Someone once told me that pain near the end of pregnancy is nature's way of preparing you for an actual baby. Waking up every half hour to pee? Well, that's a great way to practice the sleep deprivation you're going to experience in the newborn months. Third trimester discomfort and pain also inspire a desire for labor to begin. Although you may have been afraid of the pain of childbirth, now you don't care because you're so over it. Pelvic pain, also called "lightning crotch," is a common third trimester complaint. So, is lightning crotch a sign of labor? Experts say it's possible that the "zinging" sensation in your pelvis could be a precursor to contractions. Here's what you need to know about the possible causes and implications of pelvic pain, as well as what you can do to relieve it.
"Lightning pain may be a precursor to labor but is not a sign of labor by itself," says Amy Peters, OB-GYN at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, over email with Romper. She explains that "labor symptoms include tightening of the abdomen (as firm as your forehead) all over, that comes and goes about three to five minutes apart, each lasting about a minute." So if you experience lightning crotch at the beginning of labor, it's probably "related to the movements of the baby" and "may accompany the uterine contractions and simultaneously occur together," adds Mary O'Toole, OB-GYN at Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, also over email. Just as lightning crotch on its own is painful, experiencing it in combination with uterine contractions can be very uncomfortable. Call your OB-GYN or midwife if you think you're in labor.
Even before labor begins you've probably experienced lightning pain at some point during the third trimester. Whether you call it lightning crotch or lightning pain, it's "definitely not a medical term," says Yen Tran, OB-GYN at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. So how do doctors define this particular pregnancy symptom? Tran says lightning pain is "a lay term to describe pelvic pain in the third trimester caused by the fetal head compressing on the maternal pelvic bone and nerves." Similarly, Peters explains that "women describe it as a 'zing of pain' that comes and goes with maternal or fetal movement, particularly during the third trimester." And O'Toole provides a detailed description of why lightning crotch feels like a 'zing:'
"[Lightning pain] is related to the pressure of the baby's head pushing against the cervix, and stimulating nerves in the cervix," she notes. "And as with any nerve that can be compressed, there can be a 'zing' of pain or shock or lightning-like feeling in the vagina. As the woman nears the end of pregnancy, the head compressing against the cervix may put extra pressure on a nerve or multiple nerves, and this may come and go as baby moves its head, or with maternal movements."
Now that you have a good understanding of lightning pain and its causes, here are some tips for coping with the discomfort. O'Toole suggests, "changing positions or sleeping with a pillow between your legs." Peters says, "Thankfully the pain is incredibly brief — lasting only a few seconds — so with time the pain should pass. General supportive measures for normal discomforts of pregnancy include prenatal yoga/stretching, walking, swimming, wearing a pregnancy support belt, prenatal massage, relaxing shower, calcium/magnesium supplement, hydration, proper body mechanics/posture." And finally, Tran adds that "physical therapy for pelvic floor relaxation techniques and acupuncture" are additional options for relieving lightning crotch pain.
Furthermore, Peters offers the reminder that "the typical baby is much more easily cared for on the inside rather than the outside." So while third trimester aches and pains are totally real, they may pale in retrospect in comparison to the sleepless nights and other discomforts waiting for you after baby is born. (Sorry.)
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