If you feel cramps in your abdomen (the area around your stomach), don't panic right away. Sometimes cramping is nothing more than a gentle reminder to take it easy, and at other times it might be a sign of digestive problems. Occasionally, however, cramping can be an emergency signal that says you need medical attention.
Take It Easy
The muscles and ligaments that support your uterus are being pulled and stretched in all directions during pregnancy. This can cause occasional cramping. The pain might be mild or sharp. It might be particularly noticeable when you make a quick move, get up out of a chair, cough, or sneeze. This is nothing to worry about. Some women get cramps when they exercise and put additional stress on muscles and ligaments that are already strained. If you feel cramps while exercising, listen to your body. Stop and rest. This is not the time to work through pain.
Cramps can also remind you to watch what you eat. As in your pre-pregnancy days, poor digestion will cause cramps. If you overeat or eat the wrong foods, you might feel stomach cramps. If you are constipated, you will feel cramps that can be very painful.
Sometimes cramps are a danger signal that shouldn't be ignored. There are three specific medical conditions that are usually accompanied by cramping:
- Miscarriage. About 20 percent of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage within the first three months of pregnancy. (Miscarriage is the delivery of a baby before it is developed enough to survive outside the womb.) Severe cramping in the first trimester (often accompanied by bleeding from the vagina) can signal trouble. If you feel constant abdominal pain (with or without bleeding), call your doctor right away.
- Ectopic pregnancy. When the fertilized egg settles somewhere outside the uterus, you will get a positive pregnancy test, but as the egg begins to grow it cannot survive and will cause sharp abdominal pains and bleeding.
- Preterm labor. Each year, hundreds of thousands of babies are born long before they are due. These babies announce their plans for an early entrance with a variety of signals that include cramping.
If your cramps are severe and/or persistent, call your doctor immediately.