Feeling the belly harden is a normal sensation during pregnancy with a wide range of causes. Things that trigger your belly to harden depends on the trimester you are in and the other symptoms that can additionally appear.
The most common causes can include a simple muscle stretch (which is common at the beginning of pregnancy), labour-related contractions or a possible miscarriage.
Therefore, if you feel any abnormality at any point of your pregnancy, you should inform your OBGYN. He or she will assess you and determine whether this is a normal finding or if you require further evaluation.
Causes for a hard belly during pregnancy (classified by trimesters) are as follows:
During the first trimester
The first trimester covers the first week of pregnancy up until the thirteenth week. Causes of belly hardening during this time include:
1. Stretching abdominal muscles
With the growth of the uterus and development of the baby, the belly can start to feel firmer, even this early on. Hardening is mostly due to excessive stretching of abdominal muscles.
This generally happens around weeks 7 and 8, and it is normal for the lower abdomen to appear more swollen and harder than when you were not pregnancy.
What to do: Because this is a normal finding, there is no specific treatment required. If the feeling becomes very uncomfortable, you should report it to your OBGYN,
Constipation is another very common problem that happens throughout the entire pregnancy. It happens due to the rapid hormonal changes that occur, particularly in the first trimester, which may slow down intestinal flow. Slower intestinal flow can result in increased gas formation, which can make the belly bloated and harder.
In addition, some women use iron supplements during pregnancy, which can also make stool much harder.
What to do: To reduce discomfort associated with constipation, you should ensure adequate hydration throughout the day. Your diet should be rich in fiber, and you should incorporate foods like vegatables, fruit with the peel on and whole grains into your meals.
A hard belly in the first trimester can also be a sign of a miscarriage, which most commonly occurs before week 12. In addition to a hard belly, a miscarriage will also cause symptoms like a strong, lower back pain and vaginal bleeding with clots,
What to do: If you suspect you are having an ultrasound, proceed immediately to the hospital. The doctor will order and ultrasound to assess the baby and your placenta.
During the second trimester
The second semester covers weeks 14 to 27, and the most common causes for a hard belly during this period are:
1. Round ligament inflammation
At this point of pregnancy, abdominal muscles and ligaments are continuing to stretch, causing the belly to feel even harder. Because of this, many women will present with an inflamed round ligament, which results in constant pain on the inside of the belly. The pain can also radiate to the groin.
What to do: to relieve round ligament pain, you should rest and avoid being in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Lying on your side with your belly supported by a pillow may help with the pain.
2. Braxton Hicks contractions
Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as prodromal labor contractions, can emerge after week 20. They help the muscles to prepare for actual labor. When these contractions occur, they will make the entire belly feel hard and they generally last for about 2 minutes.
What to do: Braxton Hicks contractions are completely normal, and therefore, there is no specific treatment needed. If they are very uncomfortable, inform your OBGYN.
During the third trimester
The third trimester represents the last 3 weeks of pregnancy. In addition to continuing to experience Braxton Hicks contractions, round ligament pain and constipation during this time, there is a very important reason why your belly may become hard: labor contractions.
Generally, labor contractions are very similar to Braxton Hicks, but as time goes on, labor contractions will become more intense with less rest periods in between each one. It is normal for the woman’s water to rupture if she is having contractions.
What to do: if you think you are in labor, proceed immediately to the hospital for your contractions to be assessed. Your cervix will also be inspected for dilation, which will confirm if it is time for the baby to be born.
When to go to the doctor
You should see your doctor or OBGYN if you also have:
- Intense pain when your belly hardens
- A suspicion that you are in labor
- A fever
- Vaginal bleeding
- Felt less movement from your baby
In any case, if you suspect that something is wrong, you should bring your concerns to your OBGYN. If you are unable to reach them, you should go to the emergency room or labor and delivery unit immediately.