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Pregnancy cramps: 6 main causes and when to worry

Pregnancy cramps are normal, especially at the beginning of pregnancy as the mother’s body adapts to the baby’s growth. They are also common at the end of pregnancy, at around 37 weeks gestation, as they indicate the beginning of labor.

However, there are other conditions that can cause strong, persistent pregnancy cramps, and these need to be checked by a doctor. Additionally, if the cramping does not stop after a while, or if it is accompanied by vaginal bleeding, discharge, or fever, a gynecologist should be seen.

Pregnancy cramps: 6 main causes and when to worry

The following conditions can also cause pregnancy cramps:

1. Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo does not develop in the uterus but rather in the Fallopian tubes, which usually leads to bleeding and miscarriage. 

2. Ovular detachment

Ovular detachment is caused by the detachment of the gestational sac before the 20th week of pregnancy and is characterized by the presence of a hematoma originating from blood accumulation between the uterus and the gestational sac. This hematoma can worsen with exertion and the larger the hematoma, the higher the risk of premature birth, miscarriage, and placental abruption. 

3. Placental abruption

Placental abruption happens when the placenta is separated from the uterine wall as a result of inflammation and changes to the blood flow in the placenta from intense physical effort, high blood pressure or pre-eclampsia, which causes vaginal bleeding and intense cramping. This is a dangerous condition that requires immediate intervention.  

4. Miscarriage

Miscarriages can happen at the beginning of pregnancy due to several situations, such as excessive physical activity, intake of medication or certain teas, infections, or traumas.  

5. Labor

Cramps that arise after 37 weeks of pregnancy and that progress in terms of consistency and intensity can indicate the onset of labor. 

6. Other possible causes

Other possible causes of cramps during pregnancy are viruses, food poisoning, appendicitis, or urine infections. Therefore, we recommend going to a doctor as soon as cramping first appears.

Pregnancy cramps: 6 main causes and when to worry

How to relieve pregnancy cramps

Treatment for pregnancy cramps will vary according to the cause and your doctor’s recommendations. In some cases, the doctor may prescribe medication to relieve pain and discomfort.  

In general, if you rest and relax the cramps will subside, but it is important to note how many times a day the cramps appear and in which situations they get better or worse. 

Cramps at the beginning of pregnancy 

At the beginning of a pregnancy, it is common to get cramps and this is normally one of the first signs of pregnancy. Cramps at the beginning of gestation happen due to the uterus growing and its adaptation from the implantation of the embryo. Urinary or vaginal infections with discharge are also causes of cramps at the beginning of pregnancy. 

During pregnancy, the accumulation of gas in the intestines can also cause cramps due to bad digestion of certain types of food such as beans, broccoli, or ice-cream. Pregnancy cramps after sexual intercourse are normal, as orgasms also cause uterine contractions. 

Cramps at the end of pregnancy 

Cramps at the end of pregnancy can mean that labor is approaching. These cramps are the result of the baby’s movement in the womb or its weight that presses on the muscles, ligaments, and veins, causing pain and discomfort.  

When to go to the doctor

It is important for you to go to the gynecologist or obstetrician if you have frequent, painful cramps that do not cease with rest. Additionally, we recommend going to the doctor if you have vaginal bleeding, fever, chills, vomiting, or pain when urinating at the beginning or end of pregnancy, or if you suspect that labor has started. 

At the doctor’s appointment, you should mention all your symptoms so the doctor can identify what is causing the cramping and carry out the necessary procedures.

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