Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy
You probably can’t remember the last time you slept through the night. You’re 24 weeks pregnant and you’ve spent the last five months waking up three times a night to go pee, readjust your position in bed, poke the baby that keeps kicking you, or quietly wonder why your partner’s suggestions for baby names are just so bad.
Tonight though, you feel something different, and it hurts. You readjust in bed, and as you do, you feel a sharp, deep, jabbing pain shoot through your lower belly and groin. You readjust again, hoping baby is just in a weird spot, but nope, there it is again, worse as soon as you move. You sigh and grab your phone off your bedside table. One minute and one quick online search later, you are certain you are feeling your first pangs of round ligament pain, a common pregnancy complaint you’ve heard of that you were desperately hoping to avoid. Clearly, you are not one of the lucky ones.
In this article:
- What Is Round Ligament Pain?
- What Causes Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy?
- What Does Round Ligament Pain Feel Like?
- Symptoms Of Round Ligament Pain In Pregnancy
- What Moms Have to Say About Round Ligament Pain
- How To Treat Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy
When To Call Your Care Provider
What Is Round Ligament Pain?
Round ligament pain is most commonly described as a sharp pain or jabbing feeling in the lower abdomen, the groin, and/or the pelvis. In simpler terms, many mamas refer to it as a “sore stomach.” You may hear your care provider describe it as your uterus’s “growing pains.” It is an extremely common complaint and considered a “normal” part of pregnancy. (Yay! Three cheers for that annoying pain being normal!).
What Causes Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy?
The round ligaments are a pair of ligaments that support a woman’s uterus. These ropey like bands of tissue are comparable to bungee cords, running from the groin up to the sides of the abdomen. Non-pregnant women have thick and short round ligaments. As a pregnant woman’s pregnancy progresses, these ligaments become softer, longer, and stretchier. Normally, these ligaments contract and release slowly. But the extra pressure of pregnancy (ahem, like the baby in your uterus) puts extra strain on the ligaments, making them tight and tense like an overextended rubber band. It’s believed that sudden movement causes the ligaments to tighten or spasm, as well as potentially irritate nearby nerve fibers.
Round ligament pain may start as early as 14 weeks, but it can occur at any point in a pregnancy from 14 weeks on. At this stage of the pregnancy, the uterus has outgrown the pelvis and is pushing up into the abdomen. Round ligament pain is more commonly reported on the right side of the body, but some women experience it on the left side or on both sides of the body.
What Does Round Ligament Pain Feel Like?
Sharp. Stabbing. Jabbing. Pain. Spasm. Achy. Crampy. This collection of descriptions sounds like contractions and labor, right? What are we doing talking about that already? Nope, lucky for you, these are some of the common ways round ligament pain is described. The level of pain and discomfort is different for every woman. Some women feel it constantly, while other women’s’ pain is related to a specific activity or movement. The ability to recognize the symptoms of round ligament pain will be an important part of not worrying too much about a very common condition.
Symptoms Of Round Ligament Pain In Pregnancy
The most notable symptom of round ligament pain is an intense or sudden pain in your lower abdomen, hip or groin. Usually, the pain is not constant, but comes and goes with sudden movement, rolling over in bed, sneezing, coughing, laughing, or quickly moving from sitting to standing.
When ligaments are over stretched, they become more irritable after periods of physical activity. It is not uncommon for exercise to make round ligament symptoms worse, or cause a change from intense sudden pains to a longer-lasting dull ache.
What Moms Have to Say About Round Ligament Pain
“This is my first baby, I'm 15w2d and omg does this hurt!”
“Pain for about 4 solid weeks in the same place and it is getting worse and worse as days go by. It feels like pulling/muscle pain in my right side.”
“HOLY COW!! Who knew round ligament pain could hurt SO BAD!!! I thought last night that it was all over and I was having pre-term labor! It about dropped me to my knees! I'm 17 weeks and was super freaked out!”
“I remember this stage! I dreaded sneezing or moving too quickly. I haven't noticed it in several weeks, so I guess it passes!”
“Mine was the worst stepping out of the car or down the stairs. Sometimes the pain would bring me to my knees! Too bad I couldn’t stop taking stairs or getting out of cars to make it go away.”
“When does it end??? Mine started out more dull-achy. But now it's dull-achy and then different sharp pains if I move wrong. It's getting very annoying and been going on for about two weeks.”
How To Treat Round Ligament Pain During Pregnancy
Before you desperately call your provider, begging them to “make it stop,” there are a few things that may help some of those aggravating symptoms.
- Stop the Movements: If you are able to identify the specific movement(s) that cause your round ligament pain or make it worse, cut those out (if that’s possible). This may look like getting out of bed very slowly and intentionally or taking an elevator instead of stairs.
- Elevate Your Feet: If this isn’t already something you are doing when you are lounging or watching TV, start kicking your feet up. This may help diminish some of your pain and it’s also great for swollen feet and ankles (just another fun side effect of pregnancy)!
- Stretching: Gentle stretching, like pelvic tilts and cat-cow, may help relieve some of the pain. Prenatal yoga is a potentially great solution as well.
- Change Your Exercise Routine: Most care providers will continue to recommend light exercise (boo, they aren’t going to encourage you to sit and watch TV for the rest of the pregnancy), but making adjustments to ease your discomfort is absolutely a good idea. Some mamas find that subbing a gentler exercise, like swimming, is a good solution.
- Take a Bath: Baths can be great for round ligament pain, especially if or when the dull achiness sets in. Just be sure you pay attention to water temperature (warm, not hot) and the length of time you stay in the water.
- Wear a Belly Support: There are a ton of good options for belly support, both for exercise and day-to-day activities. Wider, more rigid belts are going to help lift your belly and uterus and take some of the pressure off of those tired ligaments.
- Consider Pain Medication: Pregnancy safe pain relievers, like Tylenol, may help alleviate some of the discomfort. It’s always a good idea to bring this up with your provider, especially if you find yourself need them consistently.
When To Call Your Care Provider
If your pain seems particularly bad or frequent, especially after trying some of these at home treatments, it is always okay to call your care provider. You may be able to speak to them on the phone or they may recommend an office visit.
It is recommended that you call immediately if you have:
- Severe pain
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain with urination
- Difficulty walking
- Pain that won’t go away
It is important that your care provider be able to rule out any pregnancy complications (like preterm labor or placental abruption) or non-pregnancy complications (like hernia, appendicitis, or liver or kidney problems). They also may have some recommendations for additional things you can try to treat your pain. And hopefully, they’ll be able to alleviate any fears you have about whether or not what you are feeling is normal.
Round ligament pain can be a pretty frustrating side effect of pregnancy. As backwards as it sounds, you can consider it a good sign, as it indicates that your uterus is stretching and growing to make room for your growing baby! If anything, let that pain also be a good reminder that you need to slow down, take care of yourself, and get some rest and relaxation in before that sweet baby shows up.
National Center for Biotechnology Information, Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Uterus Round Ligament, 2018. Mayo Clinic, What Causes Round Ligament Pain in Pregnancy?, 2018.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Management of acute abdomen in pregnancy: current perspectives, 2019.
National Center for Biotechnology Information, Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Uterus Round Ligament, 2018.
Mayo Clinic, What Causes Round Ligament Pain in Pregnancy?, 2018.
- Laura Mansfield