It’s been a while now, though I still remember feeling a firm pregnant belly when I was pregnant with each of my daughters.
However, there are reasons your pregnant belly may feel soft sometimes too. And it’s all quite normal, so you don’t need to worry! I’m just going to jump right in here to put your mind at ease, but if something feels off to you or you have specific questions, contact your doctor. They will not laugh at you, I promise!
What does a pregnant belly feel like?
What your pregnant belly feels like will depend on which stage of pregnancy you’re currently in. It will also be affected by your body type and the time of day. Some women have a tight pregnant stomach at night, while others will have a hard pregnant belly all day. You may feel your pregnant stomach tightening but no pain, and that’s ok too.
I wish I could give you a normal to compare yourself with, but there is no standard of normal. If your doctor thinks all is going well, then please relax! They would tell you if something was wrong.
For me, I recall it feeling hard most of the time, almost as though I’d stuffed a soccer ball in there.
Why is my stomach soft during pregnancy?
At the beginning of your pregnancy, your stomach will be softer. That’s because your baby is still small. Your belly will start showing, but your uterus hasn’t stretched all the way up to where it will wind up. So, even at 16 or 17 weeks, that baby is little and doesn’t weigh much.
And as such, that means your uterus is only about halfway between the umbilicus and your pubic bone. So, you will still have a soft abdominal area.
The pregnant belly can take quite a bit of external pressure, here’s how much.
When does your stomach harden during pregnancy?
The hardening of your pregnant stomach usually happens around the 7th or 8th week. However, there will be times throughout your pregnancy when you may notice differences. And it’s different for each of us, further confusing things, of course, but hopefully, this will help keep your mind at ease.
Word of caution: Don’t go with the craze and suck in your baby bump often in pregnancy.
The first trimester
In your first trimester, which is week 1 to the 13th, your belly will feel stiff for a few reasons. One of those reasons is when your abdominal muscles stretch. Your pregnant belly may feel hard all day as your uterus grows, causing these muscles to stretch excessively to accommodate it. There’s nothing to worry about here, though you can let your doctor know if you feel uncomfortable.
Another thing that could make your belly feel hard in the first trimester is constipation. As your hormones change, it impacts the intestinal flow. In other words, you get all backed up, get gassier (oh, all those farts!), and get a bloated, harder belly.
Should you be constipated, make sure you’re drinking enough water. You should also be eating plenty of fiber, fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep things moving along with ease.
Don’t be alarmed, but a hard belly can signal a miscarriage in the first trimester. These are more common before the 12th week. But a hard belly is not a sign of a miscarriage, so please, Mamas, do NOT freak out here. If you are having a miscarriage, you will also have other symptoms. These include lower back pain – it will be intense and painful. You will also have vaginal bleeding with clots.
Call your doctor and get to the hospital right away if you have a hard pregnant belly, intense lower back pain, and clotting with vaginal bleeding. If you only have a hard stomach and no other symptoms, please don’t worry.
The second trimester
In your second trimester (the 14th to 27th weeks), you may find your pregnant belly is hard here too. What gives?
Well, the abdominal muscles and your ligaments are stretching even more during this point. This will make for a stiffer belly. It may also cause pain in your belly that radiates down to the groin area. You can call your doctor, but the best idea is to rest and not stay in one position for too long. Side-lying with a pregnancy support pillow may help you feel relief from this ligament situation.
Braxton Hicks contractions are another thing that can make you have a hard belly. They usually come around sometime after the 20th week. The purpose is to help your muscles get ready for real labor. When this happens, your whole belly will feel hard. These types of contractions are very normal and only last a couple of minutes. If they bother you or make you worry, contact your doctor.
The third trimester
During these last 3 weeks of pregnancy, you may experience Braxton Hicks again. Or for the first time if you have yet to experience it. You’ll also have that ligament pain and perhaps constipation. Fun stuff! As such, though, your belly will become harder.
And there’s another reason for a hard pregnant belly too…labor contractions!
Labor contractions are so similar to Braxton Hicks. And that’s why so many mamas think their in labor only to realize it was just Braxton Hicks. I’ve written about the differences before, so check out this post to learn more if you’re curious.
In short, though, labor contractions get more intense and closer together, allowing you little rest between them. You may even feel your water break, though, for many, it may start as a barely noticeable trickle. For my eldest, my water burst out like in the movies. There’s no telling what could happen.
So, if you have a hard belly and are showing those signs of labor, you should get to the hospital to have things checked out. Prepare to be even more uncomfortable too. As weird as it is to have a hard belly, you’ll forget all about it when they poke up there to check your cervix for dilation.
Recap: When to See Your Doctor About That Hard Pregnant Belly
I remember my pregnancies and the uncertainty that particularly surrounded my first. I don’t want any of you mamas to worry unnecessarily. As I mentioned initially, never feel bad about calling your doctor with questions. No one will think you are stupid or make fun of you (and if anyone does, get another doctor because that’s not appropriate).
When it comes to having a hard belly during pregnancy, it is very typical and should not worry you UNLESS the following happens with the hardening of your belly:
- You feel intense and crippling pain when your belly hardens up
- You realize you’re having real contractions, not Braxton Hicks
- You are running a fever
- You’ve got vaginal bleeding going on
- You either feel less movement from your baby or none at all
The good news is that pretty much the majority of the time, a hard belly bump is nothing to worry over, so get some rest…you’re going to need it soon enough when it’s time for that baby to be born!
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California, where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs.
She loves eating too much sushi, exercising, and jamming out on her Fender. Read more about Leslie here.