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Bellyaches

It's too soon for that bellyache to be labor. Or is it? Here are some possible causes-and solutions-for abdominal discomfort in late pregnancy.

Uterine growth. Your uterus is still growing to accommodate that bigger-by-the-minute baby of yours, and that means you're going to feel uncomfortable. The discomfort can range from a feeling of being too full to stabbing pains when you change positions-like getting out of bed too suddenly in the morning. That pain is caused by stretched ligaments around the uterus; you can ease it by slowly assuming different positions and breathing deeply as you move to get enough oxygen to the muscles. Or do a pelvic leg lift: Steady yourself by placing one hand on a table or stair railing while you bend your knee and lift one foot a couple of inches off the ground in front of you. Count to 10 and put your foot down again. Do this 10 times on each side.

Abdominal muscle separation. As your uterus expands, the long bands of muscles down the middle of your belly separate to accommodate its new size. The muscles pull apart (you can feel a hollow space when you push your fingers between them), and this can be uncomfortable. Usually the muscles resume position after your baby is born.

Constipation. Because pregnancy hormones slow down your digestion and your enlarged uterus increases pressure on the large intestine, waste products move more slowly through your body. That can cause abdominal cramps if you become constipated. Drink plenty of fluids and eat food with roughage (such as bran flakes and crunchy veggies), both of which will soften your stools.

Baby's antics. If your baby is now in the birth position, with his head toward the bottom of your uterus, you may suddenly be aware of pains in new places as he tap-dances against your ribs or plays the bongo on your bladder. Shift positions when this happens or pat your baby and sing to distract him.

False labor. At times you might feel as if you've been lassoed around the middle and someone is tightening the rope under your belly and around your back. These are Braxton Hicks contractions. If you have them often, you might think you're in labor when in fact you're not. The difference between false labor and the real thing can be difficult to diagnose: False contractions are mostly in the front of your belly, they don't get stronger over time, they feel more like pressure than pain, and they usually lessen in intensity if you put your feet up and drink lots of water. If the tightening persists, call your doctor. Checking your cervix is a quick way for your doctor to distinguish true from false labor.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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