When it comes to what is normal and what is not normal when you are pregnant, it becomes hard to tell but below are the guide lines to help you decide if you want to call your doctor.
If you experience abdominal cramps and pain while you’re expecting, it’s not necessarily cause for concern. Here’s when it’s likely par for the course and when it may be a sign of something more serious.
When you’re pregnant, you get used to a small amount of discomfort all over sore feet, tender breasts, an achy back. But if you’re experiencing abdominal cramps and pain, you might feel a bit concerned. Here’s what you need to know.
Is abdominal cramping and pain normal during pregnancy?
Some abdominal cramping and pain during pregnancy is often very normal, associated with everything from constipation or increased blood flow to the uterus in the first trimester to Braxton-Hicks contractions or round ligament pain in the second and third trimesters.
However, sometimes it can be a sign of a urinary tract infection, miscarriage, preeclampsia or other condition that requires medical attention. While it’s always safest to call your doctor about any symptom that concerns you, here’s how to tell when cramps are likely nothing to worry about, and when they might signal something more serious.
When to call your doctor
Wondering if a cramp is cause for concern? To be on the safe side, you should always contact your practitioner if you’re concerned about cramping. And definitely be sure to call right away or go to the hospital if you’re experiencing severe or continuous abdominal pain.
Also get in touch with your practitioner if cramps are accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Spotting or bleeding (with or without cramps)
- Severe headache
- Vision changes (including blurred vision, seeing flashing lights or spots, sensitivity to light, or temporary blindness)
- Pain or burning during urination, difficult urinating or blood in your urine
- Dizziness or feeling faint
- More than four contractions in one hour, as this may be a sign of labor (and especially if it occurs before 37 weeks of pregnancy, as this may be a sign of preterm labor)
Abdominal cramps that can occur throughout pregnancy
Gas and bloating often make an appearance during pregnancy due to elevated levels of progesterone, a hormone that relaxes the muscles in your digestive tract. As a result, digestion slows down, leading to bloating as well as constipation both of which can bring on crampy feelings in your abdomen.
Your discomfort is probably digestion-related if passing gas or having a bowel movement provides some short-term relief. You can help prevent gastrointestinal issues by eating fiber-rich foods, having several small meals a day instead of larger ones, taking your time when eating, and drinking plenty of water. If these changes don’t help, your doctor may recommend a stool softener for constipation.
Cramps After Orgasm
Cramping during and after orgasm (sometimes paired with a lower backache) is common and harmless in a low-risk pregnancy and is absolutely not a reason to stop enjoying sex, if you’re feeling up to it.
The problem can be psychological (if you’re worried about hurting the baby during sex — which you can’t). It can also be due to increased blood flow to the pelvic area or normal uterine contractions during orgasm.
Blood Flow to the Uterus
During pregnancy, your body sends more blood than usual to your uterus, which can result in a feeling of pressure in the area. Lying down to rest or soaking in a warm bath may help relieve these aches.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
An infection in the urinary tract can be symptomless, but often it causes pain or pressure in the pelvic area. Other symptoms include foul-smelling, cloudy or bloody urine; pain and burning when urinating; fever; and the need to pee more often.
A UTI can become serious if left untreated — but fortunately a short round of antibiotics usually takes care of the infection.
Abdominal cramps and pain in the first to second trimesters
Very early on in your pregnancy (even before you know for sure that you’ve conceived!), you may experience menstrual-like cramping around the time your period is due.
Those slight twinges and some light bleeding are a result of the fertilized egg attaching to the uterine wall, which happens about eight to 10 days after ovulation and lasts only a day or so, at most. A little R&R should usually ease the discomfort.
An ectopic pregnancy — when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus, usually a fallopian tube — can cause severe, one-sided cramping that doesn’t go away and gets worse as time goes on. Ectopic pregnancies often also cause vaginal bleeding, shoulder pain, lightheadedness and faintness.
If you think you may be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy, see a doctor right away. Ectopic pregnancies are diagnosed with ultrasounds and blood tests, so if you’ve already had your first trimester ultrasound and everything looked normal, an ectopic pregnancy is not causing your cramping.
Cramping associated with a miscarriage usually occurs in the abdomen, lower back and/or pelvic area and is accompanied by bleeding. It can be dull or similar to bad period cramps. Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester, though they can occur in the second trimester as well.
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if your pain is a miscarriage or due to implantation or your uterus expanding — so the most important miscarriage symptom to look out for is bleeding. Unlike cramping during implantation, cramping during miscarriage is usually accompanied by bleeding that continues for several days and often gets heavier with time. If you’re concerned, call your practitioner and schedule a checkup.
Abdominal cramps and pain in the second to third trimesters
Round Ligament Pain
As the uterus grows, round ligaments — bands of tissue that hold the uterus in place — stretch, which sometimes causes pain on the side of the abdomen that may radiate into the hip or groin. Round ligament pain usually starts in the second trimester and is most often felt on one side (but occasionally both).
It often occurs during exercise, after you get out of bed, sneeze, cough, laugh or when you make a sudden movement; the feeling can last for for anywhere from a few seconds up to a few minutes. For relief, get plenty rest and try to change positions slowly.
Braxton Hicks Contractions
These so-called “practice contractions” usually begin at around 20 weeks of pregnancy and are your body’s way of warming up for real labor. Braxton Hicks contractions are relatively short (only seconds to a couple of minutes) and are irregular.
Make sure you’re drinking enough water (your urine should be pale yellow or colorless), as dehydration can cause them. When you experience one, change positions — sit or lie down if you’re standing (and vice versa) — and it should subside.
If the placenta separates (partially or completely) from the uterus before a baby is born, it can cause a severe and persistent abdominal pain as well as back pain and vaginal bleeding. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to get immediate medical attention.
Preeclampsia — a condition that usually develops in the second half of pregnancy and is characterized by sudden high blood pressure and protein in the urine — can cause upper abdominal pain.
It’s usually accompanied by other symptoms including severe headaches, changes in vision, nausea or vomiting, swelling in the face and hands and shortness of breath.
Preeclampsia can affect the amount of oxygen and nutrition that flows to a baby, and it increases the risk of placental abruption — but it is treatable, so it’s important to see your doctor right away if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Labor contractions come at regular intervals, last between 30 to 70 seconds and get closer together and stronger over time.
You may be in labor if you’re having regular contractions every 10 minutes (or sooner) that don’t go away when you change positions; if you feel pressure in the pelvic area (like your baby is pushing down); and if you notice a change in vaginal discharge (leaking fluid or bleeding).You could be experiencing preterm labor if you experience these symptoms before 37 weeks. If you think you are in labor (or even if you aren’t sure but you think you might be), contact your doctor or go to the hospital right away.