The hardening of your pregnancy belly isn't abnormal and nor does it last that long. But it could be an indication of an underlying issue.
From the time you conceive till you have your baby, your pregnancy belly goes through a lot. As your uterus expands over the course of nine months, it forces the stomach to physically change itself to accommodate the growing baby.
One of the most prominent changes is the tightening of your pregnancy belly. This is medically called Uterus Hypersthenia.
Usually it begins by the end of the second trimester and might feel a lot like period cramps. But for some women, it starts as early as 12 weeks. However, the hardening of the belly doesn’t last that long.
Pregnancy belly: Why do you feel it hardening?
Once you enter your third trimester, the hard feeling starts to go away and your pregnancy belly feels normal again. Incidentally, this condition is true for most pregnant women and it is nothing to worry about.
As each pregnancy is unique, sometimes the reasons for pregnancy belly hardening are also different. But generally, there are a few reasons other than your abdominal musculature that might be forcing you to feel your pregnancy belly harden.
Let’s take a closer look at each of them.
1. Abrupt placenta
During pregnancy, your uterus grows along with another important organ – the placenta. It acts as life support for your growing baby and provides all the necessary nutrients and food for his development.
In rare cases, the placenta detaches itself from the uterine wall. When this happens the uterus starts to harden. If the hardening becomes more consistent and doesn’t go away, it’s time to rush to the doctor.
Ideally, the placenta should detach itself from the uterine wall during childbirth. But if it happens before then, it can seriously harm the baby. This is quite rare though and happens in just about 1.5 percent of pregnancies across the world.
Also, in some cases a tight belly could also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy (in very rare cases) where the fertilised egg starts growing inside the fallopian tube.
2. Uterus brushing against the pregnancy belly
As your uterus grows from the size of a peach to a watermelon during the nine months, it pushes against your pregnancy belly to accommodate its growing size.
By the end of the second trimester, your uterus reaches between the belly button and the pelvic bone and pushes out your abdominal musculature.
As the uterus further expands, it starts to press against the walls of your stomach. This internal growth makes you feel that your belly is tightening even more. Along with the feeling of a hardened belly, some women also have nausea and feel bloated.
In such a case, there isn’t much you can really do about it. So it’s best to incorporate fibre in your diet to relieve yourself from bloating and constipation. Also make sure you exercise regularly.
3. Pregnancy fat gain
It is not a secret that during pregnancy you gain a considerable amount of weight. While it is good fat that no expecting mum should mind, it does of course change the way your body looks and cause your pregnancy belly to feel tight.
That’s because as you gain weight during the course of your first two trimesters, your body has to identify areas where it can distribute excess fat cells. The first place it goes is the belly and perhaps your thighs.
When you start showing your pregnancy belly, fat cells also accommodate the growing uterus. This can happen early in the pregnancy. And in some women it can happen during the second trimester. You might even feel period cramps due to this accumulation of fat cells in your belly.
4. Diet imbalance and digestion troubles
During pregnancy you actually do not “eat for two,” but just yourself. However, that diet has to be rich in nutrients, essential fats and minerals needed to help your baby grow. But in most cases, even a healthy diet cannot stop a pregnant woman from feeling constipated.
Constipation is just one of the many discomforts during pregnancy that you are sure to notice. However, the constipation may not necessarily be because of an unhealthy diet. It could be because your uterus is constantly pressing against your bowels.
In addition, the constant release of progesterone slows down the gastrointestinal tract in your body.
All of these factors make you feel like your pregnancy belly is hard. But a combination of a healthy diet filled with fibre as well as an adequate amount of water can ease this problem.
5. Bouncy castle in your belly
Your pregnancy belly is like a bouncy castle for your growing baby. You might experience his kicks inside your womb, which is a good sign that he is growing and he is healthy.
But as your baby becomes active, your belly takes a serious hit. Each time your baby kicks inside, the stomach become tighter as a response to that stimulus. Although this reaction is only to accommodate your baby’s activities, it can be quite uncomfortable for the mum.
You may not feel the pain like a period cramp, but you may feel bloated or full as you do after a meal. This type of discomfort doesn’t last long and you can breeze past it.
6. Eating for two?
Just because you are pregnant you do not have to literally eat for two. Your baby’s digestive system isn’t even properly formed yet, so eating for him makes absolutely no sense. However, sometimes your pregnancy cravings can force you to overeat.
This can lead to your pregnancy belly feeling really tight and full. This can also make you gassy and bloated, resulting in more hardness of the belly. Obviously the best way to avoid feeling bloated is to not overeat.
Put as much food on your plate as you usually eat. And if you have any cravings, do not go overboard with the entire tub of ice-cream. Take it slow, and let your belly get some rest.
7. Round ligament pain
This is a sharp pain that you may feel in your lower belly or groin. Although it is a normal part of pregnancy, it is also one of the most common complaints during the second trimester.
You may know that there are thick tissues and ligaments that surround your uterus and your belly. One of them is the round ligament, which stretches from the front part of the womb towards the groin.
As your uterus grows, this ligament stretches to accommodate the growing baby. But because of that stretch, the pregnancy belly becomes quite hard. Pain caused by the round ligament stretch can feel like somebody is jabbing you in the tummy. It usually affects the right side of the pregnancy belly, but for many women it can happen on either or both sides.
The best way to deal with this is to exercise to strengthen the core, avoid any sudden movements, and flex your hips before you sneeze or cough. To relieve the pain, use a heating pad.
8. Braxton hicks contractions
As you enter your final trimester (about 30 weeks), you will feel Braxton Hicks contractions. These are false contractions, and in a way, they give you a small preview of what’s to come on the big day.
When you feel these contractions (30 seconds to a minute), your pregnancy belly becomes quite tight and hard. But they do not lead to a dilation of the cervix, which is what you will go through during the actual process of childbirth.
Although these contractions go away after some time, they do feel quite real and are even painful. Prepare yourself for these contractions in case you haven’t reached this stage of your pregnancy yet.
9. Problems in your womb
Around the final trimester, one of the major reasons for tightening of your pregnancy belly is because of potential problems in the womb. Although tightening of the belly is not a symptom, it can indicate an underlying issue.
Tightening in your belly could also be a sign of preeclampsia, where your body’s blood sugar levels are high. In some cases, it could even indicate a miscarriage.
If the tightening is accompanied by spotting or bleeding, fever, cold flashes, nausea or even vaginal discharge, you must immediately consult your doctor.
10. Body pain during pregnancy
As you go deeper into your pregnancy and reach your due date, your entire body may feel restless or tired. You might feel like your whole body aches.
Back pain, as you know, is a common symptom of pregnancy. That’s because it supports the growing belly. But this is also the cause of tightening of your pregnancy belly.
Pain in the thighs and hips is also common because they are connected to tissues around the groin and the uterus which are stretched to their maximum to accommodate the growing baby.
The best way to alleviate the pain is to rest when you feel uncomfortable. You can also use heat therapy or ask your husband to give you a back massage using soothing essential oils. You will have to take good care of yourself during pregnancy. That also means taking adequate rest, especially when you feel uncomfortable.
11. Hurrah! Your baby is on its way
Yes, it is time to rejoice. But it is also the time when your pregnancy belly feels extremely tight and hard. The tightening sensation will be an indication that your baby is on its way out.
When you are about to go into labour, just know that your belly will not stop being tight. As the contractions become more regular and closer, your baby will start the journey to be born. Your belly will tighten with each contraction, right until your little one is out of your womb.
Just remember that tightening of your pregnancy belly is completely normal. It can happen because of any of the reasons we discussed. So the best thing is to listen to your body.
And if at any point the pain is too sharp or your tight belly feels extremely uncomfortable, seek medical advise without delay.