Cramping During Pregnancy: Anything that seems a little out of line can be threatening during a pregnancy. One major issue women seek help for are cramps during the pregnancy. Here is an article which will help you differentiate between what is normal and what is not.
Cramping is a common and yet, scary symptom of pregnancy. One thing is for sure, it is an indication by the uterus whenever something new is happening. Given the fact that the uterus is a muscle, and whenever the muscle moves – it contracts and, a contraction is what causes cramps. It means that whenever the uterus is stimulated – due to full bladder, vigorous exercise, or any other reason — the natural response generally is to contract.
While usual cramps should not be something to bother about, but if you see any of these signs with it, you must go see a doctor –
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding,
- Unusual vaginal discharge,
- Chills or fever,
- Pain or discomfort while urinating,
Below is a trimester wise break-down of reasons for cramping.
Table of Contents
Cramps During First Trimester
Stomach cramps in early pregnancy are fairly common. Here are some common causes which result in cramping –
- Women start experiencing cramps with slight bleeding as soon as the embryo implants itself into the walls of the womb. This usually happens around the same time when you are expecting your periods.
- You might also experience some cramping as the uterus changes its shape and size in order to accommodate the baby.
- Some women also have cramps while they orgasm during sexual intercourse. This is normal and you don’t have to abstain from sex unless and until told by a doctor.
- Around 12 weeks of pregnancy, women also feel cramps on either sides or both sides of the groin when they stand, stretch or twist. This is due to the stretching motion of the ligament which supports the womb.
- Many women fear that cramps could be a sign of miscarriage. Cramping doesn’t happen during a miscarriage unless and until the uterus has expelled the egg and the muscles are contracting to get it out of your system.
During early pregnancy, cramps feel mostly like the pain of heartburn or periods.
Cramps during Second Trimester
After the first trimester, cramping is not a common sign of pregnancy, except in cases when –
- Women who are pregnant with twins or triplets or multiple babies may experience cramping even during the second trimester as the uterus expands suddenly. The growth which is supposed to take place in the third trimester happens during the second in such cases.
- You may feel a quick, sharp one-sided pain which is due to the round ligaments which stretch with the uterus.
- A rare but serious case is that of uterine fibroids. These are harmless overgrowth of tissues inside the uterus, which may begin to breakdown during the pregnancy. This happens due to lack of blood or support for them to grow or thrive inside the body. The pain is sharp and usually happens during the 15th to 18th week of pregnancy. Women who have fibroids, should expect cramping during this semester, it may also require hospitalization.
Cramps during the Third Trimester
As you move forward with the pregnancy, the kind of cramping also changes –
- You will feel more pressure in your pelvic region as the baby has grown bigger and starts to push down.
- The baby presses down on the nerves that go from your uterus to your legs, which causes cramping while walking.
- Cramping during the third trimester is not considered normal. If a woman experiences steadily increasing cramps, she should see a doctor immediately.
- Towards the end of your third trimester, as your body begins to contract for labor, you may experience cramps.
- You must report tightening or hardness of your belly or if you see unusual vaginal discharge during this time.
Serious Concerns That May Be Causing Cramps
Although, cramping is not a big deal and happens due to various reasons as your body is trying to adjust to the changes and requirements, there are a few things you should rule out to ensure a healthy pregnancy –
Infections – yeast or Urinary Tract Infections can be the reason behind the cramps you have been dealing with. A good portion of pregnant women develop these infections or contract them from a dirty toilet seat, due to the over-sensitivity of the body. These infections, if left untreated can develop an infection in the kidneys as well. On a larger scale, they can also cause you to go into pre-term labor. A urine test should be done to ensure it is not an infection.
Sexual Intercourse – sometimes sexual intercourse can also be the reason for cramps. Women who have a healthy pregnancy can continue to have sex right until their delivery date. However, you should ask your doctor whether or not it is advisable for you to have sex. During your pregnancy, the sex might feel less pleasurable due to the expanding stomach and at a later stage, orgasms can cause cramping. If you feel pain, discomfort or cramps after sex, you should contact your doctor.
Ectopic Pregnancy – if the cramps are increasing or are accompanied by spotting or bleeding, it could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. In case of a normal pregnancy, either of your ovaries releases an egg into the fallopian tubes. The egg is fertilized by the sperm and it moves to the uterus and attached itself to the walls. Here the egg continues to develop and grow over nine months. However, in ectopic pregnancies the egg doesn’t follow the usual course of attaching itself to the uterus. It attaches itself to the fallopian tubes or at time even the cervix, ovaries or even the abdomen. It is a rare condition and only 1 to 2 percent of the pregnant women experience it. The tell-tale sign would be sharp pains that stay for longer than a few minutes
Miscarriage – quite similar to an ectopic pregnancy in case of the symptoms. When your body expels the egg, due to an accident or because the egg is unfit – the body has to get rid of it. The uterus begins to contract in order to clean its insides, which results in cramping. In such cases, cramping is accompanied by bleeding and tissues as vaginal discharge. You should consult a doctor if you spot blood or tissues while cramping.
Pre–eclampsia – this is one of the serious causes of cramps. It can happen anytime during the 20th week of pregnancy. According to various studies, this is more prominent as about 5 to 8 percent women experience this condition. Preeclampsia may lead to pain in the upper-right side of your stomach. This can increase your risk of developing placental abruption, a condition where your placenta breaks off from the uterine wall before delivery. If protein is found in your urine, it could be a sign of Pre-eclampsia. If such a condition exists, the doctor shall check your urine and blood pressure regularly until delivery. The usual symptoms include –
- Severe headaches,
- Changes in eyesight,
- Intense pain in upper abdomen and/or shoulders,
- Difficulty breathing,
- Swelling or face or puffiness near the eyes,
- Swelling of hands, feet or ankles,
- Sudden weight gain from water retention.
Placental Abruption – it is a life-threatening condition where the placenta detaches from the uterus, partially or wholly, before the birth of the baby. Common symptoms are bleeding or at times, bleeding with leaking of amniotic fluid accompanied by back ache, cramping or tenderness.
Pre–mature Labor – another cause of cramps in the third trimester could be pre-mature labor. When the bodily environment becomes unfit for the baby, the body starts to prepare for an early labor. The uterus contracts and you may experience steady, increasing cramps. However, this can easily be confused with other conditions. Therefore, you must see a doctor any time you experience cramps in the third trimester.
Gall bladder stones or Pancreatitis – gallstones or infection in the pancreas are quite common with pregnant women and can cause cramps due to the pressure that is put on the gall bladder, pancreas or kidneys.
Peritonitis – this is an infection of the stomach. If your upper abdomen hurts and feels very sensitive when touched especially when pressure is released, it could be an infection inside your stomach. Any pain in the upper abdomen is not normal.
The other common causes for such cramps are –
- Food poisoning,
- Bowel obstruction,
- Stomach virus.
What Causes Harmless Cramping during Pregnancy?
Gas and Bloating – due to the hormonal changes during pregnancy, it is common to have gastric problems like bloating and acidity. This could also be due to the pressure on the intestines.
Constipation – it is the hormones which result in changes in your digestive system as well. They slow down the process of digestion leading to pressure on the rectum. This may also be the reason for cramps.
Braxton Hicks Contractions – post mid-pregnancy, you may experience a tightening sensation in the uterus periodically. These contractions usually start post 37th week of pregnancy. Before the 37th week they should be infrequent, irregular and painless.
When to Call the Doctor?
- Lower back pain,
- More than six contraction under one hour,
- Contractions come at regular intervals,
- Vaginal discharge,
- Dizziness or light-headedness,
- Neck or shoulder pain with cramps,
- Any other signs of pre-mature labor.
How to Soothe Cramps during Pregnancy?
This is the main part, remedies and how-to of the problem. Here are a few ways that will keep the cramps away, provided that the cramps are due to harmless causes. If the cramps stay even after trying these home remedies, you should see a doctor.
Control Movements – to handle any abdominal discomfort, you can try walking at a comfortable pace for a few minutes. Or, if you know you have been working a lot lately, stop and do the opposite. Sit down for a while or decrease your pace and mobility.
Lying Down – when you lie down on a straight surface, it helps your body circulate blood in a better manner and gives comfort. Whenever you feel cramps, lie down and try to figure out where the cramp is originating from.
Hot Compress – the one thing that always helps with cramps is a hot compress. It relaxes the muscles and ligaments of the body. You can put a hot water bottle or go for a hot water bath to decrease cramping.
Water Intake – sometimes, the body cramps due to dehydration. Even during your pregnancy, drink plenty of water. Make sure to consume 3 to 4 liters of water, even though your frequency of peeing has gone up by 50%.
Diet – your body could be cramping due to slow digestion and heavy intake of food. Avoid anything which is too spicy, oily or heavy for the body to digest. During pregnancy the digestive system slows down quite a lot. Opt for a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables, pulses and grains.
Exercise – to avoid or lessen cramps, you can try water aerobics or pre-natal Yoga.
Blood circulation – you should keep your legs in line with your body. Keep them on a straight surface and not below or above your body level. You can also try keeping a pillow between your legs while sleeping.
Supplements – after consulting your doctor, you may add health supplements to your daily regime. Supplements like Calcium, Vitamin E, C, Zinc, and Magnesium are very good for your health.
Sleep – make sure you get a good, undisturbed sleep for 8 hours minimum to provide proper rest for the body.
Footwear and clothing – choose clothes that ae loose in fitting, especially around the abdomen. Avoid wearing heels or shoes with hard soles; they add pressure to the body.