Whether mild or severe, cramping in early pregnancy is naturally alarming. If you’ve never been pregnant before, you may be worried that you’re going to miscarry. Fortunately, in most cases, cramping in early pregnancy is normal. But if you have severe cramping that is accompanied with vaginal bleeding, it can be a sign of a complication.
Cramping in early pregnancy can be light, or severe. Sometimes, light cramping signals implantation – one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Cramping may also be a sign of your uterus stretching to accommodate your developing baby. Other times, cramping can be a sign that you will have a miscarriage, or you have an ectopic pregnancy.
Because there are many reasons why you may have cramping in early pregnancy, you should contact your OB/GYN, midwife, or healthcare provider and let them know your symptoms.
Light cramping in early pregnancy is usually a sign of implantation cramping, and it’s nothing to worry about.
Implantation cramping can feel similar to the light menstrual cramps that you have around the time of your period. The mild cramping can affect your lower abdomen, and it may feel more uncomfortable on one side.
Many women experience implantation cramping before they ever realize that they’ve conceived. Implantation usually occurs eight to ten days after you ovulate (and a few days before you are scheduled to miss your period). Sometimes, implantation cramping occurs with light and brief light vaginal bleeding or spotting.
Implantation cramping is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. The cramping is caused by your newly fertilized egg imbedding itself, burrowing into the wall of your uterus. During this process, you can feel some light cramping and you may have light vaginal spotting (called implantation bleeding).
Round Ligament Pain
Early cramping in pregnancy can also be a sign of round ligament pain, which refers to the natural stretching and growing of your uterus to accommodate the quickly developing baby. As your uterus grows, it can sometimes irritate nerve fibers that are nearby, and this can cause you to feel sharp, jabbing pain. Sometimes, round ligament pain feels like a dull ache, or a dull cramp in your lower abdomen.
Also called “growing pains,” round ligament pain is a normal pregnancy symptom that can start in the first trimester. You may notice that you feel crampy when you suddenly move position too fast, or on a day that you’ve been particularly physically active.
Round ligament pain can cause cramping, but your pain should never be severe. If you have severe cramping that comes with any vaginal discharge, lower back pain, fever, chills, or nausea and vomiting, you need to contact your doctor right away.
Gas and Constipation
Sometimes, gas pains can be easily mistaken for cramping in pregnancy. Gas pains are often described as sharp, jabbing pains in the abdomen, or even cramps in your belly. Gas pains can be intense, and once you pass the gas, your pain and gas-related cramping usually goes away.
Because of higher levels of progesterone, which slows down digestion, it’s common for pregnant women to have excess gas and more bloating than before pregnancy. Gas is an uncomfortable (not to mention embarrassing) part of the whole pregnancy experience.
Similarly, constipation – which is very common in pregnancy, again due to progesterone slowing down your digestive tract – can cause you to have abdominal pain and cramping.
Although constipation is a normal pregnancy symptom, you need to contact your doctor immediately if you have painful constipation that is accompanied with severe abdominal cramping or pain, and hard stools with mucus or blood.
Although cramping in early pregnancy is common and normal in many situations, it can also be a sign that you will have a miscarriage.
In an early miscarriage (before 5 or 6 weeks pregnant), you may have moderate cramping that is heavier than menstrual cramps. Later in the first trimester, miscarriage-related cramping can be heavy and really painful.
Common signs of a miscarriage include:
- Pelvic cramping
- Belly pain
- Persistent lower back ache
- Vaginal bleeding
- Blood clots passing from your vagina
In many situations, the first signs of a miscarriage is vaginal spotting or vaginal bleeding. (However, keep in mind that 20 percent of all pregnant women experience vaginal spotting in the first trimester, and half of these cases do not end up in miscarriage.)
During a miscarriage, cramping and abdominal pain usually comes after you notice some vaginal bleeding.
If you are ever worried about your cramping in early pregnancy, consult a healthcare provider. It’s always better to remain on the safe side and get checked out. Your doctor can often alleviate your fear (if nothing is wrong).
Early pregnancy cramping, especially if it is severe abdominal cramping on one side, is a sign that you have a tubal (or ectopic) pregnancy. During an ectopic pregnancy, the fertilized egg grows in a location outside of the uterus – usually in the fallopian tubes. Since the pregnancy cannot develop without endangering the woman’s life, it needs to be treated.
If you have intense, one-sided cramping in pregnancy, you need to contact your doctor right away. Ectopic pregnancies can be a life-threatening situation when they aren’t caught early.
Ectopic pregnancies are rare and occur in only two percent of all pregnancies. Signs that you have an ectopic pregnancy include:
- Lower abdominal pain
- One-sided cramping
- Vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or weakness
- Shoulder or neck pain
Contact your OB/GYN or healthcare provider if you believe that you may have an ectopic pregnancy.
How to Cope with Cramping in Early Pregnancy
When you have mild or moderate cramping in early pregnancy (that does not come with bleeding or any other unusual symptoms), it may help to take a warm bath or take a short break.
Since medications are not recommended in the first trimester – since this is a time when all of your baby’s organs are in their earliest stages of development – you should try to find natural ways to find relief, like a warm or cold compress, before trying any medication. An occasional Tylenol (acetaminophen) can alleviate your discomfort, but this should be a last resort.
For severe or intense pain, you should contact your doctor and get checked out to rule out any complications.