She calls these electric-like shocks "traumatic."

By Taylyn Washington-Harmon
March 12, 2021
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Being pregnant can come with a host of surprises, and for Hilary Duff, "lightning crotch" is one of them.

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Credit: Getty Images

"I texted my midwife the other day and I was like, 'What's up with the stabbing pains in my vagina? I'm not feeling this,'" Duff, 33, tells Brooke Baldwin, a guest host of the Ellen DeGeneres Show, about the painful sensations she's experiencing right now during her third pregnancy. "It feels awful, like you're being struck by lightning! And she just wrote back and she was like, 'Oh, lightning crotch,' like it was no big thing. And I was like, 'This is quite traumatic.'"

Duff describes lightning crotch this way: "It'll just strike and all of a sudden and you're, like, doubled over and then it's gone." So what exactly is this little-known phenomenon?

What is lightning crotch?

Also known as symphysis pubis dysfunction, lightning crotch is an actual medical condition characterized by sharp, shooting pains in the crotch or groin area, usually during pregnancy, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, tells Health. Not all pregnant women experience it, and a woman can have lightning crotch during one pregnancy but not necessarily every pregnancy.

What causes lightning crotch?

Lightning crotch is triggered by changes to the pubic symphysis—a joint that lies between the left and right public bones. The hormone relaxin, which is produced during pregnancy, causes the pubic symphysis to separate in preparation for delivery, and it's this separation that actually causes the pain. "Some people feel a zip of pain, while some people feel chronically achey," says Dr. Minkin.

Is lightning crotch a sign of labor or that something is wrong?

No, according to Dr. Minkin; lightning crotch may be disruptive and painful, but it's not dangerous. "People can actually experience this substantially before labor," she says. However, if 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

"Usually sitting down or changing position can be beneficial because it takes the pressure of the uterus off of the rest of the pelvis," Dr. Minkin advises. She also recommends trying a belly support belt or girdle to help with pelvic support. A heating pad or taking an over-the-counter pain reliever can work as well. "As long as [the pain goes] away, it's nothing to worry about," she says.

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