If You're Hearing About A "Hard Stomach" During Pregnancy, Here's What That Term Really Means

Pregnancy can change your life in a ton of different ways. It can bring about a sense of emotional maturity and feelings of love and hope, but the most obvious changes will be to your body. As your belly grows, and your body feels like it has been taken over by an alien, you may hear lingo you had never thought of before, like people talking about your stomach getting hard, which could be concerning and confusing. What exactly does it mean for your stomach to become hard, and why does it happen at all?

The first thing to note is that a hardening stomach is a normal part of pregnancy. Romper reached out to Dr. Mary O’Toole, OB-GYN at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, who says that a woman’s abdomen becomes hard during pregnancy due to periodic tightening of the uterus, which can be related to hydration/usually dehydration, fetal movement, or the bladder being full. “The abdomen of the woman may feel very hard,” say O’Toole, “and patients will describe it as being rock hard.”

Dr. G. Thomas Ruiz, OB-GYN with Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells Romper that typically the sensation of the uterus getting hard is referred to as “tightening," and begins in the third trimester of pregnancy. He says that it isn’t generally painful, and occurs when your uterus firms up, usually for about 30 to 60 seconds at a time. O’Toole says these periodic tightenings are referred to as Braxton-Hicks contractions, and they are likened to a mild hugging of your baby by your uterus.

Ruiz says that women experience tightening at different rates and times. “Women experience them at different rates, from one a day to one per hour,” he explains, “but most women will experience several during the course of the day.” He says that the closer you get to your due date, the more frequent this tightening will become, and eventually they will become painful as you head into labor.

But what if you don’t feel this tightening? O’Toole says that there are some women who are not even aware of any tightening, and that it’s completely normal as well. Even though tightening is a common and normal part of pregnancy, O’Toole warns there are things to pay attention to. “Tightening is quite common, but I give precautions to my patients,” says O’Toole, “that if their tightening is too frequent, or accompanied with bleeding or loss of fluid, they should call me immediately.” So if you feel any pain, bleeding, or fluid loss along with the tightening, call your physician as soon as you can.

If you are wondering when your belly will begin showing, the American Pregnancy Association explained that by week 21 of your pregnancy you should be able to feel your uterus right above your belly button. As the weeks progress, the organization further noted, your uterus will continue to grow and extend further along your abdomen. You may begin feeling your skin tightening as your belly grows, which may make your stomach feel harder than it did before pregnancy.

As your pregnancy progresses, you’ll feel all kinds of changes in your body. Your belly will continue to grow, and towards the last trimester you will feel it harden sporadically, but this is just a natural part of the process. Just remember to always consult your healthcare team about any concerns or questions you might have, especially if you feel cramping, pain, or bleeding with tightening of your stomach. Sometimes your stomach may feel harder or softer than other times, but as long as you have a healthy pregnancy, it shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.