Cramps During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment And Prevention

25 effective tips to prevent pains and cramps during pregnancy

Image: Shutterstock

Severe pain and cramps during pregnancy might be worrisome. With the progressing months, you will start to feel cramps in different parts of the body. But is that normal? Do all women experience pain during pregnancy?

Find out all about pains and cramps during pregnancy, what causes them, when they are a cause of concern and how to get rid of them in this MomJunction post.

Is Abdominal Pain And Cramping Normal During Pregnancy?

Yes, abdominal pain and cramps are normal during pregnancy. In the first trimester, they are usually associated with constipation or increased blood flow while in the second and third trimesters, they might be due to the Braxton-Hicks contractions or round ligament pain (1). You don’t have to worry about these pains as long as they are mild and subside after rest, changing position or passing stools.

In some cases, they occur due to urinary tract infection, preeclampsia or miscarriage, all of which need medical attention.

Back to top

What Causes Cramps During Pregnancy?

Cramps could be due to the many changes that take place in your body each trimester. Keep reading to know what type of pain or cramping is normal and what is not.

Cramping in early pregnancy (first trimester)

Experiencing cramps in the abdominal or lower back region could indicate:

  • Normal pregnancy pains: Cramping without bleeding is normal. It is usually a temporary pain that occurs when the fetus implants into the uterus (2). These pains are mild, and if they seem to be severe, you should see a doctor.
  • Miscarriage: Cramping is also associated with miscarriage when the body eliminates the abnormally developed fetus. Cramps occur when the tissue and blood leave the uterus, making it contract (3). Most miscarriages usually happen within ten weeks of the gestation period.
  • Ectopic pregnancy: Severe abdominal cramping along with lightheadedness could be due to ectopic pregnancy, where the embryo implants outside the uterus. It puts the mother’s life at risk, causing vaginal bleeding to eliminate the pregnancy (4).

Cramping in late pregnancy (second and third trimesters)

Severe abdominal cramps and pains will occur due to the following conditions:

  • Round ligament pain: You will feel a sharp pain in the lower abdomen, which radiates to the groin or hip as the pregnancy progresses. It is due to the stretching of the round ligament, the muscle supporting the uterus (5). The pain intensifies when you exercise, move, laugh, cough or sneeze.
  • Preterm labor: Cramping in the early third trimester and sometimes the second trimester at regular intervals could be due to preterm labor. You can determine by checking for other signs including bright red vaginal bleeding, a sudden gush of waters from the vagina, five or more contractions in an hour, severe pelvic pain and dull backache (6).
  • Braxton Hicks contractions: These are the false contractions that usually start at around 20 weeks of gestation, causing severe cramping. They are irregular, short-lived and uncomfortable. Contacting your doctor is not necessary unless they become regular and painful (7).
  • Placental abruption: In some rare cases, the placenta is likely to separate before a baby is born. This leads to persistent and severe abdominal pain along with vaginal bleeding and back pain (8). Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms.
  • Preeclampsia: Pain in the upper abdomen occurs in the case of pre-eclampsia. It usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy and is associated with symptoms such as nausea or vomiting, vision problem, shortness of breath, severe headaches or swelling in the face, hands, and feet (9).

Additional causes

Other reasons for cramping during pregnancy stage include:

  • Gas, bloating and constipation
  • Exercise
  • Having sex or an orgasm
  • Yeast or urinary tract infections

Back to top

20 Tips To Treat And Prevent Pains And Cramps During Pregnancy

Mild cramping during pregnancy can be managed by following the below measures (10).

  1. If it is normal abdominal discomfort, increase the mobility of your body with mild exercises such as walking or swimming for some time. However, consult your doctor before trying any exercises.
  1. Lie down on a flat surface when there is cramping in the abdomen. It helps to determine the actual concern.
  1. Applying a warm compress, and not a hot one, relieves the pain considerably.
  1. Sometimes, cramps can occur due to dehydration. Have enough amounts of fluids, especially on hot days.
  1. Follow a healthy and nutritious diet to avoid cramps associated with poor digestion issues.
  1. Do not involve in high-intensity exercises. If you feel the pain while exercising, stop and rest your body.
  1. Avoid fermented food products as they cause gas or bloating that result in abdominal pain.
  1. Correct standing posture is also necessary to avoid cramps.
  1. Regular stretching exercises keep the muscles relaxed and prevent cramps. Check with your doctor and try to do them in the morning and before bedtime.
  1. Avoid tiring activities as they can add extra strain on your muscles and result in contractions causing cramps.
  1. Prefer lying on your left side. It will improve the blood circulation, and prevents the occurrence of cramps.
  1. Include prenatal yoga or water aerobics to avoid the chances of getting cramps and pains during pregnancy.
  1. Get a prenatal massage to improve blood circulation and reduce swelling. Try wearing inner stockings to support your body correctly and prevent cramps.
  1. Use correct posture while exercising. Keep your back straight during squat exercises. Look for good support while sitting and place a pillow at your lower back to keep away your back pain.
  1. Get eight hours of proper sleep. The weight of your womb may add a strain on your back muscles, adding to back pain.
  1. Try to keep a soft pillow between your legs while sleeping. This will prevent cramps and pains.
  1. Whenever you sit, keep your back straight and elevate your feet on a stool or bench.
  1. Take magnesium supplements in addition to prenatal vitamin supplements to relieve cramps.
  1. Cramps also occur due to calcium deficiency. Taking calcium supplements will relieve cramps and contractions in the muscles.
  1. If you feel that you’re developing cramps, stand flat on the cold surface. This will reduce the chances of a spasm.

Back to top

When To Call Your Doctor?

If you experience the following symptoms along with cramps, it is the time to check with your doctor.

  • Severe and persistent pain
  • Pain in the lower abdomen associated with contractions
  • Vaginal bleeding, cramping, discharge and dizziness
  • Cramping accompanied with shoulder or neck pain

Your doctor will examine you completely and may recommend a scan to determine the condition.

Back to top

Next, a few commonly raised queries answered for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is it normal to have cramps early during pregnancy?

Yes, it is normal to experience cramps in early pregnancy when it is associated with implantation (2). However, severe cramping during pregnancy could be due to miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy that need immediate medical attention (3).

2. How early in pregnancy do cramps start?

You could experience cramps during the implantation stage, which is as early as between six and twelve days after fertilization (2).

3. Do pregnancy cramps feel like menstrual cramps?

Early pregnancy cramps that occur with implantation resemble menstrual cramps. Moreover, implantation cramps develop when the next period is due, which make them more like menstrual cramps.

4. What kinds of pains are normal during pregnancy?

Pains associated with implantation, round ligament stretches, gas, constipation, and Braxton-Hicks contractions are normal during pregnancy.

Pains and cramps are very common during pregnancy. As long as they are mild and go away on their own, it is fine. Otherwise, seek the doctor’s advice to protect yourself and your baby.

Did you also experience cramping during pregnancy? How did you manage the pain? Tell us about it in the below comment section.

References:

1. Michele Isaacs Gliksman & Theresa DiGeronimo; The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth, 3rd Edition; Pages 20 to 23
2. Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms and Health; REGIS
3. Understanding Early Miscarriage; UC Davis Health Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
4. Complications of Pregnancy; The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
5. Arpita Jaiswal; Round Ligament Varicosity In Pregnancy; International Journal of Biomedical and Advance Research (2012)
6. Preterm Labor; U.S. National Library of Medicine(2018)
7. Deborah A. Raines et al.; Braxton Hicks Contractions; StatPearls Publishing (2018)
8. Complications of Pregnancy; University of Rochester Medical Center
9. Preeclampsia And Eclampsia; Harvard University (2018)
10. Common Discomforts During Pregnancy; UNM Hospitals (2017)

 

Click
The following two tabs change content below.

Rebecca Malachi

She is a Biotechnologist with a proficiency in areas of genetics, immunology, microbiology, bio-engineering, chemical engineering, medicine, pharmaceuticals to name a few. Her expertise in these fields has greatly assisted her in writing medical and life science articles. With 8+ years of work experience in writing for health and wellness, she is now a full-time contributor for Momjunction.com. She is passionate about giving research-based information to readers in need. Apart from writing, she is a foodie, loves travel, fond of gospel music and enjoys observing nature in silence. Know more about her at: linkedin.com/in/kothapalli-rebecca-35881628
Featured Image