If you have sporadic, sharp pain in your pelvic area during pregnancy, you’re likely experiencing lightning crotch. It’s a common yet uncomfortable condition. Experts break down what causes lightning crotch during pregnancy and how to treat it.
Toward the end of your pregnancy, you’re likely feeling all types of aches and pain from the weight of your growing baby bump. But that sudden, sharp, shooting pain you feel in your vagina and pelvic area? It’s what’s known as lightning crotch.
While this sounds *super* fun, rest assured that not all women experience lightning crotch when pregnant. If you are feeling it though, it’s normal, if not annoying. Here’s everything you need to know about lightning crotch during pregnancy, according to an OB-GYN.
What Is Lightning Crotch?
Lightning crotch is pain that occurs in the pelvic area during pregnancy. It happens as the baby is growing and causes sharp, shooting pain. Rest assured: It’s very brief (hence the word “lightning”) and extremely normal.
What Causes Lightning Crotch?
“Lightning crotch occurs when the baby is maturing during pregnancy and is growing in size, and as a result, will drop down into the pelvis in preparation for childbirth,” explains Monica Grover, DO, a double board-certified gynecologist, and chief medical officer at VSPOT.
“During this time, there could be pressure against the cervix and uterus, where there are many nerve endings,” Grover explains. “The result is increased sensitivity and at times, quick, sharp, shooting sensations from the baby’s constant change in position against the nerve endings.”
This type of pain usually starts at the round ligament, which is the band of connective tissues that supports your uterus, and extends into your labia (the outer and inner lips of your vulva), Dr. Grover says.
Another reason you may be experiencing lightning crotch is the baby’s movements. When your baby is kicking and turning, it puts pressure on your nerves, Dr. Grover says.
You can also get lightning crotch due to round ligament pain. “Your growing belly can put extra pressure on the ligaments that support the uterus by causing them to stretch and thin. If the ligaments stretch too far or too fast, you can experience sudden, sharp pain,” she says.
Rest assured, lightning crotch isn’t a sign of pre-term labor or anything that you should be too concerned about unless the pain doesn’t subside and is accompanied by other symptoms.
What’s the Difference Between Labor Contractions vs. Lightning Crotch?
Yes, lightning crotch can hurt, but it should only last a few seconds—brief like lightning—and it shouldn’t be repetitive, Dr. Grover says.
On the other hand, “contractions feel similar to a wave (starts low, rises as it peaks, and ebbs away) and eventually become evenly spaced and in a pattern,” Dr. Grover says.
But what about Braxton Hicks contractions? They may seem similar to lightning crotch, but there are a few key differences. Braxton Hicks contractions are known as “practice contractions,” in which you feel tightness in your abdomen, per the Mayo Clinic. Braxton Hicks contractions have an irregular pattern, so they don’t become increasingly painful and aren’t closer together like active labor contractions. Labor contractions are generally two to five minutes apart and last 60 to 90 seconds, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, they are repetitive—and lightning crotch pain isn’t. Additionally, it has the same ebb and flow of a wave instead of a singular sharp, shooting pain.
Lightning crotch pain can also be accompanied by shooting pain down your legs, Dr. Grover says. But if you have other associated pain and symptoms, like abdominal cramping, uterine contractions, leg swelling, vaginal bleeding, water leaking, vomiting and nausea, diarrhea, blurry vision, and headaches, talk to your doctor right away.
Other Types of Pregnancy Pelvic Pain
Another common source of pain during pregnancy is symphysis pubis dysfunction (also known as pelvic girdle pain), which is pain in the pubic symphysis joint (which sits between your left and right pelvic bones), says Melanie Llanes, PT, DPT, pelvic health physical therapist and owner of Best Self Wellness, LLC.
“This type of pain is felt at the pubic bone, which can be felt at the center of your pelvis between your hip bones,” Llanes says. “You tend to feel this pain when the legs are moving apart, such as during walking, stair climbing, or doing a jumping jack motion.”
Because your hormones make your ligaments looser and your joints more flexible during pregnancy, it allows for more movement than your pelvis is used to, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Some women experience this type of pain long after pregnancy, too. According to a 2016 study in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, one in 10 women with pelvic girdle pain in pregnancy experience it up to 11 years after giving birth. In fact, about 38 percent of women continue to experience pelvic girdle pain more than three months postpartum, per research from The University of Plymouth.
If you suspect you have symphysis pubis dysfunction, talk to your doctor or a pelvic health physical therapist for a proper diagnosis and treatment. This condition is completely treatable and may even help with having an easier delivery, Llanes says.
“If a mom gets it after delivering, seeing a physical therapist right away will be helpful to reduce pain and get her back to feeling normal again,” she says.
In addition to wearing a brace, treatment may also include doing strengthening exercises for your core and adductors (inner thigh muscles) to help with stability. Llanes says she also likes to assess whether the condition is due to pelvic floor tightness, which can contribute to the pain, and provide a plan for treating it.
Can You Experience Lightning Crotch if You’re Not Pregnant?
Anyone can experience sharp pelvic pain, whether you’re pregnant or not, says Alexis May Tran Kimble, DO, a board-certified urogynecologist at The Kimble Center.
“There are many potential causes for pelvic pain and often it is multi-factorial,” Dr. Kimble says. “Pelvic floor dysfunction, such as pelvic floor spasms or levator hypertonicity (when your pelvic floor muscles are too tight and can’t relax), is certainly among the leading causes and can result in unpredictable, spontaneous sharp pangs of pain.”
Any compression or irritation of your nerves in the pelvic area can cause quick jolts of pain, Llanes says. If you are experiencing lightning crotch but you’re not pregnant, you should see a specialist to determine the exact cause.
Dr. Kimble says massage therapy, including myofascial release, can help relieve sharp pelvic pain, but in severe cases, your doctor may suggest trigger point injections and vaginal botox to help you tolerate manual techniques.
How to Stop Lightning Crotch
To help relieve those lightning crotch pangs, Dr. Grover recommends changing positions to encourage your baby to move and back off of your nerves. She also suggests using a belly support band to alleviate pressure and lighten the load on your pelvis.
In terms of stretches and exercises, Llanes advises focusing on hip, back, and pelvic mobility during pregnancy. “Some helpful stretches a mom can start with are focused on helping stretch out the abdomen and pelvic floor,” Llanes says.
Diaphragmatic breathing—which helps you strengthen and relax your pelvic floor—also helps stretch your back and abdomen. “If you place your hands on your lower ribs when you breathe in, you should feel those ribs expand and the belly expands,” Llanes says. “When you breathe out, the ribs and belly should hug back in.”
Other exercises Llanes recommends for relieving lightning crotch pain are cat/cow and reverse Kegels, which are the opposite of the traditional Kegel where you’re contracting your pelvic floor muscles.
“Instead of tightening, like stopping the flow of urine, you should be able to gently inhale as you push your pelvic floor downward to lengthen the muscles that are surrounding the nerves,” Llanes says.
If you’re feeling limited due to pregnancy aches and pains, see a prenatal or pelvic health specialist to get a custom plan.