Cramps during pregnancy are not only uncomfortable, but scary, as any sort of pain in the abdominal region can send an expectant mom spiralling down the path of worst-case scenarios. The good news is, cramping is fairly common and, more often than not, isn't cause for concern. The important thing is knowing when to seek help.
Why do they happen? Cramps are usually caused by the muscles of the uterus contracting, explains Amanda Selk, an ob-gyn at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. In the first trimester, cramps could be from the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus, as well as the uterus simply growing. However, if the cramps are accompanied by bleeding, they could be a sign of miscarriage. Later in pregnancy, cramps could also be a sign of preterm labour, or once you hit 37 weeks, simply labour!
Braxton Hicks contractions What feels like cramping could be Braxton Hicks contractions, also known as practice contractions, which can begin as early as the second trimester. With Braxton Hicks, the muscles of the uterus tighten for approximately 30 to 60 seconds. They tend to be irregular in intensity, infrequent, unpredictable, more uncomfortable than painful, and usually taper off and then stop entirely. They are not cause for concern.
Round ligament pain Pregnant women sometimes get a sharp pain in the abdomen or groin area, usually on one side. This is not a cramp, but rather a stretching of the ligament that surrounds your belly. It’s uncomfortable, but only lasts a few seconds and is harmless.
Cramps after sex Some women experience cramping or uterine contractions after an orgasm. While they aren't dangerous, many women wonder if they should stop having sex because of them. The answer is no, says Selk, noting that the cramps generally don’t last long. If sex leads to pain or bleeding, however, that would be a sign to stop having sex and speak to your doctor or midwife.
What can I do about cramps? For the most part, you just want to make yourself more comfortable. "Usually, when women rest, cramps go away," Selk says. Dehydration can also make cramps worse, so drink lots of water. But be sure to empty your bladder often, as a full bladder can also make cramps worse! A warm shower may also relieve pain from cramping, and a maternity support belt in the third trimester to help ease cramping as well as back pain.
When should I call my midwife or doctor? While cramps are generally not a problem, you need to call your midwife or doctor if they are accompanied by bleeding, if there is a watery discharge, if they are increasing in frequency or strength, or if they don’t improve when you sit or lie down and rest.