Cramps during pregnancy, particularly early pregnancy, are common in most cases. A cramp, (meaning a contraction of a muscle), feels like a pulling sensation on either side of your abdomen, or both. Reasons for why they occur vary depending on how many weeks pregnant you are, but in most cases, mild cramping is a sign of normal pregnancy and part of your body’s adjustment to the growing baby.
Cramping during early pregnancy
During the first trimester, cramping typically occurs for these reasons:
- Implantation cramping and spotting, which occurs at the very beginning of your pregnancy and occurs around the time your next period is due
- Your uterus is expanding to accommodate the baby
- During an orgasm; nothing to worry about. Sex is safe during pregnancy
- Urinary tract infections (UTI) can cause pain in the pelvic area. Although highly treatable, a UTI can cause great discomfort and is dangerous if left untreated.
- Miscarriage is also a possible cause of cramping, particularly when accompanied by a significant bleed
Cramping during late pregnancy
Depending on the circumstances, cramping in the second or third trimester can be normal or concerning. Harmless cramps can be attributed to:
- Ligament pain; shooting pains around the lower abdomen or hips. As your baby grows, the ligaments supporting your expanding uterus can cause a dull ache or a sharp stabbing pain. The sensation often occurs when you, sneeze, cough, stand up, stretch or twist. They are very normal and will pass.
- Braxton Hicks or ‘practice contractions’ can happen from 20 weeks onwards. They are irregular and only last for a few seconds or a couple of minutes.
- Increased blood flow
- Gas or bloating
- Leg cramps are also common in late pregnancy which can be due to fatigue, poor circulation, dehydration, or a deficiency in calcium or magnesium.
More concerning cramping can be due to:
- Preeclampsia; a serious condition characterised by high blood pressure, swelling, protein in the urine and pain in the abdomen just below the ribs
- Early labour (prior to 37 weeks); if cramps happen at regular intervals, they can possibly be contractions. If you have more than five in an hour and they are becoming closer in frequency, you may be going into labour. If these cramps are accompanied by intense pressure, backache and fluid from your vagina, contact your doctor or emergency department straight away.
When to seek medical advice
Contact your doctor immediately if:
- Your pain is severe, does not abate or gets worse
- You experience shoulder or neck pain
- Feel dizzy
- Have low blood pressure
- Vaginal cramping and bleeding occur
If you are concerned about cramps, or any other pregnancy symptom for that matter, don't be too hard on yourself and expect that worrying is as normal as cramping. Going to your doctor is absolutely the best way to find the answers you need.