Pregnancy comes with a slew of bodily changes. While some, like a rounder stomach, are expected, others can throw you for a loop. Cue you, frantically searching online for things like “Why is my pregnant belly sometimes hard and sometimes soft?” and “pregnant belly feels tight and heavy” to try to figure out what, exactly, is going on down there.
First, don’t panic: Doctors say that it’s totally normal at some point to have stomach tightness during pregnancy and even to have your stomach be hard on one side when you’re pregnant. But this stomach hardness can signal a few things about your pregnancy and may even tip you off to when you can expect your little one to arrive. Here’s the deal.
Why Is My Pregnant Belly Sometimes Hard and Sometimes Soft?
It’s hard for doctors to say in any given moment why your stomach may be hard or soft without examining you and knowing some details, like where you are in your pregnancy. But you can generally assume that one of a few things could be going on.
If it’s early on in your pregnancy, you may feel some stomach tightness because your core or abdominal muscles are being stretched, says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies.
Anatomical changes may play a role, too, if it’s early on, she says. “If it’s before 13 weeks, your uterus is still inside your pelvis,” Dr. Greves says. “It’s a muscle and that may be feel hard.” But as your uterus stretches out beyond your pelvis, it may feel softer since there’s amniotic fluid inside, she explains.
If you’re later in your pregnancy, having a belly that feels hard sometimes and soft in other moments could indicate that you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, says G. Thomas Ruiz, MD, lead ob-gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif. Braxton Hicks contractions, in case you’re not familiar with them, are contractions of the uterus that happen in the second and third trimester and are the body’s way of preparing for labor, per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). “I get this question all the time,” Dr. Ruiz says. “If it’s hard for a minute or so and then gets soft, that’s a Braxton Hicks contraction.”
Worth noting: Dr. Greves points out that having this sensation when you’re close to your due could also be a sign of real labor. Meaning, your baby is coming soon.
Why Does My Stomach Feel Tight and Heavy?
It depends. “Sometimes it can just be a sensation that people have with Braxton Hicks,” Dr. Ruiz says. “If the stomach balls up, it feels perceptively heavy.” This sensation could also be due to round ligament pain, which is a common discomfort that can happen on one or both sides of your belly, going down to your groin, Dr. Ruiz explains. If you’re worried about changes to your stomach, it’s best to consult your healthcare provider, so they can assess the situation and recommend the best course of action, if any.
Ok, But Why Is My Stomach Hard on One Side?
That could simply be due to your baby. As your baby grows, space inside your uterus becomes tighter, leaving baby little room to wiggle around. If your stomach feels hard on one side, there’s a chance you could be feeling your little one’s spine or legs, Dr. Greves says.
Ultimately, if you’re dealing with what feels like random hardness and softness in your pregnant belly and you have concerns, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. They can give you a physical exam, if they think it’s necessary, and offer personalized guidance about what to do from there.