What is lightning crotch?

That jolting pain you may feel in your pelvis or crotch late in pregnancy is called lightning crotch. It's not dangerous, but it is uncomfortable.

lightning crotch strike
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What is lightning crotch during pregnancy?

Lightning crotch is a name for the sharp, jolting or stinging pelvic pain that you may start to feel occasionally in your third trimester.

It may feel like a sharp, shooting pain that starts in the groin and can travel down the thigh. Or it may feel like an electric jolt, burning, stinging, or pins and needles. The pain can be slight, or it can take your breath away. It typically lasts no more than a few seconds.

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"This sensation is very common," says Layan Alrahmani, M.D.Opens a new window, a board-certified ob-gyn and maternal-fetal medicine specialist, clinical faculty and assistant professor at Loyola UniversityOpens a new window in Chicago, and member of the BabyCenter Medical Advisory Board.. "Luckily it's usually nothing to worry about."

What causes lightning crotch?

Experts think this pain is related to your baby getting bigger and dropping down into your pelvis before birth. "When baby's head is low in the pelvis, also known as 'engaged,' the resulting pressure on the cervix and nerves lower in your uterus can cause this sporadic discomfort," explains Penn Medicine Lancaster General HealthOpens a new window.

How is lightning crotch different from other pelvic pain during pregnancy?

While there are different types of pelvic pain in pregnancy, they can feel similar.

Pubic symphysis dysfunction (SPD) or pelvic girdle pain, for example, is often mistaken for lightning crotch. But there are differences:

  • SPD is longer-lasting and sometimes chronic, while lightning crotch passes very quickly.
  • SPD may be worse at night or after you've been very active, while lightning crotch happens at any time.
  • SPD often flares up in response to movement such as walking or climbing stairs, and it can hamper your mobility, while lightning crotch is fleeting.

Lightning crotch pain can also feel a lot like round ligament pain, but there are key differences:

  • Round ligament pain is more common in the second trimester as your uterus grows, but lightning crotch pain generally happens at the end of the third trimester.
  • Round ligament pain may feel like it's radiating out towards your hip bones, and it can vary from a sharp pain to a dull ache. Lightning crotch usually feels like a sharp pain or electric jolt in the pelvis or vagina.
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Other back pain or nerve-related pain can also feel similar, especially sciatica. The sciatic nerve goes from the lower back down the legs via the pelvis, and when it gets pinched you can have shooting nerve pain. Here's how to tell the difference:

  • Sciatica can happen anytime during pregnancy, while lightning crotch pain happens late in the third trimester.
  • You can feel sciatica anywhere along the sciatic nerve (back, buttocks, and leg) and it's usually one side. You won't feel it in the groin or vagina like lightning crotch.

Is lightning crotch a sign of labor?

Lightning crotch pain doesn't mean you're going into labor. That said, it can seem like labor pain, especially if it's your first pregnancy. Here are the main differences:

  • Labor contractions are regular and repeating, and get closer over time. Lightning crotch is random.
  • Labor often comes with menstrual-type lower back pain that lasts a long time. Lightning crotch is sharper and lasts only seconds.

Is lightning crotch dangerous?

Though lightning crotch can be jolting and disruptive, it's usually nothing to worry about.

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If the pain lasts more than a minute at a time or you have any other symptoms like dizziness, bleeding or other fluid from the vagina, fever, or bad headaches, call your doctor right away. These are pregnancy symptoms you shouldn't ignore.

Are there ways to prevent lightning crotch?

"Unfortunately there isn't a way to completely stop lightning crotch from happening," says Penn Medicine. "While it's not a fun pregnancy symptom to deal with, the good news is that the pain typically stops as quickly as it begins."

If you're feeling jolts of lightning crotch, here are some things you may want to try:

  • Wear a supportive belly band to reduce the pressure on your lower uterus.
  • Stay active and take plenty of desk breaks. Walking and swimming are good options.
  • Try a warm bath or massage to relax your muscles and joints.
  • When you do feel a jolt, shift your position.

The good news is that this pain comes and goes quickly, and you won't have to deal with it for long.

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What moms-to-be say about lightning crotch

"I've been feeling it, especially when I walk. My doctor just told me it was lightening crotch. I thought he was making the term up."

"I have it constantly. My baby is head-down and very low, so every time he moves his head I get a little shock."

"I just felt this for the first time tonight. It was a sharp, shooting pain like an electric shock down low through my crotch."

Learn more:

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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

Alhooie K. 2022. Is it lightning crotch, round ligament pain, or pubic symphysis dysfunction? Orthopelvic Physical Therapy. a new window [Accessed August 2023]

Cleveland Clinic. 2019. How to Handle Sciatica During Pregnancy. a new window [Accessed August 2023]

Cleveland Clinic. 2020. Having a Healthy Pregnancy. a new window [Accessed August 2023]

Penn Medicine. Lancaster General Health. Real talk: Lightning crotch pain during pregnancy. a new window [Accessed August 2023]

Karen Miles
Karen Miles is a writer and an expert on pregnancy and parenting who has contributed to BabyCenter for more than 20 years. She's passionate about bringing up-to-date, useful information to parents so they can make good decisions for their families. Her favorite gig of all is being "Mama Karen" to four grown children and "Nana" to nine grandkids.