Pain During Pregnancy Pregnancy

Pregnancy Cramps: When Cramping is Normal and When To Worry

pregnancy cramps
Written by Stephanie McClane

As well as nausea, emotional up and downs, and food cravings, most women experience aches and pains throughout pregnancy.

After all, your body is changing to accommodate growing life, so it’s expected that your body might protest from time to time.

Stomach cramps are one of the aches and pains that is usually a normal part of pregnancy. But, sometimes, cramping a sign of something more serious.

Here we explain how to know if your pregnancy cramps are normal, or if they’re something you should worry about.

What does Pregnancy Cramping Feel Like?

Abdominal cramps in pregnancy can often feel similar to other more familiar types of pain and cramping.

In early pregnancy, you might experience cramps that feel more like period pains. The pain is usually located low in the abdomen, with a heavy, dragging sensation in the pelvis.

Although, some women liken the pain to heartburn. And, others describe the sensation the kind of stomach cramps and pains that come with gas, bloating or constipation.

Is Early Pregnancy Cramping Normal?

Cramping in early pregnancy is indeed normal. During the first trimester, the stomach cramps you feel are the result of the normal physical changes your body goes through as it prepares itself to carry your baby.

But, you may find that your cramps are worse at certain times.

For example, some women experience pregnancy cramping when they have an orgasm during sex. Although this can be worrying, unless your doctor tells you otherwise, there’s no reason to stop having sex when you’re pregnant. However, if sex leads to bleeding or a persistent or sharp pain, you should contact your doctor or midwife.

Cramping may also be more noticeable when you cough, sneeze or change position. Similarly, you may also experience cramping while exercising. If so, listen to your body and take some much-needed rest.

Causes of Pregnancy Cramping

Cramping early in very pregnancy can be from the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus.

As the pregnancy progresses, cramps are caused by the ligaments and muscles that support the uterus stretching as the uterus grows to accommodate your baby. Specifically, cramps in the second trimester are often due to the round ligament stretching to support the uterus. This can cause a sharp, stabbing sensation, or a dull ache in your lower abdomen.

And, as veins supplying blood to the uterus become engorged, this can also result in feelings of discomfort and heaviness.

As the baby grows and moves, you may still feel cramping pains as you head into your third trimester. Later in the pregnancy, cramping could be a sign of preterm labor. Or, once you hit the 37-week mark, these pains might mean your baby is coming!

How to Soothe Pregnancy Stomach Cramps

Often, the best way to soothe pregnancy cramping is to find ways to relax and make yourself feel more comfortable.

If you feel tired or have had a long day, change into some loose pants and curl up on the sofa with a good book. Placing a covered hot water bottle on your stomach can also help to ease your cramping pains. Or, if you have a maternity support belt, this can help soothe cramps and back pain.

Alternatively, taking a warm bath or shower can help to make you feel better. Remember to drink lots of fluids too, as dehydration can make cramps worse.

And, if you’re feeling up to it, gentle exercise can help to ease stomach cramps. You could go for a walk, try out a pregnancy Pilates class, or go swimming. If your cramping is related to constipation, the exercise will also help this pregnancy symptom.

When Should I Worry about Cramps?

Cramping during pregnancy is normal and not usually anything to worry about. But, there are some symptoms which can indicate that the cramping might be related to something more serious.

As such, you should call your doctor or midwife if your cramps:

  • are accompanied by bleeding or a watery discharge
  • become more severe, more frequent, or do not subside
  • are accompanied by dizziness and/or nausea
  • are accompanied by sudden lower back pain
  • are accompanied by contractions

Serious Causes of Pregnancy Cramping

Abdominal cramps in pregnancy that are more severe or come with other symptoms may be as a result of some of the following causes:

Miscarriage

Sharp or mild cramping accompanied by vaginal spotting can indicate a miscarriage. But some pregnant women can experience cramping and spotting and go on to have healthy pregnancies.

If you see blood you should speak to your doctor, if only to set your mind at ease. But, if you experience heavy blood loss and/or severe cramping, contact your doctor immediately.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies occur when the fertilized eggs implants outside the uterus. This type of pregnancy can cause painful cramping and is a serious medical condition which must be treated by your doctor.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is another serious condition that affects between 5 and 8 percent of pregnancies. Upper abdominal pain is a symptom, as is high blood pressure and protein in your urine.

It can be difficult to detect, but keeping all your appointments throughout your pregnancy will make it easier for your doctor to test if you are suffering from preeclampsia.

Urinary Tract Infections

If your lower abdominal pain is accompanied by painful urination, this could be a sign that you are suffering from a urinary tract infection. Contact your doctor immediately so that they can prescribe a pregnancy-safe antibiotic.

Placental Abruption

This happens when the placenta becomes separated from the uterus before the baby is born. Placental abruption is a life-threatening condition and is often indicated by painful cramps and vaginal bleeding.

Your Guide to Pregnancy Cramps

In the vast majority of cases, pregnancy cramps are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

In fact, cramps are a sign that your baby is growing and your uterus is expanding to accommodate this growth. But, you should also be aware that pregnancy cramping can sometimes be a sign that something is wrong.

After all, it’s even more important to stay informed when you’re bringing life into the world, so check out these other posts on pain during pregnancy for more information.

About the author

Stephanie McClane

Hi, I’m Stephanie. I graduated college with a business degree and a minor in biology. I met my husband at a business convention and was happily marriage and pregnant within the first two years after saying the words “ I do”.

Jennifer is the eldest of the three. Being pregnant with her, my first, I researched everything pregnancy related and read nearly every book. Giving birth to Anthony and Matty seemed more natural and less stressful the third time around.

I’m happy to share what knowledge I have gathered and learn new things from other mothers. From morning sickness to Anencephaly, or potty training to thumb sucking, I have books and resource guides to share.