry about them messing up your stylish maternity fits. Now that’s what we call a great solution!
When to Talk to Your Doctor
If you think you’re experiencing round ligament pain, you should talk to your doctor right away. They’ll be able to assess the situation, provide a diagnosis, and advise you on potential solutions.
You should also talk to your doctor if your pain gets worse or if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Chills or a fever
- Bleeding, or pain with urination
- Difficulty walking
These symptoms may be a sign that something more serious is going on than just round ligament pain. You should let your Ob/Gyn or other healthcare provider know right away if you’re experiencing them.
Other Causes of Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy
There are a number of reasons you might experience abdominal pain during pregnancy, and not all of them are round ligament pain. Other conditions may include:
- Bloating or constipation: these symptoms are a very normal part of pregnancy, thanks to changing hormone levels and fluid retention
- Symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD): aching or shooting pain right below your pubis, thanks to the work of our favorite hormone, relaxin
- Braxton-Hicks contractions: more common in the second trimester and toward the end of your pregnancy
- Sciatica pain: common in the second trimester; can occur anywhere along the sciatic nerve, from your lower back down to your thighs and calves.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Conditions unrelated to pregnancy, such as appendicitis
It’s possible that the stabbing pain you’re experiencing is round ligament pain, but it could be something else entirely — after all, there’s a lot happening south of your belly button these days! The best way to rule out other conditions and conclusively determine what’s going on is by talking to your Ob/Gyn or other healthcare provider.
Abdominal Pain and Pregnancy
Whatever the cause may be, experiencing any type of abdominal pain during pregnancy can be scary. Your lower abdomen and pelvis are where all the magic happens — it’s normal to be freaked out or overwhelmed by discomfort and pain down there!
It may help to remember what we talked about above. There are a lot of innocuous reasons for abdominal pain, and most of them can be fixed with at-home remedies or just through the passage of time.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious about your abdominal pain, definitely don’t hesitate to reach out to your Ob/Gyn, or another healthcare provider, for help. Also, don’t be afraid to rely on your friends and family for support. Pregnancy is a crazy time in life, and you absolutely deserve all of the love and support you can get.
You might want to consider using relaxation or self-care practices to help relieve stress related to your abdominal pain. Try meditation or journaling, soaking in a warm bath, or doing a relaxing hobby to keep the stress from seeping into other areas of your life and to get the relaxation you deserve.
Pregnancy might be an incredibly special time, but it can also be incredibly difficult, full of body and life changes and aches and pains you have little control over. Dealing with round ligament pain and other ailments of pregnancy is difficult, but just know that we here at HATCH fully believe you’ve got this in the (hospital) bag.
Your body is doing the hard and special work of growing a baby — and there are a lot of unwanted side effects that come along with that. Take a deep breath, surround yourself with your people, and remember: You’ve got this.