When a baby is first on the way, symptoms show up as changes in the mother’s body.
So it’s exciting and strange when the baby makes its presence known in more obvious ways.
You might notice it’s hard to bend over, as though something is in the way.
Or perhaps you’re running your hand over your belly and wondering, ‘What is this hard spot in my abdomen – is it baby?’
BellyBelly fan Isadora describes the first time she noticed a lump that might be her baby:
“I woke up in the middle of the night and I was lying on my back. I ran my hand across my abdomen and distinctly felt a hard bump that really stuck out.
“I fell asleep again and woke up to find that the bump was still there but had moved to the other side”.
Feeling lumps and bumps in your body that change and move can be confusing. It can also provide opportunities to connect with the new little stranger inside.
Here are answers to some common questions about what might be happening with your growing shape.
What does a hard spot in my abdomen mean?
A hard spot in your abdomen might mean different things at different stages of pregnancy.
During the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, you’re not likely to feel your baby from the outside.
At this stage, your uterus stays nestled deep within your lower abdomen.
By 12 weeks pregnant, your uterus is about the size of a grapefruit. You can feel it just above the pubic bone.
During weeks 13-27 of pregnancy, the baby (and your body) will grow a great deal. This is the time you can start feeling the baby from the outside.
A hard spot on your abdomen during the early part of the second trimester is likely to be your fundus, which is the top of your uterus.
The uterus is a muscular organ, shaped like an upside-down pear, and the fundus is the curved upper part that’s furthest away from your cervix.
The fundus is what the doctor or midwife measures at your prenatal appointments.
You can feel your uterus at home by lying on your back, and pressing your fingers into your abdomen until you feel something like a hard ball.
By 20 weeks, your fundus should be just under your belly button.
It’s exciting to have this evidence that your baby is growing and developing inside you.
At this stage, you might even feel the baby start to move and kick.
You can read more about quickening, or baby’s first movements, in our article What Does Quickening Feel Like?
Could it be an elbow, a foot, a head or a little baby bum?
As your baby grows in size and strength, a hard spot on your abdomen might actually be one of your baby’s body parts sticking out.
Hard spots can move, or come and go, as the baby changes position.
This is the beginning of getting to know your little one as someone completely separate from you – a person with his, or her, own movements and patterns.
Later on, we’ll say more about how to tell which parts you’re feeling.
What if my stomach is bulging to one side?
You might be surprised to find that your baby bump isn’t always perfectly round.
Your pregnant belly can be lopsided, or bulge to one side, for several reasons:
- Anatomy. Everybody is built differently, and some people have a uterus that falls naturally to one side or the other
- Gravity. Many women report a belly bulge dramatically to one side of the body when they wake up in the morning. This can look very odd, and even alarming, but it makes sense that if you sleep on your left side, the weight of the baby will settle on the left side too.
- Baby’s position. Babies are constantly on the move in the womb. They might stretch and push in all different directions. They might also favour one side of the belly over the other, so a head or a back will bulge to one side.
Why is my belly sometimes hard and sometimes soft?
It feels alien enough when your belly has bulges, bumps, and kicks. Added to that, it might sometimes feel squishy and other times rock hard.
When your pregnant belly feels rock hard and firm all over, it’s usually because you’re having a contraction.
This is nothing to worry about. It’s normal for the uterine muscles to contract and harden as a practice for true labour.
These belly tightenings are called Braxton Hicks contractions.
To learn more about them, check out BellyBelly’s article Braxton Hicks Contractions – What Are They?
Dehydration can also lead to extra contractions.
If you’re having Braxton Hicks often, it’s a good idea to drink a lot of water and take a bath to see if they calm down.
If these tightenings happen more frequently and become painful, please check in with your medical care provider, in case you are having signs of early labour.
How can I tell where the baby is?
From that first hard spot on your abdomen, to new flutters and kicks, then dramatic bulges and bumps … you might start to feel like your body is host to a strange unknown creature.
Some new parents find this thrilling. Others find it quite disconcerting and even unwelcome. All of these are normal reactions to the huge life transformation that is happening.
No matter how you’re feeling about it all, each bump and movement is an invitation to become better acquainted with your new baby.
A great way of getting to know your baby is to understand what those bulges mean in relation to your baby’s position.
Spinning Babies, founded by midwife Gail Tully, is a great resource for learning where your baby lies in your womb.
In a technique called Belly Mapping, Spinning Babies experts provide suggestions for how to determine whether the bump you’re feeling is a head or a bum, an elbow or a knee.
The first step of Belly Mapping involves sitting in a semi-reclined position for a few evenings in a row, while paying special attention to your baby’s movements and wiggles.
This will clue you in as to whether baby is head down or head up, and facing your front or your back.
When you’ve figured out baby’s major position, you can better identify what is a foot or a hand, and so on.
Don’t be afraid to push, prod, and feel around on your belly for body parts. Baby is protected by the layers of your uterus and by amniotic fluid.
Your baby can feel your touch and might even kick back in response.
A broad, flat hard area of your belly could be your baby’s back.
Big strong pushes come from feet and legs.
Little tickly movements often come from hands and fingers.
When pressed, baby’s head can bounce back while a bum stays firm and stationary.
Discerning your baby’s parts and position can be much more than just gathering information; it can be a special time of connecting and bonding.