What to Know About Lightning Crotch Pain During Pregnancy

Lightning crotch is described as a quick, sharp, shooting pain in the pelvis during the third trimester. Learn more about the causes and symptoms.

You're nearing the end of your pregnancy, minding your own business, when you suddenly feel a shooting pain "down there." The sensation lasts less than a minute, then it goes away as quickly as it came. Sound familiar? It's known as lighting crotch pain. While most common in late pregnancy, lightning crotch can also more rarely occur in early pregnancy.

"Lightning crotch is a specific phenomenon that happens in the last four to six weeks of pregnancy," says Joyce Gottesfeld, M.D., OB-GYN for Kaiser Permanente in Denver. Contrary to what you may have heard, lightning crotch is not the same as round ligament pain, which happens when the ligaments around your uterus stretch to accommodate the baby. It's also sometimes mistaken for sciatica and varicose veins, but these conditions occur for different reasons and can occur earlier than the third trimester.

Keep reading to learn about the causes, symptoms, and prevention methods for this common third-trimester complaint.

Lightning Crotch Symptoms

With lightning crotch, people "get shooting pains that originate in the crotch or groin area and may travel down the inner thigh," says Dr. Gottesfeld. These twinges generally happen randomly, but they're most common when you haven't moved positions in the while (for example, when you're sleeping in bed or sitting on the couch).

Pregnant people may describe lightning crotch pain as electric shocks, shooting pins and needles, or burning twinges. It comes on suddenly and lasts anywhere from 15 to 60 seconds. Lightning crotch symptoms may be barely perceptible, or they can be so intense that you double over in pain. Aside from the pelvis, you might also feel lightning crotch pain in the vagina, rectum, or uterus.

What Causes Lightning Crotch?

Lightning crotch may not be a serious condition, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt! If you're scratching your head about what could be causing the pain, here are a few common reasons.

Your baby is dropping

Sometimes the reason for lightning crotch pain is because of the fetus' position. At the end of pregnancy, babies typically get into the proper position for delivery (head down, facing your back) by descending into the birth canal. As this happens, a person's pelvic bones "pull away and separate," says Dr. Gottesfeld. The baby's head might also press against your cervix, and their body parts could hit sensitive nerve endings near the pubic bone. All of this inner commotion can lead to lightning crotch pain.

Your pubic bones are separating

One study published by Scientific Reports showed that one cause of lightning crotch might have to do with the pubis symphysis, which is a small joint located in the lower center area between the pubic bones. During pregnancy, the hormone relaxin can help the pubic bones separate in preparation for birth, but in some cases that separation can cause brief pain known as lightning crotch.

Your baby is growing stronger

Lightening crotch pain can also come from fetal movements. Your growing baby is getting stronger every day, which is a wonderful thing! What's not so wonderful is when those little kicks nail you right in a nerve, sending extra sharp pains rippling through you. You can try moving around to help your baby shift enough to stop kicking you hard enough to see stars.

You might have an underlying condition

Lightening crotch in early pregnancy may be due to other things, like a possible bladder infection or nerve disorders, including fibromyalgia. If you are concerned about repeat pain and you suspect an infection, talk to your doctor.

When To Expect Lightning Crotch

Lightning crotch generally presents in the third trimester as your body prepares for delivery. The severity depends on your baby's position and size, as well as the pressure they put on your nerve endings. Pain might increase as your baby moves around inside the womb.

You can expect the lightning crotch pain to disappear after your little one is born. It's also important to note that not every person experiences this sensation during pregnancy.

Preventing Lightning Crotch Pain

Because lightning crotch lasts for less than a minute, it's hard to stop the shooting sensations. Your best bet is patiently waiting things out. Dr. Gottesfeld also recommends sitting down and stretching when the pain hits because changing positions can help move your baby into a better location.

Pregnant people can also take steps to prevent lightning crotch from happening in the first place, including:

  • Changing positions throughout the day
  • Exercising regularly (cardio and stretching) to keep the pelvis and hips flexible
  • Wearing a belly support belt to relieve pelvic pressure
  • Relaxing tight muscles with a prenatal massage or warm bath

When To See a Doctor

Pelvic pain is common during pregnancy. Besides lightning crotch, pelvic pain can have many other causes, including round ligament pain, sciatica, or varicose veins (although these conditions will generally present as aching or pulling pain instead of sharp pain).

It doesn't hurt to bring up your symptoms with your doctor so they can properly diagnose it, says Dr. Gottesfeld. It's especially important to visit your prenatal health care provider if the pain is accompanied by other worrisome symptoms, such as bleeding, dizziness, fever, severe headaches, blurry vision, or leaking fluid—all of which could indicate an infection or complication.

Even though lightning crotch pain happens late in the third trimester, it's not a sign of impending labor. However, some people might confuse intense lightning pain for contractions—especially if they're a first-time parent.

Call your doctor about lightning crotch pain if:

  • The pain is accompanied by backache or blood-tinged discharge
  • You have pain that increases in duration or intensity
  • The pain comes at regular intervals
  • The pain feels like strong menstrual cramps

These signs could indicate that you're actually in labor. And when in doubt, you should always call your doctor or midwife if you have any questions about the pain you're experiencing during pregnancy, especially if you're preterm or less than 37 weeks pregnant.

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