A stranger's elbow here, a kitchen counter there—as your pregnancy progresses, you may feel like your abdomen's on a collision course with the world. It's not just your imagination: Many factors during pregnancy make your belly bump-prone, such as loose ligaments and joints, a growing girth (you're a larger target and a little off-balance) and a feeling of being somewhat distracted.
There's no need to worry every time you bump your tummy; even a front-forward fall or a kick from your toddler is unlikely to hurt your baby-to-be.
"Mother Nature provides a safe and protected environment for a fetus, which floats in amniotic fluid in the amniotic sac, which in turn is protected by the muscles of both the uterus and the abdomen," says Owen Montgomery, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Allegheny University of the Health Sciences. The spine in back and the pelvis and rib cage in front also form bony barriers.
Even with baby's built in protection, let your obstetrician know if you've taken a spill directly onto your belly, if you've been in a minor fender bender, or if you've suffered a blow to your stomach from another adult. He may have you come in to monitor the fetal heart rate.
Seek immediate medical attention if your baby isn't as active as before (movement about five times in a two-hour period when you're lying down is normal if you're in your second or third trimester), or if you have bleeding, vaginal discharge, contractions, or cramping within 12 hours of an incident.
“Gentle pushing on your belly as it gets bigger is fine,” says Dr. Michele Hakakha. “Hard jabs, kicks, or punches can be dangerous, particularly as you get farther along in your pregnancy.”
Trauma to the uterus in any form (a hard punch or kick to the uterus, a fall directly onto your abdomen, a car accident) can cause something called a placental abruption. This is a condition where the placenta pulls away from the wall of the uterus. In a mild case, there may be some vaginal bleeding and/or contractions with no consequence for the baby. But, in a severe case, a large portion of the placenta pulls away and could cause problems for the baby.
Take extra precautions to be safe from slipping. Watch out for ice, snow and wet leaves, and newly waxed or mopped floors. Wear sensible shoes—no slick soles or high heels—that fit properly. Be careful getting in and out of the tub or shower, and use the handrails on stairs. And always wear a seatbelt with the lap portion under your abdomen and the shoulder strap between your breasts and to the side of your belly.