Congratulations! Whether you’ve just had a positive pregnancy test or you’ve known for a few weeks now, in early pregnancy you might be experiencing many different symptoms.
Your body is changing rapidly. Sometimes it’s hard to determine which symptoms are a normal part of pregnancy and which you should be concerned about.
Early pregnancy cramps can cause some worry so it’s important to know what this common symptom means.
These 9 FAQs will help you understand why you might be experiencing cramps even though you’re only a few weeks (or days) pregnant.
#1: Is it normal to have cramping in early pregnancy?
Cramping in early pregnancy is normal, and is not usually a sign that something’s wrong.
Although mild to moderate cramping can be normal, significant or severe cramps are always a reason to contact a medical professional.
If your cramping is too uncomfortable to manage at home, it is always a good idea to seek medical advice.
#2: How early do pregnancy cramps start?
Cramps in early pregnancy can begin just 7 days after the egg is fertilised, during the implantation of the fertilised egg into the uterine wall.
Cramping might continue throughout early pregnancy, or ease off after the implantation process.
#3: What do early pregnancy cramps feel like?
Early pregnancy cramps often feel very similar to light menstrual cramps.
You might feel twinges, stretching or even pulling sensations.
#4: Period cramps or early pregnancy cramps?
It can be hard to tell the difference between period cramps and early pregnancy cramps.
If you’re experiencing cramps a few days before your period is due, then you might wonder whether or not you have conceived.
If you’re in tune with your menstrual cycle and you know what your period cramps usually feel like, it might be easier to make the distinction between period and pregnancy cramps.
Usually, early pregnancy cramps tend to happen sporadically and don’t last for long. Period cramps and aches leading up to bleeding will be more ongoing.
A positive pregnancy test might be possible if you’re close to your next expected period.
Read more in How Accurate Is An Early Pregnancy Test?
#5: Where are early pregnancy cramps located?
Most early pregnancy cramps are felt in the lower stomach (toward your pubic bone) and lower back.
This is because in early pregnancy your uterus is still small and tucked inside your pelvis, meaning cramps are lower in your tummy and back.
Sometimes, cramps related to ligament stretching can be felt down the upper, inner thigh or in the back of the legs. You might also notice cramping only happens with certain movements or when you change positions.
#6: What causes cramping during early pregnancy?
There are lots of different causes of cramping in early pregnancy. The most common causes are:
This occurs between 7 and 14 days after the sperm has fertilised the egg (conception).
Pregnancy hormones called progesterone and estrogen cause the lining of the uterus to grow thick with connective tissue. This makes it ready for the fertilised egg to implant and begin to grow into a placenta and embryo and, eventually, a baby.
Implantation cramps are usually mild and brief, and might be accompanied by light bleeding. Light bleeding can be pink, red or brown, and is usually spotting that can be contained with a sanitary liner.
Read more about this in Implantation Cramps – Could Cramping Be Implantation?
Cramping due to hormones
Progesterone is one of the main hormones involved in a pregnancy. An increase in progesterone allows for the uterus to grow and stretch, and this stretching can lead to mild cramping.
Remember, the uterus is a muscle and just as when other muscles stretch and grow, this process can be a bit uncomfortable.
Relaxin is another hormone that increases during pregnancy. As the name suggests, relaxin helps the ligaments and soft tissue relax and stretch to make way for a growing uterus.
Relaxin is highest in the first trimester so it’s normal to experience cramps as a result of your ligaments and soft tissue becoming extra stretchy.
As with other muscles and ligaments in our bodies, stretching and pulling of ligaments around the uterus and pelvis can cause cramping.
In up to 2% of pregnancies, the fertilised egg implants in the fallopian tube, cervix, or abdomen, instead of in the uterus. This can lead to very painful cramping low in the pelvis, particularly on one side. You might also have spotting or brown discharge, and pain when going to the bathroom.
If you have symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy it’s important to get in touch with your care provider urgently.
Without prompt assessment and treatment, an ectopic pregnancy can lead to significant bleeding and the need for surgery to the fallopian tube.
For more information be sure to read Ectopic Pregnancy – Symptom, Signs and Treatment.
It’s estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage. During a miscarriage the uterus contracts, and this feels like cramps.
Miscarriage cramps tend to be low and across the middle of the tummy, rather than on one side. Cramping during a miscarriage is often accompanied by bleeding or other discharge.
You might also notice the disappearance of other pregnancy symptoms, such as sore breasts, or morning sickness.
Urinary tract infection
Urinary tract infections aren’t directly related to pregnancy but can cause cramping and discomfort similar to early pregnancy cramping.
A urinary tract infection needs to be treated with antibiotics so it’s important to rule it out as a cause of your discomfort.
As well as cramping in your lower tummy, other symptoms of urinary tract infections are:
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Pain or burning sensation when passing urine
- Smelly or cloudy urine
- Blood in your urine
- Feeling tired and generally unwell.
The hormone progesterone also makes your bowel more relaxed, which slows down the movement of waste product through to your rectum.
This can lead to constipation, which leads to cramping. This type of cramping is often felt higher up in the stomach and might be accompanied by gas and bloating, or a sense of fullness in your bottom.
#7: When should I see my care provider about cramping in early pregnancy?
If your cramping is causing pain and discomfort that you can’t ignore you should let your care provider know.
If abdominal pain is accompanied by bleeding (fresh, red or brown blood with a steady flow, not just spotting, you should contact a medical professional urgently. If you have a fever, this could mean you have an infection, and you should also seek medical care.
#8: What do miscarriage cramps feel like?
If you have strong menstrual like cramps with vaginal bleeding, it’s important you seek advice from your care provider as soon as possible. The bleeding might begin as spotting and then increase.
#9: What is the treatment for cramps in early pregnancy?
Often there isn’t a quick or sure way to make cramps in early pregnancy go away. If you’ve made certain your cramps are only related to early pregnancy, here are some things you can do to relieve your discomfort:
- Try to sit down, lie down, or change positions. You could try crossing or uncrossing your legs, or lie in a position with your knees toward your tummy to help reduce stretching of ligaments temporarily.
- Make sure you drink plenty of fluids. Drinking water allows your body to flush fluid out of your system instead of retaining it; fluid retention can lead to bloating and cramping. Because your body naturally produces more fluid during pregnancy, it’s important to stay hydrated. Hydration can also help with constipation.
- Use heat packs or hot water bottles. Heat has long been used as a gentle way to treat cramping and inflammation. It’s safe to use a heat pack or hot water bottle on your tummy or back during any stage of pregnancy. Use a towel or hot water bottle cover to protect your skin from direct heat.
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of fibre. Fibre allows your stools to move more easily through your bowel; this helps prevent constipation. Fibre is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.
- Take Paracetamol (Tylenol). Paracetamol is safe to consume throughout pregnancy. Remember to read the packaging and do not exceed the recommended dose. You should avoid Nurofen and other anti-inflammatories, unless you have consulted a medical professional.