Feeling cramps during pregnancy can cause anxiety. Is your baby okay?
While your mind may rush and theorize all the things that could be wrong—it may be completely normal.
There can be several reasons you experience cramps during pregnancy. Sometimes it’s a sign of pregnancy and other times it’s a minor issue, like a gassy stomach. In other cases, cramps can be a cause for concern. So how do you know?
In this article, we’re discussing the common reasons for cramps during pregnancy and what’s normal.
Are Cramps During Pregnancy Normal?
Experiencing cramps during pregnancy can be worrisome, but most times, it doesn’t indicate a problem.
Cramps can be a symptom of pregnancy or a contraction in response to an activity, like sex. In other cases, they may be a symptom of miscarriage or a red flag to get checked out by your doctor.
To learn more about what’s normal, it’s helpful to know the types of cramps and when they happen during pregnancy.
Reasons for Cramps During Pregnancy
These are the types of cramps you might experience during pregnancy. Some are expected while others require further investigation.
#1 Implantation Cramping
Cramping is sometimes the first sign of pregnancy. As the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall, called implantation, you might feel dull to mild aching or tingling sensations. These can feel similar to getting your period. Since implantation can also cause light bleeding, some women may even mistake it for their period, assuming they’re not pregnant. The cramping can be on and off, or it may last for a few days.
#2 Uterus Expanding or Round Ligament Pain
As your uterus expands to accommodate your baby, you may notice a few uncomfortable sensations. When you first get pregnant, your fetus is small, so you won’t notice a difference. But as you approach the second trimester, the ligaments and supporting muscles stretch, sometimes causing pain. This is known as round ligament pain. When the round ligament stretches, especially if you cough or sneeze, it can cause a sharp or dull pain. This is typically not a cause for concern as long as it only happens from time to time. If it happens more frequently, pay attention to how you’re moving. Instead of making sudden changes that jolt your body into stretching, change positions slowly.
#3 Gastrointestinal Problems
Gas problems are another common cause for stomach-related pains. You might wonder if your cramps are related to the baby when they’re actually caused by bloating. During pregnancy, gas problems are common as your digestion changes. Many women experience constipation for the first time. Some iron supplements, or iron in prenatal supplements, can also cause constipation or stomach cramps. As the gas builds up, it can cause mild to severe cramps. If you’re having severe pain, your doctor can recommend treatments for constipation or gas.
#4 Increased Progesterone
During pregnancy, your body needs an increased level of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone causes your body to relax, which can have some side effects. Since it also causes your intestinal muscles to relax, it can slow digestion, causing gastrointestinal cramping, as described above. It’s also responsible for helping your abdomen stretch, which can create pain from stretching ligaments.
#5 Cramping from Exercise
Cramping during exercise could happen for a few reasons. It could be round ligament pain, caused by stretching your muscles, which can be normal. It can also be a sign that you’re overworking yourself and should decrease your intensity. Although exercise is generally safe and recommended during pregnancy, if you feel pain, slow down or stop. As a good rule of thumb, don’t work so hard that you feel nauseated or can’t talk. Keep a moderate intensity or an intensity comparable to before pregnancy.
Sex can also cause cramping during pregnancy. Some people worry they’ve harmed the baby, especially because light spotting can accompany the cramps. However, in most cases, sex during pregnancy is safe. The sensations can happen after orgasm contractions and should dissipate. If cramps continue or are severe each time you have intercourse, talk to your doctor.
If you’re in your third trimester, you might experience false contractions, AKA Braxton Hicks contractions. While these are meant to get your body ready for birth, they can cause discomfort in the weeks leading up to the day. They generally last two minutes at most before the feeling subsides. Cramps or contractions that don’t stop could be preterm labor, which requires medical attention ASAP.
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause cramping during pregnancy. You might experience them in your pelvic or lower back area. Other symptoms can include pain or a burning sensation when you urinate or frequent, cloudy, or bloody urine. Although you may have never experienced a UTI, they are common during pregnancy. If you suspect an infection, book an appointment with your doctor, who will likely treat it with antibiotics.
#9 Ectopic Pregnancy
Although rare, cramping during the first trimester can be caused by an ectopic pregnancy. This happens when the embryo attaches outside of the uterus, meaning the pregnancy isn’t viable. Ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening to the mother and you should contact your doctor if you suspect it. Other signs include irregular bleeding, nausea, and cramps or pain on just one side. Ectopic pregnancies are more common in those who got pregnant while using intrauterine devices (IUDs).
Cramping can also be a sign of miscarriage. Although this may be your worst fear, ask yourself if you’re experiencing other miscarriage signs, like bleeding and expelled tissue. If you suspect you’re experiencing a miscarriage, contact your healthcare provider ASAP.
Abdominal pain is a common symptom of preeclampsia, a condition marked by high blood pressure and signs of organ damage during pregnancy. In the U.S., preeclampsia is the cause of 15% of premature births, according to the March of Dimes. Other signs include vision changes, constant headaches, and nausea. Preeclampsia can be serious if left untreated and can be life-threatening to your baby.
Since there may be no other symptoms, it’s important to get your blood pressure checked during prenatal appointments. Those who have high blood pressure problems may monitor their blood pressure between appointments. A good option is to use a cuff with a doctor-approved program to alert you of irregular readings. Maternal Health Track™ alerts you of irregular readings with printable reports to show your doctor.
How Do I Know If My Cramps Are Normal?
Reading the possible causes above, you might not be sure of the reason for your cramps. To know whether you should worry about your cramps, consider these main factors:
- How far along you are. While cramps may be less common during earlier pregnancy, by the third trimester, the cramps you experience may be normal contractions.
- Other symptoms. Are your cramps accompanied by other symptoms? For example, cramping and blood with tissue can be a sign of a miscarriage. A loss of movement is also a big cause for concern and requires immediate medical attention.
- Severity. Cramps in the second trimester could be normal contractions from exercise. However, if they’re severe, you should see a doctor ASAP. Extreme pain—whether related to your baby or not—is not usually normal.
- Activities prior to cramps. Considering what you were doing before your cramps started may lead you to the cause. For example, if you were having sex when they started, it may have triggered cramping, which is normal. You might also pay attention to when cramps go away. If they subside after passing gas, that’s a clue that it’s probably a gastrointestinal cause. Another possibility is that you moved suddenly, laughed, or coughed, which caused round ligament pain in that area.
If you’re not sure whether your cramps are normal, contact your doctor. If cramps are severe or prolonged, visit an energy center.
Summary: Are Cramps During Pregnancy Normal?
Cramps can be normal during pregnancy, depending on the cause. For many women, cramps are a sign of pregnancy, resulting from higher progesterone levels or their uterus expanding. Other times, an activity like sex or exercise can trigger them or they can result from an infection—like a UTI.
In some cases, cramps can be caused by something more serious, like preeclampsia, ectopic pregnancy, or miscarriage. If you’re concerned, contact your healthcare provider. If you’re experiencing other symptoms with your cramps or if they become severe, seek emergency care.
P.S. Are you tracking your blood pressure at home? High blood pressure is a major cause of pregnancy complications. It can also cause problems during and after delivery, according to the CDC. Use Maternal Health Track™ to take your blood pressure and track it during prenatal appointments, giving you peace of mind.