Early Pregnancy Signs Cramps

Did you know that increased blood flow in the uterus can cause cramping? While annoying, these cramps are usually mild. They are most common if your period is late and may also be due to early pregnancy. Check out our other articles for more information on this subject.

If you’ve been having cramps recently, it may mean that you’re pregnant. While your body is adjusting to the changes, it’s normal to have some discomforts. Cramping during pregnancy is a sign of increased blood flow in the uterus. 

Cramping that occurs during pregnancy is caused by increased blood flow through the uterus, which also increases your baby’s growth and development. Usually, increased cramping feels like a dull ache, like you’re about to start your period. Sometimes, however, it can be more severe and debilitating. Severe cramping can start as early as six weeks into pregnancy, but usually starts late in the first trimester and continues until the third trimester.

Implantation cramping may be an early sign of pregnancy. Understanding the causes and key differences between implantation cramps and period cramps will help people to recognize them.

Implantation cramping is a type of pain sometimes experienced when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. This process is called implantation. Cramping sometimes occurs when this happens, but it does not always cause pain.

Anyone experiencing implantation cramps should avoid taking some anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin. This is because taking anti-inflammatory medicines around the time of conception might increase the risk of miscarriage, according to a 2003 study trusted Source.

Signs and symptoms of pregnancy cramps

It is important to be able to tell the difference between normal early pregnancy cramps and cramping that may point to pregnancy complications. The following types of pain are normal early pregnancy symptoms:

Implantation pain

In the earliest stage of pregnancy, you may experience implantation pain. This is when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus. Pain generally occurs around the time when your period would normally begin. It may be accompanied by light spotting

Implantation pain feels much like a mild menstrual cramp. You may experience an aching or pulling sensation in your lower abdomen. The duration of the pain and/or spotting differs between people. Many people experience no pain. Some experience only a few brief twinge, while others may have mild and intermittent pain for several days.

First trimester cramps

During the first trimester, your uterus and the supporting muscles and ligaments begin to stretch. You may experience occasional cramps. Your pain should be relatively mild and infrequent. It may be more pronounced when you cough, sneeze, or adjust your position. SLIDESHOW16 Early Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy: Could You Be Pregnant?See Slideshow

Causes of pregnancy cramping

There are several causes of cramps in early pregnancy. Some of them require medical intervention. The most common causes include:

Implantation

Mild cramping around the time of implantation is perfectly normal. You may feel anything from a few twinges to an irregular, minor pain over the course of a few days.

Bodily changes

Your body must adjust in order to make room for your growing baby. It will be stretched and flooded with hormones. Both of these may cause occasional cramping.

Intestinal symptoms

Pregnancy directly causes mild cramps. Your pregnancy may also come with other symptoms that will, themselves, produce cramping. These can include constipationgas, and/or bloating.

Sexual intercourse

You may experience intense uterine cramping after sexual intercourse. This pain should go away quickly.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

Pregnant people are typically at an increased risk for urinary tract infections by the sixth week of the first trimester. This is due to changes in the urinary tract. You may have a UTI if you have cramping in the lower abdomen and/or any of the following symptoms:

Early pregnancy loss

If you experience cramping in your pelvic area, lower back, or abdomen, these may be signs of a miscarriage. This cramping will often be accompanied by vaginal bleeding that may start as a brownish discharge. Initial bleeding may be light. Heavy bleeding may indicate the presence of pregnancy tissue passing from the body.

Ectopic pregnancy 

An ectopic pregnancy occurs when the egg is implanted outside the uterus. The most common location is in the fallopian tubes. This is why it is also called a tubal pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy cannot proceed normally and is dangerous to the mother. It usually results in the loss of the embryo and must be treated immediately.

The most common symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy are cramping and heavy bleeding in the first trimester.

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When to see the doctor for early pregnancy cramping

You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms during your first trimester:

  • Severe and long-lasting pain
  • Cramping accompanied by fever, discharge, or dizziness
  • Cramping and heavy bleeding
  • Cramping along with pain in the shoulder or neck

You should also speak to your doctor about any concerns with cramping during your regularly scheduled appointments.

People over the age of 40 are more likely to experience early pregnancy loss. They should be particularly attentive to potential symptoms.

Diagnosing early pregnancy cramping

If your doctor is concerned about pregnancy complications, they will ask you questions about the intensity and duration of your cramping. They may also perform any of the following tests in order to determine the cause of your pain:

These tests will help your doctor evaluate the health of your pregnancy.

Treatments for early pregnancy cramping

Early pregnancy cramps may be relieved without medication. Try the following home treatments to relieve pain:

  • Lie down, sit, or change positions
  • Take a warm bath
  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle at the site of the cramp
  • Perform relaxation exercises

Drinking plenty of fluids may also help with cramp prevention

In the case of more persistent cramping, you may want to try over-the-counter pain relievers. You may need to avoid some of the following medications, but a few are perfectly safe in your first trimester:

Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

Most pregnant people can take low doses of acetaminophen without fear of harming either their fetus or themselves.

Aspirin

Aspirin can contribute to maternal or fetal bleeding. Low doses of the drug are most likely safe, but use sparingly. You may also want to avoid it if you are spotting.

Ibuprofen (Advil) and Naproxen (Aleve)

These NSAIDs are safe for pregnant people during the first trimester. However, during late pregnancy they have been associated with an increased risk for a rare but serious fetal heart problem called premature ductal closure. If your doctor is concerned about this, they may recommend alternative pain-relieving medications.

What are some uncommon signs of early pregnancy?

The first week of the pregnancy is when the egg has been released from the ovum, the egg then combines with sperm and conception occurs. Progesterone and estrogen hormones, which are a part of the normal menstrual cycle, rise dramatically. A new hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) begins to be produced as well. These hormones promote the increase in blood flow to the uterus and prepare the uterus lining for the implantation of the fertilized egg.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the female may be unaware of the pregnancy. The woman may experience symptoms similar to a menstrual period. The first week of pregnancy usually does not cause any noticeable symptoms and may vary in different females. Some common and uncommon symptoms include

  • Amenorrhea: Sudden cessation of regular menstruation is the most common symptom denoting pregnancy. However, pregnancy may occur during lactational amenorrhea. Also, bleeding may occur early in pregnancy, which could be similar to threatened abortion.
  • Bleeding: Implantation bleeding is an early sign of pregnancy and is different from the menstrual period. It precipitates light bleeding that may involve a single spot of blood or a small amount of pink discharge. The spotting may last for a few hours or days.
  • Cramping: Women may also feel mild cramping when the embryo attaches to the uterus wall. Women may feel these cramps in the abdomen, pelvis, or low back area. The cramping may feel like a pulling, tingling, or pricking sensation. Some women experience only a few minor cramps, whereas others may feel occasional discomfort that comes and goes over a few days.
  • Other variable symptoms include
    • Nausea with or without vomiting
    • Breast changes, including tenderness, swelling, tingling feeling, or noticeable blue veins
    • Frequent urination
    • Headache
    • Raised basal body temperature
    • Bloating in the abdomen or gas
    • Mild pelvic cramping or discomfort without bleeding
    • Tiredness or fatigue
    • Food cravings or aversions
    • Irritability or mood swings
    • A heightened sense of smell
    • Metallic taste in the mouth

Pregnancy symptoms are different for every woman. Some women may notice symptoms, such as spotting or a headache, during the first week of pregnancy. Others may only experience a missed period. Some women will have no symptoms at all.

How is pregnancy diagnosed?

The diagnosis of pregnancy can be made by several methods. A woman with a 28-day cycle who presents with a missed period and has the typical history and physical exam findings can be diagnosed with a viable intrauterine pregnancy test if she progresses accordingly. Most women are diagnosed with pregnancy after a missed menstrual cycle. The positive result depends on the presence of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) in maternal serum and urine.

  • Urine pregnancy tests
    • Agglutination test: Latex particles or sheep erythrocyte (tube) coated with anti-hCG.
    • Agglutination inhibition tests
    • Dipstick test
    • Rapid and simple tests based on enzyme-labeled monoclonal antibodies assay can detect low level of hCG in urine
  • Serum pregnancy tests
    • Radioimmunoassay of beta-subunit of hCG
    • Radio receptor assay

Signs Of Period vs Pregnancy

Cramping is a common early pregnancy symptom and usually nothing to worry about. Aches, twinges, and pulling or stretching muscle pain are typical and differ in length and intensity between people. However, some cramps accompanied by bleeding, fever, or discharge should prompt you to contact your doctor.

Many people experience cramps in early pregnancy. As your baby develops, so does your body. It is normal to experience cramping, or a mild pulling sensation in your abdomen. Cramping is not considered one of the early detection signs of pregnancy, but it is a common early pregnancy symptom and often nothing to worry about. 

Many home or over-the-counter remedies are readily available and effective in reducing pregnancy cramps. However, other treatments may be dangerous during part or all of your pregnancy. It is important to be able to distinguish between the two.

In fact, some types of cramping should prompt you to contact your doctor or even emergency medical services. Learn more about when cramping is a natural part of a healthy pregnancy and when you should seek medical attention to rule out potential complications.

Implantation cramps vs. period cramps

Woman holding her stomach possibly due to Implantation cramping
Cramping sometimes occurs when a fertilised egg attaches itself to the uterus lining.

Implantation cramps are not the same as period or menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps happen during a period, which occurs approximately once every 28 days, so long as there is no pregnancy.

Menstrual cramps happen when the uterus contracts to expel its lining.

Substances called prostaglandins trigger the uterine muscles to contract.

Prostaglandins are associated with pain and inflammation. This process may cause cramping.

Are cramps and bleeding common?

Not everyone gets implantation cramps and bleeding when they first become pregnant.

One-quarter of participants in a 2010 studyTrusted Source reported bleeding in their first trimester. Only 8 percent of those had heavy bleeding.

28 percent of those that had spotting and light bleeding also reported pain. 54 percent of those with heavy bleeding also experienced pain.HEALTHLINE NEWSLETTERGet actionable tips to help support your parenthood journey

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How to recognize implantation cramps

Not everyone has cramps during implantation. And for those that do, the cramps may be mild or moderate.

Some describe the sensation as:

  • pricking
  • pulling
  • tingling feeling

This can help differentiate it from a menstrual cramp.

It is unusual to have intense cramping pain during implantation, so anyone who experiences painful cramping between periods should be assessed by a doctor.

Implantation tends to happen 6 to 12 days after ovulation when pregnancy occurs. This is about the same time that a person would usually expect a period to start.

If an egg has been fertilized, the body prepares the uterus lining to receive and protect the egg.

Some light bleeding or spotting may accompany implantation cramping. This is called implantation bleeding and is lighter than a regular period.

Other early signs of pregnancy

woman laying on a sofa holding her head
Signs of early pregnancy may include extreme tiredness, headaches, and raised body temperature.

Implantation cramping or bleeding may be an early sign of pregnancy.

It is easy to mistake period cramping or a light period for symptoms of implantation.

Because of the similarity of symptoms between menstruation and implantation, it helps to know the other early signs of pregnancy.

Other early signs of pregnancy include:

  • swollen, tender, heavier, or fuller breasts
  • extreme tiredness
  • feeling sick or vomiting
  • food aversions or cravings
  • headaches
  • constipation
  • mood swings
  • feeling tearful
  • dizziness or faintness
  • raised body temperature
  • missed period

When to see a doctor

If someone thinks they are pregnant, it is a good idea to take a home pregnancy test. A good time to do this is 1 to 2 weeks after noticing the early signs of pregnancy. Pregnancy tests are available to buy in supermarkets, health stores, and online.

If a fertilized egg has implanted into the uterus wall, the body will already have started to form the placenta. In this situation, the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), begins to rise.

Around 2 weeks after implantation, hCG levels will be high enough for a pregnancy test to be positive.

If the pregnancy test is positive, the next step is to make an appointment with a doctor. The doctor can confirm whether the home test is correct.

Anyone who already knows they are pregnant and is experiencing heavy bleeding or cramping should speak to a doctor. These symptoms may indicate a problem with the pregnancy.

Sometimes, individuals who are not pregnant may experience painful cramping or bleeding in between periods. If this occurs, it is a good idea to discuss the issue with a doctor.

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