Belly Cramps – Reasons & solutions

As they approach their due dates, most expectant mums can hardly wait for the baby. This is partly because, as the third trimester progresses, most women experience increased discomfort. Some feel really tired, heavy and sick. This state comes with a myriad of complications that cause them to feel uneasy and anxious.

More often than not, the distress comes in form of belly discomfort or cramping. While it may be harmless, cramping could be a sign of serious complications that may need medical attention. Therefore, if you experience severe or even painful cramping that may be accompanied by spotting, bleeding, fever, faintness, nausea and discomfort while urinating or if the pain does not subside after some rest, call your doctor immediately or better still check in to a hospital. Other reasons why you should talk to your health-care provider include rhythmic contractions that last a minute or more, the contraction getting worse with time or when you are not sure if the cramps are normal or not.

However, most healthcare providers view this as a positive thing that is meant to occur just to prepare you for the transformation from being pregnant to the actual giving birth. This transformation process has a lot to do with the hormones progesterone and relaxin, which are designed to relax your uterus to prevent pre-term labour.

Mrs. Josephine Makonjio, a practicing midwife for 30 years, agrees and explains that despite this, those two hormones also relax all of the joint ligaments around your pelvis so that when you go into labour; your baby will pass through the pelvis more easily. The problem however, is they relax other things like the bowel, making you a bit more sluggish and more susceptible to constipation.’

Mrs. Makonjio also points out that the third trimester experiences the greatest amount of growth making it rather normal for you to feel fatigued, heavier and uncomfortable. Most of the time all these changes come with belly discomfort and cramping. Knowing what to expect and what to do about it would make it much easier for you to go through this last phase of pregnancy smoothly. We shall discuss the most common causes of belly discomfort and the simple solutions you can try to ease them below.

Braxton Hicks contractions

Also referred to as false labour, these are normally infrequent contractions that may cause a tight feeling in the uterus. Some women may feel pain similar to menstrual cramping while some may only feel uncomfortable or not even notice them at all. They may result from an increased level of pregnancy hormones, pressure from your growing uterus or gas. Braxton Hicks contractions do not get stronger or closer together over time and stop when you walk. Mrs. Makonjio describes these hicks as your body’s way of preparing you for labour especially when you are around week 34 to 35- ‘They do not however cause your cervix to dilate,’ she poses.

Simple solutions: Drink a lot of water because dehydration can cause contractions. Ensure you empty your bladder as frequently as possible. Other comfort measures include taking a bath, gentle walking or swimming and self distraction by way of talking, reading or working. You could also drink a hot cup of herbal tea or milk.

This is a condition you are much more likely to experience during the third trimester. This is because, as mentioned earlier, the hormones progesterone and relaxin slow down the movement of food through your digestive tract. This causes you to bloat or even constipate. Also, constipation and bloating could result from the pressure of your growing uterus on your stomach and intestines.

Simple solutions: Eating a healthy, balanced diet that incorporates plenty of fibre, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods is the key to preventing these two conditions and thus cramping. What’s more, you can incorporate some gentle exercises recommended by your doctor.
Mrs. Makonjio suggests walking, swimming or water aerobics.

Stretching of ligaments
Generally, when ligaments of joints that support your uterus in the pelvis stretch to make room for your growing baby and relax to start creating a passage way for your baby, you may experience brief, sharp, stabbing pain or sometimes a long lasting dull ache on one side or even both sides of your lower abdomen. You may also feel discomfort when changing positions like getting out of bed, getting up from a chair or in some instances when you cough.

Simple solutions: Make a change of position as gently and slow as possible. You can also ensure you get enough rest especially after doing any activities that may have consumed a lot of your energy. However, if the pain continues even after you have rested, do not hesitate to consult your health-care provider.

Pre-term Labour
Belly discomforts or cramping that may be accompanied by diarrhoea and back pains could be indicators of pre-term labour especially when you are below 37 weeks of pregnancy. The pain you feel is as a result of your abdomen tightening and causing pressure on your pelvis. Other symptoms that may come with pre-term labour may include change in vaginal discharge and dull lower back pain.

Simple solutions: It is advisable that you call your doctor or, better still, check into hospital immediately as this may be a sign of other pregnancy complications.

Mrs Makonjio explains that cramping may be a sign of labour especially when you are way after your 37th week of pregnancy. Nonetheless, you will know that you are in labour when you feel frequent and regular contractions mostly between 5 to 10 minutes.
At this time, you may not be able to walk or even talk as the contractions come. You may also notice that most probably your waters have broken. The contractions also cause your cervix to open.

Simple solutions: Take deep breaths to help calm you down as you wait for the contractions to be frequent and leave for hospital as soon as this happens.

Other comfort measures that you may want to consider:

>> Sitting down with raised feet to help you relax. This will also quickly relieve your symptoms.

>> You should avoid speedy changes in sitting or sleeping position especially when it involves turning sharply at the waist.

>> Bend towards the side that you are feeling the pain. This helps relieve it almost immediately.

>> You can also wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and press it on your lower belly.

>> Bear in mind that not all abdominal discomfort in the third trimester is related to the pregnancy. It could be a sign of possibly other conditions such as appendicitis or gallbladder problems. That is why it is essential that you examine the symptoms keenly and consult your doctors to have it checked if you are not sure about it.

END: PG32/40-41

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