Many women experience pregnancy cramping, which can cause a lot of questions about whether this is normal and when they should contact their care provider. For example, period-like cramps at 35 weeks pregnant may be related to Braxton Hicks contractions, or they could be a cause for concern.
Is Pregnancy Cramping a Cause for Concern?
Some pregnancy cramping or twinges in your abdomen during pregnancy is normal. However, severe cramping that has you doubled over or wanting pain medicine is never normal. If you have severe cramping combined with light-headedness, spotting/bleeding, fever, or faintness, you should contact your care provider immediately. This may be a sign of a serious complication.
First Trimester Cramping
Cramping early in your pregnancy may be caused when the fetus implants into the uterus. You may experience a little bit of spotting during this time. Implantation cramping and spotting should occur about the time you would normally get your period.
However, early pregnancy cramping combined with spotting may also be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Just to be safe, if you notice cramping combined with spotting or bleeding, you should contact your care provider.
Second Trimester Cramping
Many women experience cramps or twinges in their bellies in the second trimester. This is usually caused by ligament pain. Ligament pain feels like a dull ache across the belly or a sharp ache across a side. Most women notice ligament pain when getting up from a chair or coughing.
If ligament pain is truly bothering you, your care provider may be able to help with tips. You also may consider:
- A maternity belt
- A heating pad (either electric or a Thermacare pad)
- Pregnancy yoga
- A birthing/exercise ball while sitting
- A pillow between your legs while sleeping
- Taking your time when standing from bed or a chair
- Taking a warm bath/shower
Third Trimester Cramping
Many women experience mild cramping in the end of the second trimester and through their third trimester. This cramping is also called having Braxton Hicks contractions. These contractions are usually painless, though they can be uncomfortable for some women and are often confused with real labor. Mild menstrual-like cramping with no other symptoms around week 34 or week 35 may indicate your body is getting ready for birth. Menstrual-like cramps at 35 weeks, therefore, may not necessarily be a cause for concern. If your cramping is combined with backache, pressure, or spotting, you may actually be going into labor. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, you should contact your care provider immediately because you may be going into preterm labor.
Pregnancy cramping after week 37 is a good indication you are going into labor. Many women report early contractions as being similar to menstrual cramps. If you are in early labor and the contractions are not too bad yet, you may want to try to the following comfort measures:
- Taking a bath or shower
- Using a heating pad
- Gentle walking or gentle swimming
- Staying busy and distracting yourself with chores, talking, movies, or books
- Getting a massage from your partner, family member, or doula
- Sitting on a birthing ball
If you are in early labor, don't forget to eat unless your care provider has told you not to. Comfort foods like smoothies, chicken broth, or toast may be nice at this time. It is also very important that you drink lots of water.
When Should I Contact My Doctor?
If you experience pregnancy cramping and are not sure of the reason, you should contact your care provider. He/she can make sure you and are baby are healthy.