Cramping in Early Pregnancy: What’s Normal?
What You Need to Know About Cramping in Early Pregnancy
June 11, 2021

What You Need to Know About Cramping in Early Pregnancy

What You Need to Know About Cramping in Early Pregnancy.
What You Need to Know About Cramping in Early Pregnancy

Symptoms can vary so much from pregnancy to pregnancy that it’s often hard to know what exactly is going on in there. If you find yourself noticing every twinge, cramp or ache, you’re definitely not alone. What kind of pain is considered okay and when should you actually worry? Most of the time, cramping during early pregnancy is no cause for concern. In fact, it can even be a good thing. Here’s what you need to know about cramping in early pregnancy, including what’s typical and what you might want to talk to your healthcare provider about.

Is cramping in early pregnancy normal?

Yes, actually. Cramping in early pregnancy is generally normal and usually isn’t a sign of a problem. “Internal changes are happening to prepare the body to grow a baby for approximately nine months,” explains antenatal and postpartum doula Ana Genoa-Taney. So, cramping and other aches and pains may simply be due to changes happening in your body as you’re growing a baby. Cramping, in particular, can have a few different (totally harmless) causes, including:

  • Implantation cramps: Cramping can be a really early sign of pregnancy—really early, like only a week or two after conception. Here’s a quick “how babies are made” refresher: After the egg is fertilized in the fallopian tubes, it travels into the uterus and needs to implant itself into the uterine wall. This implantation can cause a little bit of early pregnancy cramping and possibly some light spotting too.
  • Growing uterus: “Cramping in early pregnancy is [usually] due to changes in your uterus,” says Dr. Sarah Yamaghuchi, MD, FACOG. You might not look pregnant yet, but your body is changing rapidly in that first trimester. As your uterus starts growing and stretching to house that growing baby, a bit of early pregnancy cramping may become par for the course.
  • Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can sometimes cause your muscles to cramp. Your body uses a lot of water during pregnancy—in early pregnany, water plays a big role in the healthy development of the placenta. So, it’s easy for pregnant people to feel dehydrated very quickly. Get those ounces in however you can (adding lemon for flavor helps).
  • Tummy troubles: Gas, bloating and constipation are no joke when you’re pregnant (it’s such a beautiful time!), so you may feel crampy due to digestion woes. “Pregnancy itself tends to make [pregnant people] more constipated,” Dr. Yamaguchi notes, “but prenatal vitiamins can also exacerbate intestinal symptoms, which can feel like uterine cramping sometimes.”

There can sometimes be more serious causes of cramping in early pregnancy. These include:

  • Ectopic pregnancy: Ectopic pregnancy is when the egg implants into a fallopian tube or somewhere else that’s not the uterine lining, causing some pretty serious pain. A sign: the cramps are intense and on one side of the abdomen. If you’ve already had an ultrasound confirming your pregnancy, you don’t need to worry about an ectopic pregnancy.
  • Miscarriage: Cramping in early pregnancy is sometimes due to miscarriage—a spontaneous loss of pregnancy. Usually with miscarriage, the cramps are accompanied by bleeding. If you’re experiencing cramps and bleeding, be sure to call your healthcare provider.
  • UTI: A urinary tract infection (a.k.a. bladder infection) can cause cramp-like discomfort. And you’re more prone to them while you’re pregnant, so this is definitely a possibility. You may be able to tell the difference between a UTI and other cramping in early pregnancy because, with a UTI, you’d probably have burning when you pee too. The pain of a UTI is usually felt in the lower abdomen.

What do early pregnancy cramps feel like?

Early pregnancy cramps usually feel like pulling or stretching in the belly. They’re often more of an ache than a pain, and you might find them similar to menstrual cramps. You may notice them when you change positions or when you sneeze or cough. If they’re mild and you don’t have any other symptoms, they’re probably no cause for alarm.

But, there are some signs that what you’re experiencing may not be your average cramping in early pregnancy and that there’s a problem. They include:

  • Severe pain
  • Pain that doesn’t go away
  • Cramping sensations in the vagina
  • Bleeding or unusual discharge
  • Diarrhea or other stomach problems
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Pain in the shoulder or neck

Call your doctor right away if you experience any of the above. In fact, if a certain symptom concerns you, you should always call your healthcare provider. After all, they are there to support you.

How long does cramping last in early pregnancy?

How long your cramping will last depends on its cause. For example, implantation cramps usually last only about one day, while UTI cramps would last (and probably get worse) until you get medical treatment.

Early pregnancy cramping caused by a growing uterus is intermittent, meaning the cramps happen here and there and don’t usually linger for long. If you’re experiencing mild cramping in early pregnancy and have no other symptoms, you can try to ease the discomfort by laying down or sitting, taking a warm bath, doing gentle yoga or relaxation techniques or drinking plenty of water.

As they say, this too shall pass—but know that cramping in early pregnancy may be replaced with other common pregnancy symptoms, like round ligament pain in the second trimester and Braxton Hicks contractions in the third trimester. So be sure to be kind to yourself and get lots of rest during your pregnancy. After all, your body is working hard and that deserves all the naps.

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