What Is Lightning Crotch During Pregnancy?

It can feel as if your vagina is being shocked, but it's generally nothing to worry about.

Being pregnant can come with a host of surprises, but you might not think intense sporadic pain that feels like electric shocks in your vagina would be one of them. Coined "lightning crotch," the affliction can happen to some people during pregnancy.

What is lightning crotch and what causes it?

If you've ever had sudden, shooting pains in your vagina or pelvic area during pregnancy, chances are, you've experienced lightning crotch. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), lightning crotch can also feel like a pins-and-needles sensation.

Thankfully, the jolt of pain is brief, lasting just a few seconds. If it lasts longer than a minute or is accompanied by other symptoms, you need to contact your healthcare provider right away. According to the APA, these other symptoms can include dizziness, bleeding or other fluid coming from your vagina, fever, or bad headaches.

Several factors can cause the condition. Often, the position of the baby, putting pressure on the nerves around the bottom of the uterus, is to blame.

Lightning crotch could also be caused by a condition known as symphysis pubis dysfunction, according to Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine.

In this case, lightning crotch is triggered by changes to the pubic symphysis—a joint that lies between the left and right pubic bones. According to a 2021 study in Nature Scientific Reports, the symphysis pubic gap is normally about 4-5 mm in nonpregnant people.

The hormone relaxin, which is produced during pregnancy, causes the pubic symphysis to separate at least 2-3 mm in preparation for delivery, and it's this separation that can cause the pain. "Some people feel a zip of pain, while some people feel chronically achy," said Dr. Minkin.

Not all pregnant individuals experience it, and a person can have lightning crotch—or symphysis pubis dysfunction—during one pregnancy but not necessarily every pregnancy.

Is lightning crotch a sign of a problem?

No, said Dr. Minkin. Lightning crotch may be disruptive and painful, but it's not dangerous. "People can experience this substantially before labor," said Dr. Minkin. However, if the lightning crotch is accompanied by lower back pain, nausea, consistent contractions, and blood-tinged vaginal discharge, it's important to get to the hospital ASAP, as these are signs of labor.

How to ease or prevent lightning crotch

There's not a whole lot that can be done to prevent or treat the episodes, and they should resolve on their own. "Usually sitting down or changing position can be beneficial because it takes the pressure of the uterus off of the rest of the pelvis," explained Dr. Minkin. She also recommended trying a belly support belt or girdle to help with pelvic support. A heating pad or over-the-counter pain reliever may work as well. "As long as [the pain goes] away, it's nothing to worry about," said Dr. Minkin.

While it might not be comfortable—and can be downright painful—lightning crotch isn't anything to worry about. But if you're just not sure, give your healthcare provider a call. It's always better to be safe than sorry, especially during pregnancy.

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