Cramping During Pregnancy – When Should You Be Worried?

Cramping During Pregnancy – When Should You Be Worried?

Any pregnant woman knows that pregnancy is a time when you feel twinges all over the body. From tender breasts to an aching back, small discomforts are a common feature during those 9 months. However, if you’re getting pregnancy cramps, it’s only natural to feel some concerns. Newly pregnant moms often worry when they experience any kind of unusual sensation, so, of course, when cramping occurs it can trigger panic. Yet, in most cases, the twinges that women experience in their abdomen during pregnancy are completely normal and are experienced by many other pregnant women.

Experiencing cramping sensations in early pregnancy naturally leads to anxiety. While it’s most likely to simply be normal growth and stretching of the uterus, there’s always the possibility that it could be a sign that a miscarriage is going to happen. It may not always be obvious which it is since there are many causes for pregnancy cramps due to your rapidly changing body.

Although cramps could indicate a problem, transient, mild cramping at an early stage of your pregnancy will usually turn out to be simply normal stretching and not an impending miscarriage. If you’re experiencing pain that isn’t too severe, is on both sides of your body, and isn’t accompanied by any bleeding, you’ve probably got no major causes for concern.

Implantation Pregnancy Cramps

Experiencing cramping is often a very early symptom of pregnancy. Implantation cramps occur a couple of weeks after conception when the fertilized egg implants in the wall of the uterus. When this happens, you may experience a sensation similar to menstrual cramps and this may be accompanied by a little light spotting. Although some women mistake this for their period, in fact, implantation spotting will be a lot lighter than a regular period and will only last for a couple of days.

Normal Pregnancy Cramps in the First Trimester

In the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy, your body needs to prepare for a growing baby. All those changes may result in cramping that is considered to be normal. Usually, these pregnancy cramps will be temporary and mild.

After becoming pregnant, the uterus starts to grow. You certainly won’t look pregnant yet, but your body is already adapting to the changes that pregnancy will bring. This process of change often causes mild or moderate cramps in your lower back or lower abdomen. It might feel like pulling, stretching or pressure. For some women, it is similar to regular menstrual cramps.

All the way through trimesters one and two, you may experience cramps on an occasional basis. Remember, your uterus is a muscle, so each time it contracts you could potentially experience some discomfort. The cramps may be triggered by constipation, a full bladder, bloating or gas. You may also experience cramps when exercising, and this is a sign you should rest more. Another time when cramps are common is after sex. Sometimes, even dehydration can cause abdominal cramping, so there are many causes to bear in mind.

Although these type of pregnancy cramps is often normal, you should still tell your midwife or doctor about them when you attend your next check-up.

During pregnancy, many women become more susceptible to UTIs and yeast infections, and both of these could cause cramps. They need to be treated quickly so you can enjoy a healthy, safe pregnancy.

Pregnancy Cramps During the Later Stages of Pregnancy

Your uterus will continue to increase in size throughout your pregnancy, so it’s only natural that abdominal cramping can also happen in the second and third trimesters. You’ll probably experience less cramping in your second trimester but at this stage, the round ligament muscle that supports your uterus starts to stretch. When this happens, you may feel dull aches or sharp pains in your lower abdomen.

Women who are having a multiples pregnancy can expect to experience some cramps in their second trimester since their body will need to make more room for their growing babies. In a singleton pregnancy, this kind of cramping won’t occur until the last trimester.

Although some cramps are completely normal, you should be aware of the signs that indicate pre-term labor. Intense pressure in the pelvis, dull backache, fluid or blood leaking from the vagina, or over five cramps or contractions within one hour are all indicators that you should seek medical advice.

What Do Abnormal Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like?

If you’re experiencing severe or persistent cramps, call a doctor immediately. It’s always best to check up on anything which seems wrong rather than overlooking something that could be a potential problem.

If your cramps are very severe, you should always see a doctor so that an ectopic pregnancy can be ruled out. This is rare, occurring in under 2% of all pregnancies, but it’s a serious concern that must be investigated. Ectopic pregnancies occur if a fertilized egg then implants outside the uterus. Signs will usually appear at around 6-8 weeks of pregnancy. Usually, pain will be experienced in the shoulder or neck and cramping will occur on only one side. You may also feel that you constantly need to go to the toilet. Ruptured ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening, so immediately visit the ER if you have these symptoms.

If you’re experiencing any type of vaginal bleeding together with cramps during early pregnancy, call your doctor as you may be having a miscarriage. There’s no need to panic as these symptoms aren’t always followed by a miscarriage. However, your doctor can order an ultrasound scan or blood tests to rule out any causes for concern.

Ruling Out Preeclampsia

Another serious potential concern is preeclampsia. This can occur any time after the 20th week of your pregnancy. Between 5 and 8% of pregnant women get a diagnosis of preeclampsia. This condition often causes pain to be experienced in the stomach’s upper-right side. It could make it more likely that you’ll suffer from a placental abruption, where the placenta becomes detached from the wall of the uterus before your baby is delivered. High blood pressure and protein in the urine are signs of preeclampsia, which is why both of these things are checked at every antenatal appointment until your baby is delivered.

Third Trimester Pregnancy Cramps

Entering into the third trimester of pregnancy, it’s likely you’ll feel increasing pelvic pressure as your little one is now growing very rapidly. Your baby will be pressing down on all the nerves running from the vagina to the legs. This means you’ll probably feel increased cramping and pressure when you walk since your baby will bounce about inside your uterus. If you lie down on one side for a while, this can help to reduce your discomfort.

You may also experience Braxton Hicks contractions. They are essentially “false labor”. They will typically last a very short amount of time (seconds or a minute or two) and they occur with a relatively irregular schedule.

If you notice steady, increasing cramping, though, call your doctor. The symptoms of pre-term labor often vary between women, but if your stomach is becoming tighter or harder, or if you’re experiencing new pains in your back, you should seek medical advice straight away. This is especially the case if the pains in your back are accompanied by a change in your vaginal discharge.

Can I Do Anything to Relieve Pregnancy Cramps?

Although pregnancy cramps can be uncomfortable, there are a number of things you can try to get a little relief. For a start, try reducing the amount of physical activity you’re doing and avoid adopting any positions that make the cramps worse. Try taking a warm bath every night before you go to bed and, whenever possible, take a few moments during the day when you can rest comfortably and quietly.

Drink plenty of fluids too. Dehydration can cause a range of issues, including pregnancy cramps. There is also pregnancy yoga which can be excellent at relieving pain.

Some women find that maternity belly bands are helpful in reducing their discomfort. A simple elastic belt with Velcro fastenings worn underneath the belly can help to minimize cramping. Make sure it isn’t too restrictive and can be adjusted, though.

Should I Call a Doctor About My Pregnancy Cramps?

It’s quite normal to be worried about cramps during pregnancy, but rest assured that in most cases you’ll have nothing to worry about. Still, if you’re concerned, it’s always best to call your midwife or doctor to get their professional advice. They will be able to discuss your symptoms with you and either reassure you, examine you or offer you further tests to put your mind at rest.

If you’re in continuous or severe pain, however, you should go to a hospital straight away. This is especially the case if the cramping is accompanied by one or more of these symptoms:

  • Chills or fever
  • Bleeding or spotting (even if you have no cramping, you should see a doctor about vaginal bleeding in pregnancy)
  • Severe headaches
  • Changes in vision (including temporary blindness, increased sensitivity to the light, seeing spots or flashing lights or blurred vision)
  • Burning or pain while urinating
  • Difficulty in urinating
  • Bloody urine
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Experiencing five or more contractions within an hour (this could indicate labor and, if this happens before your 37th week of pregnancy it could be a symptom of pre-term labor)