Left Side Pain During Pregnancy: Is Left Side Pregnancy Pain Serious?

Left Side Pain During Pregnancy: Is Left Side Pregnancy Pain Serious?
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Left side pregnancy pain is something that many pregnant women experience. As your baby grows and hormones fluctuate, many changes take place in your abdominal and pelvic area. In most cases, left side pain during pregnancy is harmless; however, abdominal pregnancy pain should never be ignored because it can also be a sign of something more serious.

Pregnancy pain on the left side can be caused by your uterus expanding or your ligaments stretching. Sometimes, in your 3rd trimester, you can feel dull aches or cramping as if you are having contractions and going into labor. Also, digestive issues and back pain are common among pregnant women and can result in stomach pains or lower back pain on the left side or right side.

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If you experience sharp stabbing pains during pregnancy then you should speak to your obstetrician. Sharp localized pain on one side of your abdomen could indicate an ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, or even miscarriage. Pelvic cramping that develops into sharp abdominal pains in pregnancy can be serious, especially if they are accompanied by vaginal bleeding, chills, and vomiting.

In this article, you will learn about the causes of left-sided pregnancy pain and what you can do to relieve the aches. You will also find out about when left sided pain in pregnancy is serious because it is the result of complications in pregnancy.

Causes of Left Side Pain During Pregnancy

Let’s look in more detail at how pregnancy can affect your body and cause aches and pains as your baby grows.

Growth of baby

The most common reason for mild left side pain while pregnant is your growing baby. As your baby develops in the uterus, some occasional cramping is normal and can be felt on one or both sides of your abdomen.

According to doctors from the American Pregnancy Association, this type of mild cramping connected with pregnancy is a normal part of being pregnant. As the uterus expands, ligaments and muscles that support it stretch. Therefore, coughing, sneezing, or changing positions could cause short, mild abdominal aches in your first, second, or third trimester.1

You can usually get relief from this type of harmless pregnancy pain by changing position or placing a hot water bottle on your abdomen. It is also important to keep yourself well-hydrated to help prevent abdominal pains in pregnancy.

Round ligament pain during pregnancy

One reason for feeling pain on your left side during pregnancy is due to a condition called round ligament pain.

The round ligament is located in your groin area and supports your uterus as it grows during pregnancy. Although round ligament pain usually affects your right side in pregnancy, it can happen on both sides.

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According to Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD, round ligament pain on one or both sides of your abdomen is usually felt during the second trimester. Round ligament pain feels like a short jabbing feeling in your lower abdomen. Exercising, coughing, rolling over in bed, or standing up too quickly can cause light stabbing pregnancy pains that last a few seconds.2

Lower left abdominal pain caused by the round ligament pain should not be severe and last more than a few minutes. If you have other symptoms with the sharp pains in your lower stomach, you should speak to your doctor.

Relaxin production and left-sided pelvic pain during pregnancy

Experiencing sharp pain on the left side while pregnant could be due to increased levels of the hormone relaxin.

Hormonal changes in your body while pregnant can lead to pelvic pain and lower back pain. According to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, pregnancy causes the body to produce more relaxin. Studies have shown that higher relaxin levels are connected with an increase pelvic pain in pregnant women.3

Dr. Trina Pagano says that relaxin causes ligaments and joints in the pelvic area to relax in preparation for childbirth. This can also be one of the reasons for lower back pain in pregnancy. For example, looseness in the sacroiliac joint can cause left-sided back pain or pain in the buttock during pregnancy.4

One of the ways to relieve pregnancy pelvic pain and back pain is to improve your posture. Try to avoid slouching when standing or sitting. For more advice on how to hold a better posture and avoid back pain, please read my article on the best exercises for improved posture.

Braxton Hicks contractions and left side abdominal pain during pregnancy

Braxton Hicks contractions are one reason for left side pain during pregnancy in the third trimester.

Many pregnant women easily mistake these uncomfortable cramping aches as the start of labor. According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, Braxton Hicks contractions are harmless causes of pregnancy pain. The painful contractions occur in the uterus at irregular intervals and will cause your groin to feel tight.5

The abdominal pain caused by Braxton Hicks contractions is sometimes referred to as “false labor.”

You can tell Braxton Hicks contractions apart from the start of labor by the type and intensity of the squeezing uterus pain. For example, unlike labor pains, Braxton Hicks contractions are not as sore and don’t become more intense over time. Also, Braxton Hicks contractions don’t come at regular intervals.

You may find that towards the end of pregnancy, Braxton Hicks contractions become more frequent. The American Pregnancy Association reports that touching the abdomen, having a full bladder, being dehydrated, or being active can trigger Braxton Hicks contractions. Sometimes, taking a warm bath or having a few glasses of water are enough to get relief from the cramping pains in late pregnancy.6

Constipation and pregnancy pain on left side

Constipation could be a reason for left side aches and pains during pregnancy.

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Even though constipation can happen to anyone, it is a common cause for abdominal discomfort in pregnant women. The journal Canadian Family Physician reports that as much as 40% of all pregnant women experience some kind of constipation while pregnant. This can be caused by a number of factors including hormonal changes, changes in the gastrointestinal tract, and a larger uterus.7

Constipation can be a reason for pain in the lower stomach. Also, trying to force out hard stools can put extra pressure on the abdomen and result in painful cramps.

Drinking plenty of fluids and increasing your fiber intake while pregnant can help to soften stools and relieve constipation naturally. Also, prunes and figs are natural laxatives that you can safely consume while pregnant to help stop being constipated.

Lower left pregnancy pain caused by urinary tract infections

Being pregnant also increases your chance of contracting a urinary tract infection which can cause cramping in the lower abdomen or back.

According to urologist Dr. Emilie Katherine Johnson, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common type of bacterial infection during pregnancy. Some of the symptoms of a UTI while pregnant are flank pain, tenderness in the left abdominal area or right-hand side, nausea, vomiting, and a fever.8

UTIs can affect the health of both mother and baby, therefore, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you suspect you have a urinary tract infection.

Heartburn and left side pain during pregnancy

During your second and third trimester, you might find that heartburn causes pain in your right or left abdomen and chest area.

According to Dr. Nivin Todd on WebMD, more than half of all pregnant women suffer from heartburn in the later stages of pregnancy. This can cause a burning sensation in the chest and pain in the upper abdomen. Dr. Todd says that many women suffer from heartburn pain because of pregnancy hormones that affect the digestive tract.9

To get rid of the abdominal pain heartburn causes, you should eat several small meals a day. Also, avoiding spicy and acidic foods can reduce the irritation in your esophagus and digestive tract. Your obstetrician can advise on the best way to relieve your heartburn symptoms during pregnancy.

Many pregnant women have found relief from heartburn by taking baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) as an antacid. However, if you are on a sodium-restricted diet, you should avoid taking excess sodium.

Serious Causes of Pregnancy Pain on Left Side

Some types of pregnancy pain on the left side can be serious and need prompt treatment by a doctor. Here are some of the serious causes of pregnancy pain on the left side and its associated symptoms.

Ectopic pregnancy causing severe abdominal pain

Having severe sharp uterus pains on one side during pregnancy could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy and requires emergency treatment.

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Ectopic pregnancies happen when the fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus. According to Dr. Melissa Conrad Stöppler on MedicineNet, severe cramping during early pregnancy is a common sign that something is wrong. The ectopic pregnancy could cause intense left side pregnancy pain if the egg implants on the left fallopian tube. Other symptoms include not having a menstrual period and abnormal vaginal bleeding.10

In some cases, a woman may not know that she is pregnant when symptoms of ectopic pregnancy occur. Intense abdominal cramping is a pain you should never ignore. Along with the stomach pain, ectopic pregnancies can cause breast discomfort, weakness, nausea, and other signs of early pregnancy.

Left side abdominal pain and miscarriage

Left-sided pregnancy pain or pain on both sides of your stomach could be a sign of miscarriage if accompanied by heavy vaginal bleeding.

Some light vaginal bleeding in pregnancy is common in the first trimester and is nothing to worry about. However, doctors from the National Health Service report that cramping pain in your lower abdomen with heavy brown discharge and/or vaginal bleeding may be indicative of miscarriage.11

Dr. Sarah Marshall on WebMD says that it can be difficult to know if bad pelvic cramps and bleeding is a miscarriage. For example, the signs may start off as a dull ache in your lower back which is common in healthy pregnancies. Therefore, you should seek medical help as soon as possible for any kind of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, especially if accompanied by persistent belly pain.12

Preeclampsia

Another pregnancy complication that can result in pain under your left or right ribs is preeclampsia.

Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure and protein in your urine that usually starts after your 20th week of pregnancy. This medical condition of pregnancy can lead to complications for mothers and babies and can even be fatal.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, upper abdominal pain is one of the signs of preeclampsia. However, you may also show signs of kidney problems like excess protein in your urine, decreased urine output, swelling of your face and hands, and impaired liver function.13

The only way to resolve preeclampsia is to deliver the baby.

Placental abruption

Severe pains in your uterus during the third trimester could be a result of a placental abruption.

Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Shad Deering says that placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterus too early. This can cause uterine contractions, vaginal bleeding, and distress to the baby. In mild cases, doctors may advise a pregnant woman to get plenty of bed rest if there is only mild bleeding and blood pressure is normal.14

Placental abruption can quickly become an emergency that puts the mother’s and baby’s life at risk. Therefore, if you have mild bleeding during pregnancy with or without severe lower abdominal pain, you should speak with your healthcare provider.

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Other Reasons for Lower Left Abdominal Pain in Pregnancy

There are other reasons why you may experience lower left abdominal pain during pregnancy that isn’t associated with being pregnant. Here are some of the most common reasons.

Ovarian cysts in pregnancy causing left side abdominal pain

A cyst on your left ovary may cause left side lower abdominal pain during pregnancy.

According to a study in France, ovarian cysts can form during pregnancy and cause pain. Usually, doctors will only remove ovarian cysts if they will obstruct labor and cause complications.15

Other signs of ovarian cysts during pregnancy include pain during bowel movements, pain during intercourse, or breast tenderness.

Pregnancy and gas pain

A buildup of excess gas can cause abdominal pain and even chest pain when you are pregnant.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that gas pains can cause sharp, jabbing abdominal pains that occur anywhere in your lower stomach.16

According to Dr. Matthew Hoffman, excess abdominal gas can also cause pains in your chest that some even mistake for heart pains. However, chest pains caused by gas should go away in a short time.17

Kidney stones and left sided flank pain in pregnancy

Experiencing left flank pain during pregnancy may be a sign that you have kidney stones.

The journal Obstetric Medicine says that it’s rare that pregnancy causes kidney stones. However, if you already have renal stones, they can cause intense abdominal pain if they move or when you urinate. Doctors usually decide to treat kidney stones during pregnancy if they cause complications or extreme pain.18

Appendicitis

Although appendicitis usually causes right sided pain, in some instances it can cause left side pain in pregnant women.

For example, doctors report that the uterus can push on the appendix and cause it to be pushed up.19 Also, the Journal of the Chinese Medical Association reports that left lower quadrant (LLQ) pain is sometimes a symptom of appendicitis.20

How to Treat Left Side Pregnancy Pain

You can treat general aches and pains in your abdominal area or lower back that are associated with normal, healthy pregnancy by using a heating pad.

Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD recommends using heat for pregnancy pain that is caused by backaches or cramps in your legs. Warm pads are also helpful to get rid of the pain caused by constipation and kidney stones.21

All you have to do to get rid of left side pregnancy pain is fill up a hot water bottle with hot (not boiling) water. Wrap the hot water bottle in a towel and hold to your left flank or abdominal area for up to 20 minutes.

You will quickly feel that the heat helps to relax your muscles and ease the pain on your left side.

Left Side Pregnancy Pain – When to See a Doctor

Sharp and intense left side pregnancy pain or right sided pain can be a sign of something serious. Therefore, you should always report sharp stabbing pains to your obstetrician or doctor.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, if you have cramping while pregnant with the following symptoms, you should call your doctor immediately:1

  • Severe cramping and pain that doesn’t let up.
  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Vaginal bleeding, unusual discharge, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
  • Cramping pain that radiates to your shoulders.

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

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  2. WebMD. Round ligament pain during pregnancy.
  3. Am J Obstet Gynecol.1996 Nov;175(5):1342-7.
  4. WebMD. Back pain during pregnancy.
  5. MedicineNet. Braxton-Hicks contractions.
  6. AmericanPregnancy. Braxton Hicks contractions.
  7. Can Fam Physician. 2012 Aug; 58(8): 836–838.
  8. Medscape. Urinary tract infections in pregnancy.
  9. WebMD. Heartburn during pregnancy.
  10. MedicineNet. Ectopic pregnancy.
  11. NHS. Miscarriage symptoms.
  12. WebMD. Miscarriage – symptoms.
  13. MayoClinic. Preeclampsia.
  14. Medscape. Abruptio placentae.
  15. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris).2001 Nov;30(1 Suppl):S100-8.
  16. MayoClinic. Gas and gas pains.
  17. WebMD. Can gas cause chest pains?
  18. Obstet Med. 2014 Sep; 7(3): 103–110.
  19. Curr Probl Surg. 2012 Apr; 49(4): 195–251.
  20. J Chine Med Assoc. 2005 Dec; 68(12): 599-603.
  21. WebMD. Understanding pregnancy discomforts.
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