Cramps During Pregnancy: What’s Normal And What’s Not?

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If you’re pregnant and having abdominal pain, you might be worried. The good news is that there are any number of cramps that can be completely normal and signal nothing wrong for you or baby. Read on to learn what cramps are annoying but normal and which ones to pay closer attention to.

Cramps in early pregnancy are common and often quite worrying, but there are a variety of reasons you might experience cramping in a healthy, normal pregnancy. These early cramps may start with implantation, which is sometimes accompanied by cramps and even spotting like you might have experienced before the start of your period. Then, in the first eight weeks of pregnancy, your hormones change rapidly and tons of physical changes occur, including a lot of stretching in your abdomen. That much rapid change can be painful for some people, but it’s usually nothing to worry about. You might also experience cramps later on as your uterus continues to expand and your body accommodates your growing baby.

A cramp-like symptom you might experience that falls into the “annoying but probably not a problem” category is round-ligament pain. These pains can be a dull or sharp, pulsing or constant ache in your lower abdomen. As your uterus grows, the thick round ligaments that support it and connect to tissue near your pubic bone stretch. This stretching can cause pain for lots of people, but it’s not usually a problem. Sometimes being more careful and moving slowly as you change positions can help and sometimes this discomfort is helped by the passage of time.

Another normal, yet sometimes painful and annoying, pregnancy symptom is the Braxton Hicks contraction. These warm-up contractions can start early in the second trimester and continue until the day you give birth. If you feel them, they probably feel like tightening of your uterus. Sometimes they happen in just one spot on your belly, or they might happen across your whole tummy. For some people they are frequent and noticeable, while other people have no idea they’re having them. They might be painful or not, and can sometimes be brought on or exacerbated by exertion and dehydration. If you’re having Braxton Hicks contractions, drink some water, and lay down on your left side. As you relax a bit, these contractions, which help your uterus get ready for labor, should calm down.

Gas pains, which are unfortunately normal and common during pregnancy, can also feel like cramps. Digestion slows down and constipation often increases thanks to hormonal changes, and both of these digestive symptoms can contribute to abdominal pain that feels like cramps. It’s unpleasant, maybe even embarrassing, but it’s quite normal.

You can deal with most normal pregnancy cramps in a variety of ways. Sometimes ice or a heating pad turned on warm can help. Gentle stretching and walking are great options—maybe even a prenatal yoga class—as is moving more carefully and slowly, as discussed above. For gas pains and constipation, exercise, eating a fiber-rich diet, and drinking plenty of water can help. And it’s never a bad idea in pregnancy to wear comfortable clothing that’s not too tight or constrictive and rest as much as your schedule allows. Feel free to also share your symptoms with and ask for advice from your doctor or midwife—even if you think what you’re experiencing is normal.

If you’re experiencing cramps and they don’t seem to fit into any of the above categories, they might deserve a closer look. Cramps during pregnancy that are rhythmic, like contractions, and don’t go away if you change your activity and try to relax might signal a problem if you’re not close to your due date. Cramps that are accompanied by bleeding or fluid leaking from your vagina are also cause for concern. If you are experiencing cramps like that, mild cramps that don’t go away (which could be due to a urinary tract or yeast infection), or cramps that start to increase in intensity or are extremely painful, it’s a good idea to call your doctor or midwife. Even if you’re not sure whether your symptoms are within the realm of normal or not, a call to an expert can help set your mind at ease or get you the help you need in case something really is going on.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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