Patients experiencing their first pregnancies often wonder (and worry) about common questions, such as:
- Am I supposed to feel the baby kicking yet?
- Why can’t I sleep?
- Will having an occasional glass of wine hurt the baby?
Often, talking with a doctor or another mom can relieve these concerns. But one question tends to linger for new and experienced patients alike: Will bumping my belly hurt the baby?
The answer is almost always no. Some abdominal contact is inevitable and typically harmless during pregnancy, from doing daily tasks at work to managing rambunctious toddlers and pets. The rare exceptions usually involve abdominal trauma, such as getting in a car accident.
We’ve put together a run-through of common concerns patients raise, including activities that are generally safe, tips to avoid abdominal trauma, and when to see the doctor.
How protected is the baby in the womb?
In general, women’s bodies are not fragile. Historically, women have worked hard on farms and in factories throughout their pregnancies. Many still do today.
The uterus is a muscular organ that protects the baby from the jostling and bouncing of mom’s day-to-day. When combined with the shock absorbers of the amniotic fluid and the weight you gain during pregnancy, your baby is padded from the effects of most daily abdominal contact.
Abdominal trauma is different. Vehicle accidents, falls, and overzealous lifting can be forceful enough to harm the baby. However, you can take precautions to reduce the risk of abdominal trauma, which we’ll outline below.
Abdominal contact: Safe activities
The following activities are generally safe for women whose pregnancies are not high risk.
Big hugs from toddlers
Not much can beat the feeling of a toddler running to you for a big hug. And, for most patients, the force of a 20- to 40-pound child bumping your belly is not enough to harm the baby. That said, toddlers can be unpredictable, and a hug could quickly turn into flailing arms and legs, which might cause abdominal injury or a fall.
Consider explaining a safer way to hug you. You might say, “Mommy loves when you hug me! But while my tummy is big, please walk to me so I don’t get hurt.”
Extra love from pets
Dogs and cats might jump up on you or plop on your lap when you least expect it. While pets under 40 pounds are unlikely to hurt your baby with pawing or bouncing, they can be a tripping hazard. Make sure you get a visual on your pet when you enter a room to avoid falling.
Pets over 40 pounds can jump or land with enough force to hurt you or potentially harm the baby. Teach the pet not to jump or ask someone to kennel the pet when you are present.
Related reading: Is your pet ready for you to have a baby?
House and yard work
It’s generally safe to mow your lawn, garden, wash the car, and conduct other household chores during pregnancy (sorry to blow your cover!).
That said, listen to your body. If you feel fatigued or sore, take a break. Avoid climbing ladders or working on uneven or slick surfaces to reduce the risk of falling. Also, stay hydrated and avoid heavy lifting.
Abdominal trauma: When to use extra caution
In the following scenarios, consider the suggested precautions to protect your growing baby.
While not necessarily related to bumping the belly, patients often ask whether it’s safe to lift babies, groceries, and objects at work during pregnancy.
Heavy lifting and repetitive lifting motions have been associated with pregnancy loss, preterm birth, and maternal injury such as a pulled muscle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that women in certain professions are at increased risk, including: childcare providers; health care workers; law enforcement officers; service workers; and teachers.
You don’t have to avoid all lifting, but you should follow the guidelines recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Most non-high-risk patients can occasionally lift people or objects up to 36 lbs through approximately the 20th week of pregnancy. From week 21 on, occasional lifting should be capped at 26 lbs. If your job requires you to lift more than the recommended limits, talk your Ob/Gyn.
Women who lift routinely (every day or several times a week) can lift people or objects up to 18 lbs through 20 weeks gestation and up to 13 lbs from 21 weeks to delivery. If you care for a child or adult who exceeds these weight limits and requires lifting, talk with your doctor. In-home resources are available to alleviate lifting duties during pregnancy.
After delivery, during the post-partum period, follow the 21-week-plus guidelines until your provider clears you to resume regular activities.
Driving or riding in vehicles
Car accidents are the No. 1 reason pregnant patients call our office with concerns about abdominal trauma. Often, they’ve hit their belly on the steering wheel or strained against the seatbelt hard enough to leave marks.
For a safer ride or drive, wear your seat belt properly. Adjust the belt low on your lap, below your belly. Position the shoulder strap between your breasts, which will naturally move it to the side and away from your stomach. To avoid serious injury, ACOG recommends never putting the shoulder strap under your arm or behind your back.
When driving, you might need to adjust your seat back as your belly grows to keep a comfortable length from the steering wheel.
If you are in any vehicle accident, no matter how small, visit your doctor as soon as you can. Injuries that affect the baby or your internal organs might not cause immediate symptoms, and it’s best to find issues early.
Nesting, or the urge to get everything ready for the baby’s arrival, can make you feel energized and strong. But don’t give in to the urge to move furniture yourself or haul heavy totes out of storage. Ask for help to move and unload the baby’s things. You can still direct the project.
It’s important to get exercise during pregnancy, though you will probably need to make some modifications as pregnancy progresses. Your balance will change as your abdomen grows, and the shift will be more noticeable during exercise than during everyday activities.
- On the treadmill: Position yourself toward the middle or back of the belt so you don’t bump your belly against the console. Clip on the emergency stop pulley in case you fall or need to stop suddenly.
- Lifting: Limit the amount of weight and avoid lifting with your back. Also, check your form – balance properly and protect your joints. Also consider using a spotter.
- Hot yoga: Avoid this form of yoga during pregnancy. Research has shown that too much heat can be detrimental to the baby. But feel free to continue doing other types of yoga during pregnancy – it’s a safe, fun way to exercise during any trimester.
When to call the doctor
You can reach out to your doctor any time you are concerned about a belly bump. Call your provider immediately if your water breaks or you experience any of these symptoms of abdominal trauma:
- Reduced or absent fetal movement
- Vaginal bleeding
- Contractions before 37 weeks gestation
Note: Contractions might not be painful. They might feel like cramping or abdominal tightness. If you press on your abdomen and can’t indent the uterus, you’re likely having a contraction.
Even if you don’t experience symptoms after an abdominal trauma, call your provider. The doctor might ask you to come in for an exam to monitor the baby’s movement and heart rate.
With a few modifications, your baby bump doesn’t have to radically change your day-to-day activities. Follow the guidelines and talk with your doctor if you’re unsure – it’s always better to ask than to worry!
PTSD after pregnancy
You may associate post-traumatic stress disorder with survivors of assault, war, or natural disasters. But as maternal-fetal specialist Dr. Shivani Patel will tell you, symptoms of PTSD can weigh heavy on moms who had complex pregnancies. She knows from personal experience.