Like many moms-to-be, pregnancy provided me a whole host of new sensations, aches, and pains. None were as weird and disconcerting as the sharp, electrical vaginal pain I felt in the third trimester, though. When I called my midwife in a panic she told me this was actually a pretty common late pregnancy symptom, aptly named "lightning crotch." Fortunately it's usually no big deal, but there are signs your lightning crotch is getting worse that you should definitely not ignore.
According to What to Expect, lightning crotch can be caused by your baby's head irritating nerves in your uterus. Healthline explains that as your baby grows and moves into position for birth, they may stretch or put pressure on your cervix, which can cause those annoying lightning-like pains. And as What to Expect notes, lightning crotch pain can be a sign that your cervix is changing to prepare for your baby's birth. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), if this happens before 37 weeks gestation you might be in preterm labor and need to see your doctor or midwife right away. As always, if you have other symptoms — like vaginal bleeding, or your pain is persistent and doesn't ease up when you lie down or change positions — you should never hesitate to call or even head to the hospital, as it can signal a more serious health problem.
For more about how to tell if your lightning crotch is getting worse, and what you can do about it, read on:
You Notice Changes To Your Labia
As OB-GYN Peter Ahlering, M.D. told SELF, lightning-like nerve pain can also be caused by varicose veins. Apparently, pressure from your growing uterus and baby, can cause blood to get trapped in the veins of your labia and vagina, causing numbness, tingling, and electric pain. But since these will only get worse as your pregnancy progresses, if your lightning crotch is accompanied by varicose veins on your labia you may want to invest in a pair of compression pantyhose or underwear to help ease your pain.
The Pain Doesn't Ever Stop
While lightning crotch is annoying and might get worse as you get closer to your baby's due date, it shouldn't be continuous or unbearable. As Greenspan tells Parents.com, pregnancy pain that doesn't resolve when you change positions, lie on your side, or is so severe you can't take a step can be a sign of active labor or a medical problem that needs attention.
You Have Vaginal Bleeding
According to ACOG, the same cervical irritation during late pregnancy that causes lightning crotch may also cause spotting. However, since vaginal bleeding can be a sign of labor, you should probably give your doctor a call, especially if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant.
ACOG warns that if your vaginal pain is accompanied by heavy bleeding, you need to head to the hospital, since it can signal a problem with your placenta like placental abruption (detachment), placenta previa (covering the cervix), or placenta accreta (growing into the uterine wall) that if left untreated can be deadly for you or your baby.
You Have Other Symptoms
As Yvonne Butler Tobah, MD, writes on the Mayo Clinic Website, while some pain during pregnancy is to be expected, if you have other symptoms, too — like a fever or chills, or it hurts when you pee — you should never hesitate to call your OB-GYN or midwife. You might have an infection or other health problem that requires medical attention.
You Experience Signs Of Labor
According to What to Expect, lightning crotch can sometimes be a sign that you are about to go into labor. When your baby drops their head puts pressure on the nerves inside your uterus, which can cause your cervix to dilate (open) and efface (thin out) and help get your body ready for childbirth. But if this happens too early (before 37 weeks gestation), you could be in preterm labor, according to ACOG.
If you have other signs or symptoms of labor — like bleeding, your water breaking, or persistent cramping or pain — it's important to call your health care provider.