Pregnancy Cramps: What They Mean and When to Worry
When you’re pregnant, your body undergoes many changes as it makes room for your little one (or two or more!). While some of these changes may be no big whoop, others, particularly things like cramping, can have you quickly searching Google for their causes.
While some mild pregnancy cramps are a normal symptom of your ever-expanding body, other cramps could indicate a serious problem. Pregnancy cramps can give many women anxiety, so it’s important to know the common reasons for their occurrence and what you should do about them.
We asked Srijaya Soujanya Nalla, MD, an OBGYN at Banner Health Clinic in Loveland, CO, to help explain the normal causes for cramping, abnormal causes and treatment recommendations for both.
[However, if you’re experiencing severe cramping with or without bleeding, stop reading this article and call your doctor immediately.]
What’s considered normal cramping during pregnancy?
“Early on in your pregnancy, it’s natural to feel some mild cramping in your lower abdomen at infrequent times as your body prepares for your growing baby,” Dr. Nalla said.
As your belly grows, so does your uterus. This may cause you to feel some slight pulling, tugging or stretching similar to menstrual cramps.
“Later in your pregnancy, you may experience some mild lower abdominal discomfort due to the tightening of your uterus. These are normal as long as they occur in irregular intervals and subside on their own,” Dr. Nalla said. “A common cause later in pregnancy is due to round ligament pain, a muscle that supports the uterus. As it stretches, it can cause some mild aches and pains.”
Other causes for mild cramping include:
Gas, bloating and constipation
Braxton Hicks contractions
What should I do for mild cramping while pregnant?
Time your cramps to see how regular they are and how often you feel them. “As long as they don’t fall into the abnormal category, there are some things that you can do to make them better,” Dr. Nalla said. Some of these activities include:
Rest: Try to sit, lie down or change positions.
Soak in the tub: Take a warm soak in the tub or a warm shower.
Take some acetaminophen: Products like Tylenol are commonly used by pregnant women for pain and fever but talk to your health care provider first.
Practice deep breathing: Use relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga or controlled breathing.
Stay hydrated: Pregnant women need 50 percent more water. Keep a bottle of water on hand wherever you go.
When should I be concerned about cramping during pregnancy?
While cramping can be common, there are some serious causes of abdominal pain you shouldn’t ignore.
“Any cramping that is severe in intensity, occurs at regular intervals and progressively gets worse with time is abnormal,” Dr. Nalla said. “In addition, any amount of cramping associated with vaginal bleeding, increased/watery discharge, or pelvic pressure is not normal either. ”
Some causes for abnormal cramping may be due to:
Bladder infection or urinary tract infection
What should I do if I’m concerned about the cramping?
It’s normal to experience some mild cramping during pregnancy, but always speak with your health care provider if you are ever concerned or are experiencing the above warning symptoms.
“In some cases, an ultrasound can be done to help determine the cause for severe cramping,” Dr. Nalla said. “Sometimes severe cramping can be the first sign of an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage. Other times, it could be non-pregnancy related issues like a bladder infection or constipation which are quite common in pregnancy.”
When it comes to your health and the health of your baby, it’s better to err on the side of caution and talk to your health care provider.
You can find a Banner Health specialist near you by visiting bannerhealth. com or for general pregnancy-related questions, you can call the Banner Health Nurse Now at 844-259-9494 for free, 24/7 medical advice.
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Bad Cramps During Early Pregnancy: First-Trimester Lower Abdomen Pains
What do early pregnancy cramps feel like?
If you’ve been pregnant before, you’re probably very familiar with this cramping pain. Cramping during early pregnancy feels a lot like normal period cramps. The pain is usually located in the lower abdomen and typically only lasts for a few minutes.
Are cramps normal during early pregnancy?
Stomach cramps during early pregnancy are relatively common. If you get a few stomach cramps during the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s probably not a cause for alarm. These cramps are typically part of the normal physical changes in the body that occur in preparation for the baby.
Very early in your pregnancy, you may get cramps as well as light bleeding when the embryo is implanted into the wall of the uterus. This process can sometimes lead to implantation cramps and bleeding. As the pregnancy progresses, you may also feel cramping as your uterus changes and stretches to accommodate the baby.
In the following sections, we will talk about the causes of pregnancy cramps and when to call your health care provider.
Causes of cramping in early pregnancy
It is common to experience mild pain or cramps in your abdomen during pregnancy. In most cases, abdominal pain in early pregnancy is caused by normal bodily changes such as:
Implantation — When a fertilized egg forms a blastocyst and implants into the lining of the uterine wall, it can cause a bit of cramping in your lower abdomen. This is known as implantation cramping and is often one of the first signs of pregnancy.
Uterine growth — During the first two trimesters, there is rapid uterine growth to accommodate the growing fetus. This can also lead to early pregnancy cramping. As the ligaments and muscles that support the uterus also grow, you might experience sharp pain when you stand, change position, or sneeze/cough.
Orgasm — If you have sex while pregnant, you may experience cramps after an orgasm. The pain may feel similar to a period cramp and usually goes away quickly. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop having sex if you’re pregnant, though. That being said, if the pain is severe and accompanied by bleeding, consult with your health care provider immediately.
In rare cases, early pregnancy cramps may be caused by the following pregnancy problems:
Early miscarriage — In some cases, cramping may mean a miscarriage. But this is not always the case. When cramping is severe, prolonged, and/or occurs along with bleeding or vaginal discharge, make sure to seek immediate medical attention. An early pregnancy miscarriage is most likely to occur in the first trimester.
Ectopic pregnancy — An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. For instance, it may attach to the uterine tube, abdominal cavity, or cervix. An ectopic pregnancy may result in severe abdominal cramps that may be accompanied by bleeding. If you experience severe cramping, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Signs of first-trimester cramps
Stomach pain in early pregnancy can be worrying, especially if it’s your first pregnancy and you’re not familiar with the physical sensations. While cramping during early pregnancy is usually normal, it’s still good to pay attention to your pregnancy pains.
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If something feels out of the ordinary, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. Understanding the signs and symptoms of early pregnancy (or first-trimester) cramps, can help you figure out what is normal and when to call your health care provider.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms during early pregnancy:
Normal cramping pain — Normal pregnancy cramps are very similar to period cramps, which are usually not very severe. In early pregnancy, you may experience short cramps in your lower abdomen.
Light bleeding — Light spotting during early pregnancy might be linked to implantation bleeding.
If you’re not sure if you’re pregnant and experience cramping along with nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, and spotting, make sure to take a pregnancy test. These can be early symptoms of pregnancy.
How to treat stomach cramps during the first trimester
Needless to say, painful cramps during early pregnancy can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. You might be experiencing physical and emotional changes, and adding cramps to your discomfort might feel overwhelming. Treating pregnancy cramps can help you feel more comfortable and as stress free as possible.
If you’re experiencing cramps, here are a few tips for alleviating them quickly:
Drink water. You are more likely to experience cramps if you are dehydrated. Make sure that you drink at least eight cups of water each day.
Change positions. When you experience cramps, try shifting positions while lying or sitting down. Don’t put pressure on the source of the pain.
Stretch and exercise. Try doing mild pregnancy exercises or stretch your body to soothe cramped muscles. In addition to relieving active cramps, this can also help prevent future ones.
Gentle massage. A massage can stimulate blood circulation in your muscles, relieving uncomfortable cramps. Getting a gentle lower back massage might help relieve aches.
Sleep. Try to get a good night’s sleep during early pregnancy as this makes you feel rested. Try to get enough sleep every night.
When to see a health care provider about your early pregnancy cramps
Although early pregnancy cramps are usually normal and not life threatening, it’s also important to see your health care provider if the cramps become severe. Your health care provider can rule out any conditions such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or infectious diseases that may affect you or your baby. Here are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for. Make sure to see your health care provider if you experience any of these:
Bleeding — If your cramps are accompanied by any amount of blood, consult your health care provider as soon as possible.
Severe pain — If you experience severe cramps that don’t go away and are getting worse, head to the hospital immediately.
Interventions for leg cramps during pregnancy
What is the problem?
Leg cramps manifest themselves as sudden, intense involuntary contractions of the leg muscles. This is a common problem during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. They are painful and can interfere with daily activities, disrupt sleep, and reduce quality of life. Various types of interventions are used to treat leg cramps during pregnancy, including medications, electrolytes (magnesium, calcium, sodium) and vitamins, as well as non-drug therapies such as muscle stretching.
Why is this important?
The aim of this review was to find out which treatment for leg cramps during pregnancy is effective and safe.
What evidence did we find?
In September 2019, we searched for evidence and identified eight randomized controlled trials in 576 women 14 to 36 weeks pregnant comparing magnesium, calcium, calcium with vitamin D or B vitamins versus placebo or no treatment, and compared vitamin C with calcium. All drugs were given as tablets to chew or swallow.
Magnesium supplements may reduce the incidence of leg cramps in women compared with placebo or no treatment, although studies have not been consistent. Different studies have assessed the effect of magnesium supplementation differently. Some studies have shown magnesium to help reduce the incidence of leg cramps, while others have shown little or no effect. Data on the effect of magnesium on pain reduction was also inconclusive, with only one study showing a reduction in pain intensity, while others showed no difference. Differences in the occurrence of side effects such as nausea and diarrhea were negligible or non-existent.
Calcium did not always reduce the incidence of leg cramps in women after treatment compared to those who did not receive any treatment. It also found that the evidence was of very low quality, so we cannot be sure of the results.
More women who received B-vitamin supplements made a full recovery compared to those who received no treatment; however, these results were based on a small sample size and the study had design limitations.
Frequency of leg cramps did not differ between women receiving calcium and women receiving vitamin C. with placebo.
What does this mean?
The quality of the evidence was low to very low. This was mainly due to small study sample sizes and study design weaknesses. Four studies were well-conducted and presented their reports. The remaining four had flaws in their design: in several studies, women were not best assigned to different treatment groups, and in two studies, women knew whether they were receiving treatment or not. Adverse effects, such as the effect of treatment on complications of pregnancy, childbirth and child, were not reported. Several studies have focused primarily on serum calcium and magnesium levels. The frequency and intensity of seizures and duration of pain were not uniformly reported, and there was often no information on whether they were assessed during treatment, at the end of treatment, or after treatment was discontinued.
It is not clear from the evidence reviewed whether any oral interventions (magnesium, calcium, calcium with vitamin D, B vitamins, vitamin D, or vitamin C) are an effective and safe treatment for leg cramps during pregnancy. Supplements can have different effects depending on how women usually take them. None of the trials looked at forms of treatment such as muscle stretching, massage, relaxation, or heat therapy.
Translation: Luzan Maria Alexandrovna. Editing: Yudina Ekaterina Viktorovna. Russian translation project coordination: Cochrane Russia - Cochrane Russia, Cochrane Geographic Group Associated to Cochrane Nordic. For questions related to this transfer, please contact us at: [email protected]
Reduces legs during pregnancy: what to do?
Pregnancy is a time of waiting and doubts. Probably, women never have so many questions. Why does it bring her legs together so often? What to do if you wake up with cramps at night? How to deal with this scourge and avoid bouts of pain in the legs? We are looking for answers to these and other questions.
What are seizures?
Legs cramps not only during pregnancy, from time to time every person faces unpleasant painful cramps. A cramp is a sudden, uncontrollable muscle contraction that a person cannot relax. This condition can be caused by neurological disorders (for example, seizures are characteristic of epilepsy), a number of diseases (such as diabetes mellitus, osteochondrosis, and others), and can also be associated with physiological conditions. After all, convulsions occur, for example, after a strong overload, dehydration, hypothermia, etc. Sometimes cramps cause severe sharp pain. Sometimes it seems that the legs are pulling. During pregnancy, this condition, unfortunately, is noted quite regularly.
Why do pregnant women cramp their legs?
The mechanism of muscle contraction is quite complex, it involves different ions (charged particles): potassium, calcium, sodium and magnesium. If we are talking about a cramp, that is, a condition when we cannot relax a muscle, then magnesium ions play a leading role here. It is their lack that leads to the fact that women cramp their calves during pregnancy at night.
The lack of minerals in the body of the expectant mother is simply explained: such consequences are the restructuring of metabolism and functioning in the "double load" mode. In particular, the expectant mother needs one and a half times more magnesium than usual.
In addition to helping muscles relax, magnesium is also involved in a number of important physiological processes. In particular, magnesium is needed to regulate the processes of formation and expenditure of energy, it is involved in several hundred enzymatic reactions, and if there is little magnesium, then disturbances can occur in the work of almost any body system. Therefore, if magnesium preparations are prescribed during pregnancy, this recommendation should not be ignored.
Why do pregnant women cramp their legs at night?
The answer to this question is very simple. The fact is that during the day the body of the expectant mother bears an increased load. And the longer the gestation period, the greater this load. Violation of blood circulation, increased stress on the muscles - all this can cause night cramps.
What should I do if my legs cramp during pregnancy?
To begin with, tell the doctor you are seeing about this. The magnesium preparations already mentioned, which he most likely recommends to you, can help solve the problem.
However, the reason that the expectant mother cramps her legs during pregnancy may be not only a metabolic disorder. Often muscle spasms begin as a result of varicose veins - the "faithful" companion of pregnancy. The veins of a woman carrying a baby are subject to increased stress. In addition, hormonal changes in the body seriously affect the state of blood vessels. All this contributes to the development of varicose veins. And a violation of the blood supply to the muscles of the legs, in turn, leads to convulsions.
If the expectant mother is faced with varicose veins, then the best prevention of its progression is to wear compression stockings selected by the doctor in accordance with the gestational age.