As a mom to be, there are many issues that you will experience and cramping is one to expect. Many mothers are afraid they may be having a miscarriage when they are having cramps. However, cramping is a natural and normal part of pregnancy. This is so because so many things are happening in your body at this time. At the same time, it is helpful to observe when things look wrong and there is a need to talk to your doctor or midwife.
What cramps are like
The uterus is an organ with muscular walls. When anything is happens to the uterus such as pregnancy, it will give a natural response by contracting or expanding like all other muscles. There will be some discomfort when the uterus contracts or expand which you feel as cramps. Cramping during pregnancy often feels like those you normally experience when you are having your period. In many cases however, you will feel as if you are having a stomach or tummy pain. The sufferer tends to hold her tummy and wants to curl up to ease the pain or make it stop. Normal cramping are minor occurrences and nothing to worry about. There are times however when they are unusual and to be taken seriously so as to protect yourself and your baby.
Normal cramping that you may experience
- Cramps at conception
One of the first cramping episodes that you will experience when pregnancy occurs is uterine upheaval during conception. When the sperm fertilizes the egg, it moves down the fallopian tube to the uterus where it attaches itself to the wall. This is called implantation. As implantation occurs, you will experience cramping which feels like you are about to start your period. Some bleeding will also accompany the cramps and this is one of the first signs that you are pregnant.
- Cramps during first trimester
Rapid growth of the uterus during the first and second trimesters is also a cause for cramping. The pregnancy hormones progesterone, estrogen and hCG cause many body changes to take place. Muscles of the uterus and ligaments holding it in place will get stretched causing pain and discomfort which you will experience as cramps.
- Cramps during second trimester
By the time you reach the second trimester of your pregnancy, much of the symptoms of early pregnancy will subside and you and baby will settle down to a more peaceful period of growth. You will however experience cramping episodes intermittently because hormones are still causing ligaments that hold the uterus to stretch. Your baby is also growing and the expanding uterine walls will be subject to all of that movement. This will cause you to feel pain, especially at the bottom of your tummy.
- Cramps in third trimester
Prior to birth your belly will intermittently tighten and cramp. Fortunately in such cases they are normal. In those weeks leading up to the birth of your baby you will have those Braxton Hicks at work in your tummy. Braxton Hicks is the name given to contractions you feel prior to labor. They are considered practice contractions because you will feel something like this when you are giving birth.
- Cramps caused by having sex
Having sex while you are pregnant can cause some powerful contractions in your uterus, to the point where you might be scared of what is taking place. An orgasm can bring on sharp contractions that when they happen you may not want to engage in sex for the rest of the pregnancy. There is no reason however to stop having sex unless your doctor has advised you against it.
- Cramps caused by bloating and gas
Pregnancy hormones cause the muscles of the intestinal tract to relax and eventually gas builds up in the system. With so much air in the bowels, your abdomen will feel stuffed and stiff and any movement will produce aching and cramping. You will only be relieved if you are able to pass out the troublesome gas. If you are also troubled by constipation, that common problem which makes it difficult to pass stool, you will be prone to cramps also. As stool and other materials travel sluggishly through the bowels, cramps will be felt.
Relieving normal cramps
There are a few things that you can do to ease mild cramping pains that are not a detriment to the pregnancy.
- Yes, curling up in bed or a comfortable place with a book or soothing music can help to distract you from the pain and it will pass sooner than you think.
- While you are doing so you could wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and place it on your tummy. You should only be feeling gentle warmth and not heat from this exercise.
- Try lying down on the other side where there is no pain.
- A warm bath would do you good.
- Do stretching and take sitting breaks. Get engaged in gentle exercises. Walking, swimming, and yoga are said to be quite relaxing.
- If the pain seems particularly bad, you can aid relief by taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) only under the direction of your doctor.
When cramps should be taken seriously
Cramps can be a symptom of serious issues that are taking place with your pregnancy or your body in general. Underlying conditions will not just bring about cramping, but they will cause you to feel generally unwell especially when they occur with fever. In such circumstances you should be concerned and tell your doctor at once. Here are some problems to watch out for.
- Your cramps are persistent and will not go away. Normal cramps are not long lasting. In fact if you should do certain things such as change your position they should likely go away. If your cramps are constant, check with your doctor or midwife as a urinary tract infection and kidney stones could be the source.
- The number of cramps is increasing in the hour. If you are having six or more contractions within the hour, this is an indication that something may not be normal. It could be that you are going into pre-term labor.
- Your cramps are accompanied by bleeding and other symptoms. The conditions for serious cramping to take place are somewhat different depending on the trimester you are in. You should consult your doctor immediately if your cramps come with bleeding, spotting or what you could describe as a pink discharge. This could possibly be a sign that you are having an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage, symptoms that occur more frequently during the first trimester. An ectopic pregnancy is a condition where pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus instead of inside. This can be a life-threatening condition and must be treated with urgency. In the second or third trimesters it is placenta previa that could be an issue. This condition occurs where the placenta covers the cervix. Cramping may be a sign that you are going into pre-term labor in third trimester. You are at greater risk of preterm labor if you are having multiple babies, you have a history of the condition, or you have a shortened cervix.
- Cramping is accompanied by back pain, nausea, vomiting and fever. Conditions such as gallbladder disease, kidney stone, and appendicitis could cause these symptoms and may impact how you are feeling. See your doctor at once.
Mild cramping issues are a normal feature of pregnancy. In fact you should feel cramps; they help to let you know that all is well with your baby. Only be observant and note when cramping may not be what to expect.