The searing pelvic pain was the first sign that my third pregnancy wasn’t like the others. It started at about 6 ½ months gestation and got progressively worse as the pregnancy neared term. I jokingly told my husband and doctor that it felt like my unborn son was trying for a jail break – but, all joking aside, it really did feel like he was going to rip me open and fall out.
What I was experiencing, I soon learned, is a condition called symphysis pubis dysfunction, also called pubic symphysis dysfunction or SPD. It’s a fairly common condition that may occur in as many as 25 percent of pregnancies, but it’s not one you’re likely to hear about in the pregnancy books or from briefings with your OB/GYN. If you’re experiencing moderate-to-severe pelvic pain, SPD may be the culprit, so always double-check with your doctor to make sure there are no serious issues in your pregnancy.
What causes SPD?
Symphysis pubis dysfunction is the result of one of the joints in your pelvis getting overextended. This usually occurs because the connective tissue has simply been under too much pressure for too long, and it overextends just like skeletal muscle might. Pregnancy hormones also soften the connective tissue in preparation for delivery, making it relatively easy to stretch. SPD is most likely to start causing pain around the late second trimester to early third trimester of pregnancy.
What does symphysis pubis dysfunction feel like?
The actual sensations caused by SPD can range from discomfort in the lower pelvic regions to a searing, localized pain. It’s very likely to get worse as the pregnancy progresses, especially if the pain starts early on. Walking or standing for long periods of time will usually intensify the pain.
Who is most likely to get pubic symphysis dysfunction?
Any woman may experience SPD during any pregnancy. However, smaller women and/or carrying larger babies usually means a higher likelihood of pubic symphysis pain. Connective tissue loses elasticity over time so it’s easier to injure with stretching, so older mothers are also more likely to experience this type of pain.
Does SPD go away after pregnancy?
While SPD doesn’t always go away immediately after the delivery of a baby, it usually does improve within a couple of weeks. The pain may be gone immediately. With my own 10 ½-pound baby, the SPD pain ceased the moment he was born, and I actually had less soreness and bruising than with either of his older siblings.
While SPD itself is rarely harmful in the long term, always discuss it with your doctor. You need to make sure that’s the type of pain you’re experiencing; assumptions can be very dangerous to a baby. If your doctor confirms SPD, you may be able to use over-the-counter pain medication such as Ibuprofen to help manage the pelvic pain. Try to stay off your feet, and consider a heating pad or an occasional soak in a warm bathtub (though not for too long, it is an infection risk) to help make the pain easier to handle.