What are cramps and how to alleviate during pregnancy..?

Cramps are described as a pulling sensation on the abdomen. It can be a normal symptom of pregnancy or caused by a serious problem. Therefore, it is important for you to recognize when it is a cause for alarm. Mild cramps are common in early pregnancy resulting from the changes that occur in your body during the first trimester.

Most women experience cramps and vaginal spotting when the embryo implants in the uterine wall and this happens around the time of your first missed period. Hence, cramping might be the first sign that you are pregnant but it is common to dismiss it as menstrual cramps. Minor cramping on the lower abdomen is also normal in the second trimester due to round ligament stretching.

Why you get cramps in pregnancy

With your baby growth, the uterus expands and sometimes tilts to the right causing pressure on the right ligament which can cause pain on the right side of the abdomen.  In later pregnancy, cramping is usually caused by the stretching of the muscles and ligaments that support the uterus due to the uterus expanding. So, if the pain persists only when you are in a certain position, it is most likely caused by uterine expansion. Although, if it is accompanied by bleeding, cramps can be a sign of late miscarriage and you should seek immediate medical care.

In the third trimester you can also have Braxton Hicks contractions that will cause abdominal pain and this is not a reason to worry. You can also experience cramps that are unrelated to your pregnancy, for example, due to gas, constipation or sexual intercourse. In fact it is common for women to feel mild cramps and back pain after an orgasm while pregnant but it is not a sign of sex being dangerous for the baby .

Relieving cramps

In order to alleviate cramps during pregnancy you should avoid taking medications and opt for alternative sources of relief. With minor cramping, pain can be attenuated by simply changing position, with a warm bath or a hot water bottle and doing relaxation exercises. If you must take some medication, stick to acetaminophen or paracetamol and just be careful with the dosage.

Abdominal cramps can also be a cause for alarm during pregnancy. Since it is not easy to determine yourself if the cause of cramping is normal or not it is always best to contact your doctor if you experience abdominal pain.

The causes of cramping that are dangerous for you and/or your baby are:

  • Ectopic pregnancy. It happens in the beginning of pregnancy between 5 and 10 weeks, when the embryo implants itself in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus leading to its rupture in more severe cases. You have reason to suspect an ectopic pregnancy if besides cramping you feel pain on your shoulder when you lay down. This condition can lead to severe internal bleeding so it must be taken seriously and requires immediate medical care.
  • Early miscarriage is fairly common and occurs during the baby not developing properly. If you experience mild to severe cramping together with vaginal spotting or bleeding it can be a symptom of miscarriage so you should contact your doctor immediately.
  • Intense pain in the abdomen can be caused by preeclampsia, a condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in urine. If you experience abdominal pain with a sudden swelling, visual disturbances, headache and/or nausea you have to seek emergency medical care.
  • Placenta abruption. It is a dangerous condition caused by the placenta detaching from the uterine wall. If you have persistent painful cramps you have to contact your physician immediately.
  • Preterm labor. Before 37 weeks if you have abdominal pain accompanied by contractions with pressure in the pelvis and a dilated cervix you can be in labor .

Common cramps during pregnancy problems

Cramping can also be a symptom of a problem that is not related to your pregnancy. Common causes for abdominal pain are urinary infection (cramping accompanied by pain during urination), appendicitis (pain in the lower right abdomen), a gall bladder problem, an ovarian cyst or kidney stones (pain that affects the back). You can also have uterine fibroids, harmless over growths of tissue, which usually do not cause pain until pregnancy, when the short blood supply and uterine expansion causes them to break down.  This usually happens in the second trimester.

Therefore, if you have cramping that causes severe pain, is persistent, is accompanied by contractions, vomiting, fever or bleeding, you have to contact your doctor immediately as it might be a symptom of a severe condition. Any kind of cramps is worth mentioning to your doctor in the prenatal consultations so he/she can do the tests necessary to exclude any underlying problems .

Cramps during pregnancy is not always limited to the abdomen, in fact pregnant women get more leg cramps. This probably happens due to the extra effort your legs muscles have to endure or the pressure of the uterus in the blood vessels. Leg cramps usually appear in the second trimester and get worse as the pregnancy progresses. They might prevent you from sleeping since they are more common at night.

Preventing leg cramps

You can prevent leg cramps by stretching your legs regularly, exercising daily, sleeping on your left side and taking a magnesium supplement. To relieve the pain of leg cramping stretch and massage the leg muscles. If you notice other changes such as swelling or redness it may be a symptom of a blood cloth and you should contact your doctor immediately.