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Pain in Pregnancy

what to expect & what to look for

1st Trimester Pain
2nd Trimester Pain
3rd Trimester Pain
Onset of Labor
Ectopic Pregnancy
Pain Medications

As the pregnancy progresses, and the uterus stretches, often there can be pain. Growing pains is one category of pain in pregnancy. The following is a timetable of common pains that women experience in pregnancy and the weeks at which they occur. However, as a rule of thumb if you are having severe pain, even if it matches the list below, you should contact your prenatal care clinic to make sure everything is okay.


Back pain can come any time, especially in women who had back pain before getting pregnant. It can be lower, upper, one side or the next. This pain is usually worse with standing, moving and lifting.

First Trimester Pain

5-7 Weeks: Ovarian cyst pain. This pain can be sharp, and is usually only on one side. All pregnancies have a cyst, not all pregnancies have cyst pain. If the pain is accompanied by bleeding, you should be evaluated to assure it is not being caused by an ectopic pregnancy.

4-12 Weeks: Headaches are common in pregnancy. Early in pregnancy headaches can be a result of stopping caffeine or stopping head ache medicine. Headaches are also associated with fatigue and stress, both of which can come early in pregnancy.

6-12 Weeks: Cramps, caused by a growing uterus are usually in the middle of your abdomen and feel like period cramps. These are normal.

8-16 Weeks: Pulling on scar tissue from a previous cesarean section. This pain can feel like sharp pinching or burning pain and is often located in the belly wall, under the skin, right or left, to the side of and slightly above the skin scar from a previous cesarean section.

Second Trimester Pain

18-26 Weeks: Menstrual cramps/contractions. A Normal symptoms are random cramps, 3 or 5 or 10 times per day, without a pattern. Often the cramps are worse, and more frequent late in the day. Regular cramps, with a noticeable increase in the discharge, should prompt a phone call to the office, and probably an exam.

22-36 Weeks: Sciatic pain. This nerve pain can shoot from the lower back, into the buttock, down the thigh, and even down past the knee. It’s usually one side or the other, not both. It may be a result of the baby pressing on a nerve from the inside. The pain goes away in 1-3 weeks, after the baby grows, moves, and gets off that spot.

26-32 Weeks: Round ligament pain comes on when standing up after sitting for a while, rolling over in bed, and when getting up out of bed. Its usually worse with standing, better when sitting or lying down. This pain is SHARP, and low, usually on both sides, but it can be one sided.

Third Trimester Pain

28–37 Weeks: Pain at the lower edge of the rib cage, in front. This is muscle strain pain, from the “washboard” stomach muscles being forced to point out an over the uterus, rather than down. It hurts more with movement, and is worse later in the day.

30-36 Weeks: Contractions: Braxton Hicks or early labor? Pregnant women will experience an increasing number of contractions through the third trimester. The NORMAL occurrence is contractions which are random, irregular, fewer than 15 per day, and fewer than 4 per hour. NORMAL is more in the evening, when patients may be tired from a long day. SUSPICIOUS are contractions which come with regularity, like every 10-15 minutes. Contraction frequency is measured from the start of one contraction to the start of the next one. SUSPICIOUS is contractions with an increase in vaginal discharge.

36-42 weeks: Labor contractions are usually REGULAR, with a gradual onset to a peak, at which time it goes away as slowly at it started. Then, there is a CLEAR SPACE of TIME before the next contraction starts. The space between contractions is at least a minute, and can be 2-4 minutes. There is very little pain during the space between contractions…[read more]

Reminder: if you are having severe pain, even if it matches the list above, you should contact your prenatal care clinic to make sure everything is okay.


Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy develops outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancy is more likely in women who previously had pelvic infections…[read more]

Onset of Labor

How to tell if you are in labor and what you should do next…[read more]

Pain Medication During Pregnancy

Pain during pregnancy falls into two general categories: headache pain and all other pains…[read more]