Cramping During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman who is cramping

Cramping During Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment and Prevention

During the first trimester, cramping during pregnancy often results from normal changes that occur during your baby’s development. Cramps can generally be described as pulling sensations on one or both sides of your abdomen. Although not considered a symptom for detection of early pregnancy, it is a symptom that accompanies many pregnancies. For most cases, cramping will be a normal part of pregnancy. However, there are some instances when cramping can be a concern. Read through this article to learn more about cramping during pregnancy.

Causes of cramping during pregnancy

Cramping typically occurs when the uterus expands, causing the ligaments and muscles which support it to stretch. It may be more noticeable when you sneeze, cough, or change positions.

During the second trimester, a common cause of cramping is round ligament pain. The round ligament is a muscle which supports the uterus and when it stretches, you may feel a sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache in your lower abdomen.

Cramping that is relatively minor and happens every now and then is probably nothing to be worried about. Some additional causes of normal cramping in pregnancy include:

Causes of Cramping During Pregnancy

Treating Cramping While Pregnant

If you experience minor cramping during pregnancy, there are a couple of things you can do for prevention and self-care:

  • Try to sit, lie down or change positions
  • Soak in a warm bath
  • Try doing relaxation exercises
  • Place a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel on the ache
  • Make sure you get plenty of fluids

Serious concerns for cramping during pregnancy

Serious Concerns for Cramping During Pregnancy

While cramping can be common, there are some serious causes of abdominal pain during pregnancy:

  • Ectopic pregnancy – this type of pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. Ectopic pregnancies can cause painful cramping and is a serious medical condition which must be treated by your doctor.
  • Miscarriage – vaginal spotting accompanied by mild or sharp cramping can be a sign of a miscarriage (although some pregnancies which have spotting and cramping can also result in healthy pregnancies). If you have severe cramping and or heavy bleeding, you should contact your doctor immediately.
  • Preeclampsiahigh blood pressure accompanied by protein in your urine. Severe preeclampsia can cause intense pain in your upper abdomen.
  • Preterm labor – Increased pressure, abdominal pain and cramping can be a sign of preterm labor, if your cervix begins to dilate before 37 weeks.
  • Urinary tract infections – lower abdominal pain, along with painful urination may be a symptom of a urinary tract infection.
  • Placental abruption – when the placenta separates from the uterus before the baby is born it is a life-threatening condition. This can be signaled by a painful cramp that does not go away. If this happens, you should contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Cramping while pregnant: When to call the doctor

If you experience the following types of cramping, you should contact your doctor right away:

  • Severe pain which does not go away
  • Lower abdominal pain, accompanied by contractions
  • Vaginal cramping, bleeding and discharge, accompanied by gastrointestinal symptoms and dizziness.
  • Cramping, along with pain in the shoulder and/or neck
Last Updated: 08/2013

Compiled using information from the following sources:

Roger W. Harms, M.D., E.-I.-C. (2004). Mayo clinic: Guide to a healthy pregnancy. USA: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Steven P. Shelov, M.D., E.-I.-C. (1991). Caring for your baby and young child: Birth to age 5. USA: American Academy of Pediatrics.

Abdominal pain during pregnancy. Retrieved August 1, 2013, from Baby Center