Seeing those positive lines appear on a pregnancy test is an exciting moment. Without you knowing, your body has already started to make changes for the baby growing inside you. Sometimes you’ll have no symptoms during early pregnancy, but that’s not always the case. Cramps are just one of the many crazy things you may feel in early pregnancy and beyond.
For many women, having cramps at any point during pregnancy is worrisome. But in most cases, it’s normal to feel cramps during all three trimesters. It’s a good idea to know why cramping during pregnancy happens and how to tell the difference between what’s normal and when to call your doctor.
What are normal cramps in early pregnancy?
Cramps are common during pregnancy, especially in the first trimester. Before you know you’re pregnant, your body is rapidly changing and preparing to carry a baby for the next nine months. Cramps can have a few different causes early on in your pregnancy, including:
- Implantation cramps – As the fertilized egg implants itself into the uterus lining, it may cause some cramping similar to your period cramps. This happens before you know you’re pregnant, and some women will mistake this as their period is on its way. Implantation can even cause a little spotting too.
- Your uterus is expanding – Almost as soon as the embryo implants itself, the uterus begins to grow. You may not look pregnant yet, but changes are happening, which can cause some cramping.
- Digestive problems – Pregnancy can cause gas and constipation as the hormones flooding through your body tend to slow things down in your digestive tract. This can all lead to cramping. Prenatal vitamins with iron in them can also make constipation worse, which often feels like uterine cramps.
- Not drinking enough water – dehydration can cause muscles to cramp, and let’s not forget that the uterus is a muscle. Cramps can happen if you aren’t keeping yourself hydrated. Pregnant women need to drink more water to grow a healthy placenta and to provide enough amniotic fluid for their little ones to thrive for the next nine months.
What are normal cramps in later pregnancy?
It’s also normal to occasionally have cramps as your pregnancy progresses into your second and third trimesters. Cramping later on in pregnancy can be caused by the uterus tightening. These cramps, or Braxton Hicks contractions, are normal as long as they do not happen at regular intervals and go away on their own.
Another common cause of cramps is round ligament pain. The round ligament supports the uterus and can make you feel mild discomfort as it stretches with your uterus.
Some other causes of cramping later in pregnancy include:
- Digestive issues
- Carrying more than one baby
What should I do about mild cramping while pregnant?
If you are having mild cramping, in most cases, they’ll subside on their own. However, there are a few things you can do to alleviate the discomfort:
- Sit down and relax – A few minutes of sitting or lying down will usually make the cramps go away
- Take a warm bath or shower – Just another way to help you relax
- Drink more water - staying hydrated will help to fend off cramps
- Wear a maternity belly band for extra support
What is considered abnormal cramps while pregnant?
There are situations when cramping during pregnancy is not normal, and a bigger problem may be lurking. Any severe cramping, happening at regular intervals, or getting worse with rest, is not normal. Knowing what to look for can help you determine what’s normal and what’s not.
Ectopic pregnancies are not sustainable and are life-threatening if allowed to continue. Severe cramping that’s happening only on one side is a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. Also, any cramping accompanied by spotting or bleeding should be reported to your healthcare provider, as you may have a miscarriage.
UTIs are more common during pregnancy and can cause cramping and lower abdominal pain. A burning or tingling sensation when you urinate is usually present when you have a UTI, but that’s not always the case during pregnancy. If you suspect you have a UTI, contact your provider for testing. Treatment will be needed to prevent the infection from getting worse and spreading.
What should I do if I’m concerned about pregnancy cramping?
Cramping during pregnancy is common; usually, there’s no cause for worry. However, if you have any concerns about the cramps you’re experiencing, you should always contact your healthcare provider. They can determine if what you’re feeling is normal and will often perform an ultrasound or other tests to ensure everything is okay. It’s always better to err on the side of caution when it comes to your and your baby's health.