Pregnancy is full of a wide range a peculiar symptoms. There are all the familiar ones, like fatigue, nausea... and then there are the symptoms that leave you thinking, "OK, is that weird or normal?" Things like clumsiness and pregnancy brain are super strange, but expected. Other super strange symptoms come as a total surprise, however. Like, can you feel a pulse in your belly when you're pregnant? If you know what I'm talking about, you know it feels kind of crazy. But also, kind of awesome. I mean, if you can feel baby hiccups in there, why wouldn't you be able to feel a pulse too?
To find out more, I checked in with Ashlyn Biedebach, nurse, doula and pregnancy expert of By The Brook Birth Doula. Is feeling your baby's pulse in your belly possible? And if it is possible, is it normal?
Turns out it might not be what you think after all. Biedebach tells Romper in an email that "it isn't usual to feel a pulse in your belly coming from the baby. Usually just movement is felt. If a pulse is felt in the belly during pregnancy it is probably from the baby laying on the aorta of the mom, which is in the upper part of the abdomen."
That doesn't sound great. The aorta is the main artery in the body, according to WebMD, so cutting off circulation to this blood vessel can't be a good idea. But why does this happen and what can you do about it? As an article on Healthline explained, some women may feel a pulsing in their belly during pregnancy and think it's the baby's heartbeat. The reason this happens is that "when you’re pregnant, the amount of blood circulating around your body dramatically increases. This means there’s more blood being pumped with each heartbeat, which can make the pulse in your abdominal aorta more noticeable."
“It’s either the pulse from the uterine arteries or aorta that expand with the increased blood volume,” OB/GYN Dr. Kim Langdon, M.D., tells Romper in an email. Why does this happen? Well, it all comes down to your blood, and how much (or little) you have flowing in your veins. “Blood volume increases by 50% during pregnancy,” she says. “If it’s one side, it’s probably due to the uterine arteries, and if its midline, then it’s probably the aorta.”
While this sounds reasonable and harmless enough, Biedebach says, "it is recommended to not sleep or lay on your back as your baby grows, as the extra weight can compress this vessel."
If the fact that you can feel your aorta pumping blood freaks you out, you’re not alone. The aorta is the largest artery in the body, the Cleveland Clinic reported. And do you really want to feel it pulsating, particularly during pregnancy? Not necessarily. To make medical matters more complicated, Ashlyn Biedebach, RN, BSN, a nurse and doula, explains to Romper that it can be compounded by pressure from the positioning of your own body. Says Biedebach: “If a pulse is felt in the belly during pregnancy, it is probably from the baby laying on the aorta of the mom, which is in the upper part of the abdomen."
Although feeling a pulse coming from your belly during pregnancy isn’t necessarily dangerous, it’s something that you want to avoid if possible. One way to put a pause on the pulsing is by ensuring that you’re well-hydrated, advises Dr. Langdon. “Keep drinking fluids to lessen the pulse,” she says. “Pulses tend to feel stronger when the intra-vessel volume is decreased when it is pumped harder by the heart.” So if you think you’re feeling a pulse in your belly, it might be a signal that your body needs more H2O. Drink some water and reassess how you’re feeling overall. If you’re feeling lightheaded, you should sit down and see if it passes. If not, definitely call your OB/GYN to report your symptoms.
And when night time comes, be sure to sleep on your side (and not on your back) to avoid putting extra pressure on your aorta. “It’s recommended to not sleep or lay on your back as your baby grows, as the extra weight can compress this vessel," advises Biedebach. “Reposition to one side to sleep, and putting a pillow behind your back can help if your body is used to sleeping that way." If you can’t stay on your side, propping some pillows between your legs (or even behind your back) can help you stay in place.
It can be hard finding a comfortable position to sleep in during the later stages of pregnancy. But remember, back sleeping is not recommended when your baby grows big enough to cause you discomfort. Especially if you feeling a pulsing in your belly. Of course, if you have any questions, check with your doctor just to be sure.
Ashlyn Biedebach, RN, BSN, a nurse and doula
Dr. Kim Langdon, M.D., OB/GYN
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