Ah, lightning crotch—a fitting nickname for random vaginal pain during pregnancy. It’s one of the many joys of being pregnant! Not. Pregnancy is one of the few experiences in life that can be at once beautiful and alarming. On the one hand, the awe-inspiring physical changes may reinforce how magical it is to be pregnant. But there are also many times when pregnancy isn’t exactly a picnic. In fact, it can straight up be a pain in the vagina (pun intended). Sure, pregnancy can be great, but most people don’t feel like they’re straight out of a “glowy pregnant person” casting call for all nine months. The more open everyone is about how frustrating pregnancy can be, the better off we all are. Here, eight pregnancy pains—including vaginal pain during pregnancy—that may be annoying, but are usually nothing to worry about when you’re expecting.
1. Lightning crotch
How could we not kick it off with this one? This barrel of fun is exactly what it sounds like: a sharp, stabbing pain that essentially feels like your baby is punching you in the vagina, Idries Abdur-Rahman, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn, tells SELF. You can thank a complex network of nerves connecting your uterus (where the baby hangs out), cervix (the lower part of your uterus that serves as a passageway into the vagina), and your vagina itself for that, Dr. Abdur-Rahman says. Essentially, if something is putting pressure on your uterus or cervix—like a growing baby—it can make your vagina feel pretty damn uncomfortable, he explains.
Interestingly enough, some of this out-of-nowhere pain could also be due to varicose veins that pop up on your vulva (outer genitalia) during pregnancy, Peter Ahlering, M.D., an ob/gyn at the Missouri Center for Reproductive Medicine, tells SELF. These are also known as vulvar varicosities, according to the Mayo Clinic. “There’s increasing pressure from the enlarging uterus, so the blood from everything below it doesn’t make its way effectively upward as it typically does. That pressure [change causes] dilation of those veins,” Dr. Ahlering explains. Your veins usually have valves that stop blood from flowing backward, but because of all that pregnancy-induced pressure in the area, they might not work as well as usual. Hence, varicose veins that can cause tingly pain down below. Yes, this might all sound weird—people usually talk about varicose veins in legs, after all, so them winding up on your vulva might throw you for a loop. We promise, though, that this can be a completely normal part of how your body changes during pregnancy.
Of course, your next question might be how the heck you can ease vaginal pain during pregnancy. One possible avenue: Try wearing compression stockings. Here are some great recs. “They hold everything in and help prevent blood from pooling in the lower extremities and [vulva],” says Dr. Ahlering. The Mayo Clinic also suggests avoiding standing or sitting for long periods of time if you can, propping up your legs so they’re in an elevated position, and applying cold compresses to your vulva for a little bit of cooling relief.
The good news here is that this type of pregnancy discomfort is often short-lived. Varicose veins in the vulvar area typically go away once you give birth, usually around six weeks after delivery, the Mayo Clinic says.
2. Round ligament pain
You probably haven’t ever given much (if any) thought to your round ligaments, but they play a pretty important role in your body—especially during pregnancy. Ligaments are cords in your body that connect certain structures to other structures, the Merck Manual explains. Your round ligaments, in particular, serve as connections between your uterus and your groin. Since ligaments have collagen and elastic fibers, they’re able to soften and stretch a bit, which is key because that offers some support for your expanding uterus during pregnancy. That expansion is where round ligament pain can come in. “[Round ligaments] get stretched as the uterus enlarges, so people can feel a pulling sensation, usually around the hip bones,” says Dr. Ahlering. You may also feel a bit of a pulling sensation in your labia, depending on how far-reaching the pain is. Fun! Round ligament pain can also happen if the ligaments constrict or spasm, or if nerve fibers close by become irritated, the Mayo Clinic explains.