There are so many wonderful things expecting parents should be excited about in pregnancy, the obvious being that you are nurturing and growing your little forever bestie inside you… But there can also be many things that come with pregnancy that are less than joyful, one of which is if you experience round ligament pain during pregnancy – a common complaint for many women.
As your uterus expands to support your growing baby, your ligaments are also stretching — which can cause pain and discomfort. This typically occurs during the second trimester, but some women may experience round ligament pain as early as the first trimester. It is very common and is generally no cause for concern — as uncomfortable as it may be.
What are round ligaments?
Round ligaments are a pair of ligaments that support and hold your uterus in place. They run from the groin right up the sides of the abdomen and connect to the front of your uterus. As your belly and uterus expand as your baby grows, the ligaments will also stretch and grow to support the added weight.
What causes round ligament pain?
As the ligaments stretch thanks to your growing uterus, they go from being short and round to long and tight — and this extra pressure can cause them to strain and become tense, causing pain and discomfort. The first time you feel round ligament pain, it can be disconcerting. However, it is generally nothing to worry about and 10-30% of women will experience it at some point in their pregnancy.
Round ligaments move and contract with your body, but when they are stretched and taut during pregnancy, sudden or overextended movements can cause them to contract too quickly, which causes sharp pain or dull aches. It can also be caused by irritation to the nearby nerve endings.
Some forms of physical activity can trigger round ligament pain so you should avoid anything that becomes a trigger for you.
Other things that can trigger or cause the onset of round ligament pain include:
Sneezing or coughing
Rolling over in bed
Standing up or sitting down too fast
Sudden movements or changing direction
What does round ligament pain feel like?
Most commonly, round ligament pain will feel like a sharp pain or jab on one or both sides of the lower abdomen or groin area. However, some women may experience it as more of a dull ache.
When does round ligament pain start?
Round ligament pain can begin in early pregnancy, however, it typically occurs during the second trimester from around week 14 and may continue throughout the duration of your pregnancy.
How long does pregnancy ligament pain last?
The pain is usually temporary and should subside after a few seconds or minutes at most. However, for many women, it can continue intermittently, especially if you are walking or being active and aggravating the ligaments.
Overall, the pain can continue throughout the duration of your pregnancy but it should end once you have delivered your baby. As your body begins to contract and your uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size, so too will your round ligaments as they have less pressure on them.
What are the symptoms of round ligament pain?
All pregnant women will experience round ligament pain to differing degrees. Some women may go through pregnancy not noticing any discomfort, whereas others will experience severe pain to the point where they need to seek medical advice.
The most obvious symptoms of round ligament pain during pregnancy are intense pain or spasms in your abdomen, groin, or hip area. The pain usually occurs on the right-hand side but some will experience it on the left side also.
What should pregnant women do when round ligament pain occurs?
You are most likely to experience round ligament pain when you are moving or being active, so taking care to move slowly and carefully is important.
You should avoid doing any vigorous exercise or specific types that you know are going to cause discomfort. Try to also avoid sudden movements if you can (which could be tricky if you’ve already got a child keeping you on your toes!).
When you’re pregnant, you need to take extra care when doing things you once did with ease, even something as simple as rolling over in bed or getting up out of bed can become difficult on your changing body. So being mindful to do these things slowly can make a big difference.
Getting lots of rest will help keep the pain at bay, however, some other things that may help include:
Gentle stretching exercises
Prenatal Yoga or Pilates
Bracing your body before a sneeze, cough, or laugh
Apply warmth or a heat pack/heating pad
Avoid standing for long periods
A maternity belt with abdominal support can also be helpful to take the pressure off your growing bump. These are also great at helping with lower back pain as well as sciatica and hip pain.
Kimmy Smith of the Empowered Motherhood Project wants to ensure mothers-to-be aren’t afraid of exercise during pregnancy, but also want to make sure they’re being careful and getting the most out of it and avoiding anything that can cause pain or discomfort or affect the baby in any way.
“When you’re pregnant, you’re not injured or sick, but you do have special needs,” says Kimmy. “We don’t want to wrap ourselves in cotton wool — pregnancy and carrying that baby is really physically demanding.”
She explains, “So we want to prepare for that with strength, pelvic floor, and core exercises — Yoga and Pilates. But we want to avoid crunchy movements, anything that sort of compresses the uterus or anything that twists.”
When should I see a healthcare provider about round ligament pain?
Typically, there is no diagnosis as such. However, if you are experiencing intense pain or the pain doesn’t subside after a few moments, or you are experiencing other symptoms, or you are concerned in any way — then you should always speak with your healthcare provider such as a doctor or midwife.
Your healthcare provider will ask you a series of questions and might perform a physical examination to ensure there are no other causes for your pain outside of round ligament pain.
Round ligament pain on its own is not a major cause for concern. While momentarily painful or uncomfortable, it should generally subside quickly. Once you can recognise the pain and what caused it for you, you can take precautions to ensure it doesn’t occur again.
Abdominal pain can also be a symptom of other conditions, whether you’re pregnant or not. Seek medical attention right away if you have abdominal pain and other symptoms, such as:
Contractions, which could mean the baby is coming.
Nausea or vomiting not related to morning sickness.
Pain or pressure in the lower back, another sign of labour.
Severe pain that doesn’t go away.
Vaginal discharge (any substance leaking from the vagina).
We often see other people who appear to sail through pregnancy doing everything they did before without a care in the world, but it’s important to listen to your body and ensure you are taking care of it and taking things slowly. Growing a little human is hard work and as annoying as round ligament pain can be, we promise you’ll forget all about it once you meet your amazing new addition!