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What are the Most Common Causes of Pregnancy Cramps?

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  • Written By: Autumn Rivers
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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There are various reasons for pregnancy cramps, most of which are not cause for concern. For example, early pregnancy is often marked by implantation pains, a stretching uterus, and gas. Cramping in late pregnancy, on the other hand, is frequently caused by either stretching of the ligaments or Braxton Hicks contractions. Unfortunately, though, sometimes cramping during pregnancy signals a medical issue, including a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy during the first trimester. Pregnancy cramps that occur in the second or third trimester can also end up being a sign of a problem, as they could indicate early labor.

One of the first indications of pregnancy is often implantation pain, which occurs when the embryo attaches to the uterine wall. This is considered normal, though not every woman notices any cramping during this event. As the pregnancy continues, many women experience abdominal cramps that can occur anytime as the uterus stretches out, making room for the growing unborn baby. On the other hand, sometimes cramping during pregnancy is not even directly related to the uterus, as many women notice abdominal discomfort due to gas and constipation. This may continue throughout the pregnancy.

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Late pregnancy is often also plagued by cramps, with round ligament pains being one of the most commonly noticed types. These pregnancy cramps are caused by the growing uterus pressing on the surrounding ligaments, and may feel similar to the cramping felt in the first trimester. Around the same time that round ligament pains can be felt, which is in the second or third trimester, some women may also experience Braxton Hicks contractions. These pregnancy cramps are considered practice for labor, as they are typically milder versions of actual contractions. It should be noted that while most women feel these toward the end of the pregnancy, women who have been pregnant more than once may notice these as early as the very beginning of the second trimester.

Though cramping during pregnancy does not usually indicate that anything is wrong, it should be mentioned to the doctor at each prenatal appointment, since it can sometimes signal an issue. For instance, early pregnancy cramps can indicate a possible miscarriage, especially if the woman also begins spotting blood. Another issue that may occur in the first trimester is an ectopic pregnancy, in which the embryo implants outside the uterus. This can be life-threatening for the mother, so symptoms like severe pregnancy cramps and bleeding should typically be reported to a doctor as soon as possible. Finally, while mild pregnancy cramps in the second or third trimester can signal harmless Braxton Hicks contractions, more severe or prolonged cramping can be a sign of preterm labor.

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