Last week my partner forgot to pick up our son from school. He works nights so, in his defense, "forgot" really meant "accidentally slept through his alarm." So I raced to my son's school from work, 36 weeks pregnant, to pick him up on time. And after I finally arrived, snagged my son, and made my way home, I noticed a bumping in my stomach. It was constant, it wasn't a fetus, and it was unsettling. Turns out, you can feel your pulse in your stomach when pregnant and no one — I mean no one — told me this was a thing!
Romper spoke with Dr. Susan Klugman, M.D., director of reproductive and medical genetics at Montefiore Health System and a professor of obstetrics & gynecology and women's health, to better understand why this happens, when you should expect it to happen, and if the whole "my heart is in my stomach" thing is ever a concern.
"Pregnant women can feel the baby move, and can also feel their own heartbeat in their abdomens. The feeling of one’s own heartbeat is actually the pulse of their own abdominal aorta," Dr. Klugman tells Romper, referring to the main artery carrying oxygenated blood out of the heart and supplying the heart itself, then the rest of your body, with blood.
The "bumping" that I was feeling after a frantic trip to my son's school was the pulsing of the lower part of my descending aorta, and not, as I originally thought, a fetal heartbeat. "The fetal heart rate is generally 120-160 beats per minute," Dr. Klugman explains, "whereas the maternal is usually 60-100 beats per minute." I was able to feel my aorta — and see it! — after walking quickly and feeling the surge in circulation common in pregnancy people, as Healthline explained previously:
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.
Surprisingly, pregnancy (or a quick trip to your child's school) isn't the only time when you can feel your aorta. Klugman says that while there's "not a specific time in which this occurs, it rarely occurs very early in pregnancy" and is sometimes easier to feel "when laying down or after eating." When you eat, your body pumps extra blood into your stomach so you can digest food and absorb nutrients. And if you don't have very much abdominal fat, and you lay down with your knees raised, you send blood to your abdomen and may even be able to see your stomach pulsing. You know, in case you want to freak yourself out, too.
Just don't get too freaked out, though. "This is not necessarily a sign that something is wrong," Klugman tells Romper. "However, in pregnancy, you should discuss any concerning symptoms with your doctor." Klugman says there is a chance of an aneurysm in any blood vessel as someone gets older, including the aorta. "These rarely occur in reproductive age women. However, there are some medical and genetic conditions that predispose to abdominal aortic aneurysm," she continues. "Always discuss concerning symptoms with your doctor."
When you're pregnant it's easy to confuse a slew of things with fetus kicks, which is exactly what happened when I felt my pregnant stomach pulsating. By the third trimester your baby-to-be should move about 30 times in an hour, per WebMD, and if you're pregnant for the first time you'll probably feel your baby kick around 25 weeks gestation.
It's also important that you monitor your baby's kicks when they become more frequent and you're later in pregnancy, according to WebMD. But it's important to note that tracking baby kicks might not be the best way to determine fetal health. Per WebMD, "There isn't any real scientific evidence to prove whether or not this method is a good indicator of the baby's well-being, so check with your health care provider to see what he or she recommends."
Pregnancy can be strange, my friends, and nothing makes it feel more sci-fi than watching your heartbeat via your pregnant belly. Knowing what pregnancy symptoms you could experience — including feeling your aorta in your stomach! — can help you feel more relaxed throughout the entire gestational period.
This post was originally published on Oct 22, 2018. It was updated on Aug 9, 2019.
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