Stomach cramps in pregnancy

Aches and pains in early pregnancy are usually just a sign of your changing body, but when are stomach cramps safe, and when are they a concern?

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Cramping in pregnancy can be very frightening but, according to midwife Mervi Jokinen from the Royal College of Midwives, it’s not always a bad sign.

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“Many women get cramping during their pregnancies and it can be very worrying,” she says. “But mostly it’s just due to changes in your body as it gears up to stretch and grow to accommodate your new baby. Plus it can be due to circulation changes in the womb. However, occasionally it can be a sign that something’s wrong.”

Why am I getting cramps in pregnancy?

Niggles, aches, spasms, cramps and pain around the stomach area in pregnancy are fairly normal and usually nothing to worry about. “There are hormonal changes going on which can cause these things,” says Mervi. “Plus you’re growing and carrying a baby which puts pressure on your muscles and joints, and things can feel uncomfortable.”

When I was pregnant with my daughter Sophia, now four, I had mild cramping in the very early days, which was very scary. But my midwife reassured me it was just implantation cramping, which can often happen along with mild implantation bleeding.

“I had period-style cramps at the beginning of my pregnancy,” says Rebecca. “I thought it was my period coming but now I’m six weeks pregnant and going strong. My doctor was great for putting my mind at ease over it.”

In the second trimester as your baby grows the hormone relaxin is released to soften your joints and ligaments to accommodate your growing womb and baby, which can often cause mild aches and cramps. Having sex or an orgasm can also give you slight cramps, especially in the second and third trimester.

“Towards the very end of your pregnancy you may also experience Braxton Hicks,” says Mervi. “These are regular tightenings which feel like mild contractions and are nothing to worry about.”

What can I do?

If you experience cramping it could be a sign you’re over doing it. Use it as an excuse to take it easy, have a warm bath, sit or lie down. If it continues, gets more painful, is accompanied by bleeding or you just feel worried, call your GP, midwife or hospital right away.

Am I having a miscarriage?

It’s hard to say. In your first trimester, if your cramps become very painful in the area below your belly button or you start to bleed call your doctor, midwife or hospital right away. It could be a sign of an early miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. If you start to bleed heavily go straight to A&E.

“I’ve been getting pretty bad menstrual-like cramps,” says Shannon. “It’s only been happening in the morning and it’s every single day. They last about five to ten minutes and then subside. I won’t get anymore cramps for the rest of the day.

I’ve had no bleeding at all which I know is a good sign. But my doctor reassured me that things are fine and that first trimester cramping should be milder – not worse – than your normal period cramping,” she adds.

By the second trimester miscarriages are far less common so try not to worry about mild cramping. If you have mild bleeding call your doctor or midwife immediately, but if you have heavy bleeding go straight to A&E.

By the third trimester abdominal cramping could be a sign your body is getting ready for labour. If you experience painful cramping or your waters break you could be in premature labour, which can happen between weeks 24 and 37 of pregnancy (by 37 weeks you’re considered full term). If this happens call your hospital immediately. Cramps after 37 weeks could either be Braxton Hicks or labour.

Does everyone get it?

No but it is very common. “In my first pregnancy I was really paranoid I was going to miscarry because of the cramping,” says Phoenix. “I kept checking my knickers for blood. But it was very mild and, as it turned out, nothing to worry about. My doctor told me it was just my uterus stretching to accommodate my growing baby. I’m now pregnant again and I’m also experiencing mild cramping but I’m a lot more relaxed this time.”

“I had a lot of cramps in the first few months,” says Lisa. “I was absolutely paranoid but then my doctor told me it’s just the muscles stretching to accommodate the baby. But you worry about every little twinge and pain and it’s so hard to stay calm.”

If it’s not a miscarriage what is it?

Cramps on the long list of pregnancy symptoms but there are lifestyle factors that can cause them too.

“I had all sorts of pains and cramps in my first trimester which my doctor put down to constipation,” says SuperSquish. “I hated the first trimester because I spent the whole time worrying!”

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“I noticed I was getting cramps more in the office because I was sitting down all day,” says Annem. “So I started getting up and walking around every fifteen minutes and it really helped.”

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