Many women are concerned if they have menstrual-like cramps when pregnant. Before you get worried, remember that there are several explanations that are perfectly safe, including digestive issues. You should talk to your OB though, because in some cases it can be a cause for concern. If you notice menstrual-like cramping when you are in late pregnancy, remember to visit your doctor immediately.
What Causes Menstrual Cramps During Late Pregnancy?
1. Round Ligament Pain
Round ligament pain can be mistaken as menstrual cramps. There are ligaments in the belly that provide uterus support. These will stretch as the uterus enlarges, causing pain that feels like cramps in the lower abdomen. For many women, it will start in the second trimester but there are some cases where it doesn’t start until later.
10 percent to 40 percent of pregnant women will be affected by constipation. Many feel it is more common during late pregnancy because of the baby taking up more space in the womb. Hormones released during late pregnancy may also be partially to blame. Constipation pain is often similar to menstrual cramps. Sometimes, this is accompanied by intestinal gas and nausea.
3. Other Digestive System Causes
Abdominal cramps can happen during pregnancy for much the same reasons other people get these cramps. Gastroenteritis or stomach flu may be the problem. Some symptoms include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, eating too much can also lead to discomfort and cramps. Another reason you may feel menstrual cramps during late pregnancy is from gallstones, and this can cause loss of appetite as well as nausea.
4. Braxton-Hicks Contractions
When the uterus starts to have mild contractions, this is the beginning of Braxton-Hicks. These pains are normal and help prepare your uterus for upcoming labor. They are easy to distinguish from labor contractions because they are mild and irregular. They can last between 30 seconds and two minutes and will become more frequent the closer you get to your due date.
5. Urinary Tract Infections
Between 2-7 percent of pregnant women will contract UTIs. Symptoms include cramping, pain when you urinate, frequent urges to urinate with only small amounts passing, urine that contains blood, and urine that is cloudy or foul-smelling. This is a concern for pregnant women because it can spread to the kidneys and bladder, causing pyelonephritis which may lead to preterm labor.
6. Premature Labor
If labor begins before 37 weeks, then it is premature. This can put the infant at risk as the lungs could still need to develop. Other signs besides menstrual cramps during late pregnancy that could mean you are in labor include water breaking and regular contractions that are getting stronger. When a woman is in true labor, she will have lower back pain. With Braxton-Hicks, you will more commonly feel the pain in your groin and abdomen.
7. Placental Abruption
Normally, your placenta will stay attached to your uterus, providing your baby with oxygen and nutrition until delivery. In roughly 1 out of 100-200 pregnancies, it may become detached early. This is called placental abruption.
Your symptoms can vary but you will likely experience sharp, sudden and severe pain similar to a cramp. The pain may be in the back or in the front of your belly and can be accompanied by bleeding. If you suspect this at all, please seek medical treatment immediately as your baby could be in danger.
When preeclampsia is severe, it can be accompanied by pains similar to menstrual cramps. This is a condition that the blood vessels impact many organs to change, including the placenta, liver and brain.
Two traits you will notice are protein in the blood as well as high blood pressure. Cramping will come with swelling of the feet, ankles, hands and face. Other serious issues include vision problems (seeing spots or blurred vision), headaches, nausea or vomiting. Many women are diagnosed with preeclampsia by the 20th week of pregnancy.
What to Do with Menstrual Cramps During Late Pregnancy
There are a few things you can do for the menstrual cramps and they include:
- Get plenty of rest anytime you can.
- Drink tons of water because you are drinking for two.
- Relieve the cramps with a long, warm shower.
- Change things up. Take a walk, or sit down – a change will relieve false labor pains.
- If you have an UTI, see your doctor for a prescription if needed. Prevent UTIs by drinking cranberry juice that is unsweetened.
- With labor that is preterm, you will need to see your doctor and go to the hospital.
When to See the Doctor
Menstrual cramps in late pregnancy can be caused by serious conditions. It’s important not to self-diagnose and to see your doctor right away. Self-medicating or treatment should be avoided during anytime when you are pregnant. Only your OB can determine if these cramps are harmless for you and your baby.
See your doctor immediately if:
- Abdominal cramps are sudden and severe.
- Premature labor symptoms such as your water breaking or cramps that are regular and getting stronger.
- Other symptoms develop such as painful or smelly urination, nausea or vomiting, discharge, bleeding, dizziness and fever.
- You have decreased baby movement.
- You are concerned or generally not feeling well.