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Cramps During Pregnancy: Should I Worry?

08/06/2015 09:53 | Updated 21 December 2015

So you thought you'd be free of cramps once you had a baby in your belly?

Actually, pregnancy can bring with it various aches and pains in the abdomen, most of them perfectly normal – but you should be aware of more serious symptoms to look out for.

pregnant belly

Why am I getting cramps now I'm pregnant?

Early on during pregnancy, your body is changing quite rapidly and there are various reasons why you might get some pains in your tummy.

Right at the beginning of your pregnancy, you might have some mild cramps (like period pains), either by themselves or along with light vaginal bleeding. This can happen when the egg implants itself into your womb, and it's likely to occur around the time you would have had your period.

Some cramps are put down to your womb changing shape and preparing to accommodate your baby. A little later, as your uterus begins to grow, the ligaments supporting it will begin to stretch, and this can feel uncomfortable too, either on one or both sides of your body.

Certainly as your pregnancy progresses, you might begin to experience cramping during or after having sex.

If you orgasm, the contraction of muscles can set off Braxton Hicks contractions, which vary from a mild to exceedingly uncomfortable cramping of the uterus. In fact, Braxton Hicks can be triggered by various activities, including walking up the stairs.

What can I do?

If your cramps are giving you no cause for concern (see below for warning signs of more serious issues), then you can treat your pregnancy cramps much like you would menstrual cramps.

First and foremost, sit down and relax. Put your feet up. If you are having mild aches and pains in your tummy, get yourself a hot water bottle and see if that helps. If your cramps are just on one side of your body, lie down on the other side and rest for a while. Often this will do the trick.

A warm (not hot) bath might help to ease aches and pains and if you really need to, you can take some paracetamol.

If it's Braxton Hicks that are giving you jip, there is not much you can do to prevent them, they tend to have a mind of their own and come on with increasing severity as your pregnancy goes on.

But when you have a Braxton Hicks contraction, stop what you are doing for a minute. Sit down, or walk around and have a stretch – whatever works to help it ease off.

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When should I be worried about cramps or abdominal pain?

In the vast majority of cases, a little abdominal pain by itself is nothing to worry about – although it's always worth mentioning to your midwife, particularly if the pain seems to be getting worse.

Occasionally cramps and abdominal pain – when accompanied by other symptoms – can signify something else is going on.

Illness or infection

Your tummy pains could be being caused by something other than your pregnancy – for example, appendicitis or a bladder infection. If you also have diarrhoea, or you are vomiting, you might have a nasty tummy bug. If you feel ill in any way, if you have a fever, or aches and pains, along with those cramps, get down to your GP. You need to be especially careful not to become dehydrated at this time.

Early miscarriage

Unfortunately, early miscarriage is fairly common – but it is highly unlikely to have been caused by anything you did. It usually occurs simply because the foetus has not developed properly. Symptoms include cramps accompanied by bleeding, which might be light, but is often heavier and accompanied by a vaginal discharge of fluid or tissue.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the fertilised egg implants in the wrong place, most commonly in the fallopian tube. The pregnancy is never viable, and you will need medical attention as soon as possible. Symptoms (which will present themselves early on, between week five and week 14) include cramping, most often just on one side of your body, along with vaginal bleeding.

Late miscarriage

A late miscarriage is one that occurs after the 12th week but before the 23rd. Late miscarriage is rarer than early miscarriage and the symptoms will include painful abdominal cramps along with heavy bleeding. If you suspect you are having a late miscarriage, go to A&E as soon as you can.

Early labour

If you experience painful cramps after the 23rd week but before the 37th, it's possible you are entering premature labour. The cramps are likely to be accompanied by a pain low down in your pelvis and also in your back.

Your uterus will be contracting and your waters might break – if this happens, go straight to your nearest hospital. Labour from 37 weeks is not considered premature. Although many women experience tummy pains in pregnancy, the golden rule is to trust your instincts.

If you feel worried at all, or if something doesn't feel quite right, go to a doctor, midwife hospital or walk-in centre to get checked out. In all likelihood, you'll get the all clear, and you can go home to your hot water bottle!

Pregnancy worries and words of comfort

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