When you first realize you're pregnant, it will likely take a while for your stomach to look and feel differently, especially if this is your first baby. At some point your pregnant belly will start to feel hard, but even then, it will still go through varying degrees of firmness. Sometimes it will be soft and yielding to the touch, and other times it will feel more like a rock, even after your belly has clearly "popped."
The stomach may feel relatively “hard” during pregnancy due to the way a growing fetus can affect your digestive system. “Sometimes women's stomachs become more hard in pregnancy due to gas,” Dr. Jennie Mao, MD, medical director of the UW Medicine Women’s Clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, tells Romper via email. “The hormone progesterone causes women's bowels to move slower and gas to accumulate, so bloating is common as soon as you're pregnant,” she explains, making your stomach feel hard. Excess gas may not be the most glamorous aspect of pregnancy, but it’s extremely common.
Additional changes in your stomach happen around the halfway mark of your pregnancy. "The uterus can usually be felt around the 20th week of pregnancy at the belly button, and continues to extend higher as the pregnancy continues," says Dr. Mao. In other words, your lower abdominal area may start to feel hard around this time. As the fetus continues to grow, this hard part of your belly will extend upward because the uterus is growing and putting pressure against the skin. But it’s not your actual uterus that’s getting hard, as Dr. Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG explains to Romper via email. In fact, the uterus is actually softened by the hormones associated with pregnancy, she says, so the firmness really comes from pressure of the contents within.
The first early signs of contractions can also make your tummy feel tight or firm. Most assume that contractions equal labor, but your body actually goes through a whole series of practice rounds in the time leading up to the main event. “These are contractions referred to as ‘Braxton Hicks’ contractions and are infrequent in the second trimester but more common in the third trimester (after 28 weeks),” explains Dr. Mao. “They can be triggered by being active, a full bladder, a change in position, or intercourse, and usually are irregular and mild.”
Finally, your stomach will feel persistently tight toward the end of your pregnancy in general because your baby and your organs simply don’t have a lot of room to move around. As your pregnancy progresses, your stomach will feel harder and harder as the fetus and uterus grow within your body, especially after a meal.
In general, whether your stomach feels soft, firm, or rock-hard, you can expect it to fluctuate a bit throughout the duration of your pregnancy, and it's all totally normal.
Dr. Jennie Mao, MD, medical director of the UW Medicine Women’s Clinic at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle
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