Abdominal Cramps During Pregnancy: What Do They Mean?

Abdominal cramps during pregnancy can mean a lot of things. You could be overexerting yourself, you could have some indigestion or you could have a more serious problem. We consulted The Idiot's Guide to Pregnancy and Dr. Chloe Zera of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston to break it down for you.
pregnant woman abdominal cramps

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, though, cramping can be an emergency signal that says you need medical attention.

Let's talk about why you might feel abdominal cramps, and what you can do to relieve them.


 

 

Ask an OB-GYN: Abdominal Cramps During Pregnancy

Dr. Chloe Zera discusses cramps during pregnancy and what you should do if you feel them.

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A Reminder to 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.

A Reminder to Watch Your Diet

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're constipated, you'll feel cramps that can be very painful.

A Warning of Serious Problems

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 can't 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.


 

 

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