Many women are worried about cramps in pregnancy and especially about cramping in early pregnancy. They wonder, is cramping normal in early pregnancy and is cramping a sign of pregnancy? It is actually extremely common to have what appear to be menstrual cramps during pregnancy, especially around the time when you are supposed to get your period. Cramping in the first trimester is a sign that the uterus is growing and stretching and rarely means you are having a miscarriage. When you are pregnant in the first trimester (from the 1st week of pregnancy till 13 weeks of pregnancy), lower abdominal cramps are extremely common and do not usually mean anything dangerous is going on.
As long as the cramps are not associated with bleeding or abdominal pain, you do not need to worry about it. Cramping during pregnancy is extremely common and just mean that the uterus is stretching. What causes cramps in pregnancy? In the first trimester, the uterine ligaments are stretching as well as the uterus so that you will experience period like cramps during pregnancy at this stage.
You do not need to take any medication for these types of cramps as you don’t want to put any chemicals in your body that could harm the pregnancy. The pregnancy cramps are simply uterus pain and will get better if you rest and put a hot water bottle or heating pad (on low) over the lower abdomen to ease the lower abdominal cramps. These things are what helps cramps the best and are the safest things to use for any type of stomach pain during pregnancy.
Many women worry about menstrual cramps during pregnancy and worry that they are having a miscarriage. Remember that a miscarriage is usually associated with severe cramps, abdominal pain during pregnancy, and bleeding coming from the vagina. If you experience bleeding at any time during the first trimester, you need to seek medical advice so that things like a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy can be evaluated and ruled out.
Other women want to know how to relieve cramps or how to ease cramps in early pregnancy using some kind of medication. Only acetaminophen is safe to take for cramps in early pregnancy and, frankly, it doesn’t work all that well. It is better to treat mild cramping in early pregnancy using non-medicinal techniques like gentle massage of the belly or a hot water bottle as these things are safe to use in early pregnancy. The reasons why medications shouldn’t be used in pregnancy are clear. There really isn’t any good reason to resort to taking medications of any kind in early pregnancy if one does not absolutely have to take them.
It is easy to take care of light cramping in early pregnancy but what if the cramping is constant and associated with belly pain during pregnancy? One might have to resort to resting for long periods of time and to avoid physical activity. The act of getting up too fast can contribute to round ligament pain in early pregnancy and, while this isn’t dangerous, it can be disconcerting. The best way to deal with this kind of cramping is to avoid twisting the body or getting up too fast from a seated position. If the cramping is constant, there may be no other choice but to take some type of medication, such as acetaminophen or even ibuprofen, which will work better than acetaminophen for cramps.
While most of the time, mild cramps in early pregnancy are completely normal and don’t represent any type of pregnancy complication, some cramps are more worrisome. Cramps that don’t go away with rest or are associated with vaginal bleeding are more alarming and need medical attention. Both an ectopic pregnancy and a miscarriage can be associated with cramps in early pregnancy but both are usually associated with some type of abdominal pain and vaginal bleeding. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to consider going to an emergency room or to your doctor’s office in order to have an ultrasound to check on the viability of the pregnancy.
If the pregnancy is found to be ectopic or if a miscarriage appears imminent, the cramping will worsen and the bleeding will also worsen. If there is an ectopic pregnancy, methotrexate can be used to get rid of the ectopic pregnancy that hasn’t ruptured. Otherwise, surgery might be indicated to remove the ectopic pregnancy and part of the fallopian tube in order to prevent heavy abdominal bleeding and a life-threatening emergency. If a miscarriage is suspected, most doctors will plan on waiting to see if the miscarriage completes itself without any form of intervention. If the bleeding continues and the cervix doesn’t open up and discharge the end products of conception, a dilatation and curettage (D and C) might need to be done to get rid of the products of conception if it has been definitely proven that the pregnancy is ending in miscarriage. This can prevent excessive blood loss and a possible life-threatening scenario.
What is the meaning of 37 weeks pregnant cramping as opposed to early pregnancy cramping? Usually cramping beginning at 37 weeks is a sign that labor is coming up and the uterus is having “practice cramps”, otherwise known as Braxton-Hicks contractions. These are usually located in the lower abdomen or in the back and are not so severe as to make you want to stop talking or to stop doing whatever it is that you are doing. Braxton-Hicks contractions are a normal part of the early labor process and mean that the uterus is becoming more irritable and is preparing for regular labor. Most women will have this kind of cramping for several weeks before finally going into full-fledged labor. The Braxton-Hicks contractions may come on at rest but will go away with activity or will do the opposite and will come on with activity and go away with rest.
There is nothing to do with these types of cramping and they are completely normal. If you want to use Braxton-Hicks contractions to help bring on labor, usually all you need to do is go for a long walk. This often keeps the contractions going and will soften the cervix, preparing it for the labor process. They will not go away if you take medication like acetaminophen and will continue to progress from about the thirty-seventh week on up until the time you go into labor. You will know the difference between Braxton-Hicks contractions and real labor by the intensity of the contractions and their characteristics. Braxton-Hicks contractions are located in the far lower part of the abdomen and tend not to spread all over the uterus. It may feel like the uterus is squeezing itself but it isn’t generally very painful.
Labor contractions start at the top of the uterus and progress to the bottom of the uterus. You can usually time these contractions and they will start at about fifteen minutes apart, becoming closer together and more regular as the labor progresses. You may experience back labor during real labor. There may be a bloody show of cervical mucus when you are in real labor or there may be some spotting, indicating that the cervix is starting to open up. This is when you need to have your bags packed for the hospital and need to contact your doctor or hospital to tell them that you are officially in early labor, you might be interested to know more about the first stage of labor.
After the first trimester, the round ligament pain seen during this time usually goes away and it is rare to have cramps in the middle part of the pregnancy. It can, however, be a sign of preterm labor and you’ll want to pay attention to it. Preterm labor can begin any time in the second or early third trimester of pregnancy (around 30 weeks of pregnancy) and mean that the baby may be coming too early. Preterm labor cramps will feel a bit like menstrual cramps in the beginning but will intensify and may be associated with a bloody show or some spotting. The cramps will be located in the back or will spread across the entire uterus. They will usually be able to be timed just like real labor and do not go away with rest.
If you think you might be going into preterm labor, you need to put in a phone call to your obstetrician or possibly go to the hospital to be evaluated. Medications such as terbutaline or magnesium sulfate can be given in preterm labor in order to stop the contractions and allow the uterus to rest. It may mean that you have to be on bedrest for the rest of the pregnancy or that you are simply dehydrated and need to have some hydration to stop the contractions. Your doctor will check your cervix to make sure it isn’t dilating too much and will do whatever is necessary to keep the contractions from coming back until the fetus is mature enough to be born. It is possible you might have to be hospitalized for the birth of the baby if the contractions do not go away on their own.