Cramping While Pregnant: Causes, Treatment, and Risks?

Cramping in late pregnancy is a physiological phenomenon that’s usually considered normal. However, that’s not always true – it sometimes can be a sign of trouble. How can you tell cramps that are a sign of trouble from those that aren’t? What causes cramps, how should you react, and what should you do when you’re in extreme pain?

How are cramps while pregnant like?

pregnant woman belly

Cramps during pregnancy are signs that your uterus is moving and is in fact, contracting. The uterus is surrounded by muscles that are in a relaxed state when you’re not pregnant. However, stimulus to the uterus can cause the muscles to tighten and contract and thus make you feel as if you have cramps during pregnancy.

Your cramps in the late stages of pregnancy might come in different forms – you might feel your uterus contracting painfully, or you might simply feel some abdominal tightness. If you try to put it into words, you might say that the area where your uterus is located has hardened.

As labor and delivery approaches, the intensity and frequency of the “rehearsals” your uterus does will increase and you’ll feel strong cramps more frequently.

Causes of cramps while pregnant

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In the second and third trimester of pregnancy, the body continues to change and so the reasons why you have cramps also change.


Second trimester (Months 4 to 6)

The second trimester is usually considered a relatively “stable” period because most expectant women find their morning sickness taking a turn for the better. As the baby’s growth continues without causing much change to the mom’s body, this is also a period of time in which moms don’t feel cramps due to physiological reasons, either.

However, fatigue can cause the muscles in your abdominal region to tighten, and you might feel cramps from time to time. Remember to rest up and don’t let your fatigue accumulate!


Third trimester (Months 7 to 9)

In the last trimester of pregnancy, you’ll feel the strongest cramps you’ve felt thus far throughout pregnancy. These cramps are signs that your body is heading down the road to labor and delivery. The contractions in the uterus will also increase in frequency.

Before you actually go into labor and deliver, you might experience cramps in the form of contractions in your uterus known as “Braxton Hicks contractions”. These contractions stop when you lie down or rest for some time, so keep still for awhile until they go away.

Cramps in late pregnancy are caused by fetal movements?

pregnant woman couple fetal movement

You might feel your fetus’ first movements (quickening) as early as Week 16, or you might feel them earlier or as late as Week 25. When your baby grows bigger and fetal movements become stronger, you might get cramps because your uterus tightens in response to the moving baby.

You might feel fetal movement and cramps at the same time, but if the cramps stop and the pain goes away when you rest, then what you felt was fetal movement. Fetal movements continue even though you are at rest and they are telling you that your baby is awake and active then.

Are cramps in late pregnancy a sign of preterm labor?

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When cramps hit you in the second and third trimester, rest.

If you rest for 30 minutes to an hour but the cramps continue, you’ll have to take note. Should you be less than 31 complete weeks pregnant and you already feel the contractions more than 3 times in an hour (for those past 31 completed pregnancy weeks, contractions more than 5 times an hour), you might be seeing a sign of preterm labor.

As there is a possibility that you’re going in labor, contact your hospital right away and give them details like what time you started having the contractions, how the pain is like, the interval between the contractions, whether you’re bleeding or not, and whether there is fetal movement or not.

Cramping and bleeding in late pregnancy? Take note!


If you have cramps + are in severe pain + are bleeding, there’s a possibility that you had a placental abruption. If for some reason, the placenta peels away from the uterine lining, your baby won’t get the oxygen and nutrients needed to survive.

If the placental abruption is but a partial separation of the placenta from the uterine lining, then the pregnancy can continue. However, if the abruption is a complete placental abruption, you will need to deliver your baby ASAP through a C-section. The baby’s life might be hanging in the balance when a placental abruption takes place, so if you are having cramps and are bleeding, contact your OB-GYN immediately.

Go to the hospital if you feel something isn’t right

pregnant woman hospital doctor

The numerous cramps or movements in your abdomen throughout pregnancy might make you a little indifferent to them over time and you might not actively process how the cramps, contractions or movements were like.

However, the possibility that the cramps are telling you something is wrong remains real – this is especially so if you’re in extreme pain and if there is bleeding. If such symptoms appear or if your gut feeling tells you to drop everything, just go to the hospital, don’t hesitate. Every second could mean life or death to your baby.