A sudden and sharp pain in the abdomen, known as cramping, is usually considered harmless. But what happens when you get cramps during pregnancy? That could be troublesome, especially if you are experiencing it for the first time.
But you don’t have to worry much as it is a part of pregnancy. The cramping could be a result of various physical changes in your body that you go through when the baby is growing inside you. In this MomJunction post, we tell you what causes cramps during pregnancy and share some tips to deal with it.
Is Abdominal Pain And Cramping Normal During Pregnancy?
Yes, as your body goes through stress and changes during pregnancy, you may experience discomfort, pain, and cramps. It could be mild or sharp and could go away soon or could come back often. The intensity of pain and frequency differ from one woman to another.
Unless it is not hurting you, you need not be concerned about it as it is a part of normal pregnancy. But when it gets severe, hurts you often, or is associated with other symptoms such as vaginal spotting, bleeding or painful urination, then you should consult a doctor (1).
Why Does Cramping Occur During Pregnancy?
Round ligaments are attached to your uterus in the pelvic region. When the uterus is expanding, the attached ligaments stretch, causing a sudden and sharp pain in the abdomen. You may experience such pain all through your pregnancy. However, it is more common during your first trimester (2).
If the pain is mild and goes away soon, it could be due to minor causes. But if you are unable to bear the pain, it could need the doctor’s attention.
What Causes Cramps Throughout The Pregnancy?
There are several reasons that could cause abdominal cramping all through the pregnancy.
- Gas, bloating, and constipation: Pregnancy hormones, especially progesterone, could be one of the reasons for abdominal pain during pregnancy as it may cause irritable bowel syndrome. Indigestion and slow digestion could also lead to constipation and bloating, thereby resulting in cramps (3).
- Urinary tract infections: Around 70 to 90% of pregnant women experience urinary tract infections during pregnancy. This could cause sudden pain in the pelvis and also back pain (3). Pregnant women normally experience increased frequency of urination. However, painful urination is not normal and it may also indicate urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections in pregnancy should not be taken lightly. Therefore, you should consult a doctor in case of doubt.
- Sexual intercourse: Mild cramps are common after orgasm or sex. However, in case you experience it often or it gets intense, you may avoid making love for some time (4).
- Others: Exercise and increased blood flow to the uterus could also result in abdominal pain and cramps during pregnancy.
These could be managed easily by following some safety tips. Continue reading to know the specific reasons for abdominal pain during the first, second and third trimesters.
What Causes Cramps During Early Pregnancy?
If you are often experiencing cramps during the first trimester, then it could be due to the following reasons:
- Implantation: Implantation occurs in the uterus after about six to twelve days of conception. This could cause cramping in the abdomen. Some women may observe spotting as well. It is normal and goes away soon (5).
- Early pregnancy loss: Cramping or abdominal pain, with or without bleeding, could be a result of miscarriage. It could occur during the ten weeks of pregnancy (6).
- Ectopic pregnancy: Abdominal cramping or pain, which can be intense. It can be associated with lightheadedness. Vaginal spotting may or may not be present. This condition occurs when the embryo implants outside the uterus. This condition puts the mother’s life at risk because an abnormally implanted embryo may cause bleeding inside the pelvis and abdomen (7). This condition is unlikely if you have already had an ultrasound and your baby can be seen normally inside the uterus.
What Causes Cramps During The Later Part Of Pregnancy?
The cramps and abdominal pain during the second and third trimesters could be due to:
- Uterine growth: From the second trimester, your baby grows faster and your uterus keeps expanding. This causes a sharp pain in the hip and abdomen region, which is called round ligament pain as it happens due to stretching (8).
- Braxton Hicks contractions: These are the false contractions that usually occur during the second and third trimesters, causing severe cramping. They are irregular, short-lived and uncomfortable (9).
- Preeclampsia: Pain in the upper abdomen occurs in the case of preeclampsia, which usually develops after the 20th week of pregnancy. It is associated with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, vision problems, shortness of breath, headaches, and swelling in the face, hands, and feet (10).
- 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. If abruption happened in a previous pregnancy, if your blood pressure is high, or if you have been exposed to recent trauma to your belly, this increases your risk of placental abruption. However, placental abruption does not necessarily happen to women at risk. Contact your doctor if you experience these symptoms (7).
- Preterm labor: Cramping in the third trimester (before 37 weeks) and sometimes the second trimester at regular intervals could be due to preterm labor. You can determine by checking for other signs such as vaginal bleeding, a fluid leak from the vagina, five or more contractions in an hour, severe pelvic pain and dull backache (11). You should keep a low threshold of contacting your doctor if you had prior preterm births.
Uterine growth and Braxton Hicks contractions are not the causes of concern, but you should consider visiting the doctor for other reasons.
Meanwhile, you may follow some tips to prevent pain and cramps.
20 Tips To Prevent And Treat Pains And Cramps During Pregnancy
Try the below measures to manage mild cramping during pregnancy.
- Lie down on a flat surface when you get abdominal cramping. It helps to determine the actual concern.
- Apply a warm compress (and not a hot one) to relieve the pain considerably.
- Sometimes, cramps can occur due to dehydration. Drink adequate fluids, especially on hot days.
- Follow a healthy and nutritious diet to avoid cramps associated with digestion issues.Be aware that pregnancy is naturally a constipating factor. Good hydration, consumption of high-fiber diet (such as fruits and vegetables), and moderate exercise help to improve constipation during pregnancy.
- Do not involve in high-intensity exercises. If you feel the pain while exercising, stop and give rest to your body. Ideally, 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise three times a week are recommended in pregnancy.
- Avoid fermented food products as they cause gas or bloating that result in abdominal pain.
- Correct standing or sitting posture is also necessary to avoid cramps.
- 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.
- Avoid tiring activities as they can add extra strain on your muscles and result in contractions causing cramps.
- Prefer lying on your left side. It will improve the blood circulation, and prevent the cramps.
- You can go for prenatal yoga or water aerobics to avoid the chances of getting cramps and pains during pregnancy. Discuss with your doctor before you start.
- Use correct posture while exercising. Look for good support while sitting and place a pillow at your lower back to avoid back pain.
- Get proper sleep to relax your muscles and rest your body.
- Try to keep a soft pillow between your legs while sleeping. This will prevent cramps and pains.
- Whenever you sit, keep your back straight and elevate your feet on a stool or bench.
- Taking a warm shower also could help in relieving the pain.
- A prenatal massage, after doctor’s consultation, may also help you in preventing cramps during pregnancy.
- Don’t sit or stand for long hours in the same position as it may cause cramping.
- If you feel that you’re developing cramps, stand flat on the cold surface. This will reduce the chances of a spasm.
- Sometimes, deficiency of minerals can cause cramps during pregnancy. Talk to your doctor about prenatal vitamins.
If these measures are not helping you, you might need to talk to your doctor.
When To Call Your Doctor?
When the pain is becoming intense and occurring too frequently, then you need to let your doctor know about it. Also, look for symptoms such as bleeding, discharge, severe neck or back pain, and pain or burning with urination. Your doctor will examine you and may recommend a scan or a urine sample to determine the condition.
Keep a track of your bodily changes, and do not ignore any episodes of severe abdominal pain or cramping during pregnancy. Plus, see that you have an active lifestyle so that your baby is growing healthy. In case of doubt, do not hesitate to talk to the doctor.
Did you experience any cramping during pregnancy? Do share your experiences with us in the comment section.
2. J. Lagana; Growing pains during pregnancy are normal; Intermountain Healthcare (2014)
3. M. S. Cappell; Abdominal pain during pregnancy; Gastroenterology Clinics of North America (2003)
4. Sexuality and Pregnancy; Our Bodies Ourselves (2008)
5. Pregnancy: Signs, Symptoms and Health; Regis College
6. What are the signs of an early miscarriage; UC Davis Health
7. Complications of Pregnancy; Children’s Hospital of Philadephia
8. A. Jaiswal; Round Ligament Varicosity Pregnancy; International Journalof Biomedical and Advance Research (2012)
9. D. A. Raines and D. B. Cooper; Braxton Hicks Contractions; StatPearls (2019)
10. Signs & Symptoms; Eastern Michigan University (2010)
12. Preterm Labor; Medline Plus