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Cramping in Early Pregnancy

Cramping during all stages of pregnancy is normal, unless it’s accompanied by severe pain or bleeding. During the earliest stages of pregnancy some women mistake the cramping for their menstrual cycle. This could be due to the fact that they may experience a little spot bleeding too. Spotting and cramping are classic symptoms of implantation, which occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus. In most cases, the spotting disappears within two or three days, but the cramping remains.

What Causes Cramping During Early Pregnancy?

Implantation is the most common cause of cramping during the early stages of pregnancy. Other potential causes include:

The uterus preparing for the baby
In the first few weeks of pregnancy, the uterus begins expanding to accommodate the growth of the baby. Round ligament pain can also contribute to cramping. This tends to occur during the fourth and sixth months of gestation, when the round ligament and other ligaments begin stretching to support the expansion of the uterus and growing baby early on, causing abdominal cramps.

Chemical pregnancy
A chemical pregnancy is an early miscarriage. Most women do not even know a chemical pregnancy has occurred since the pregnancy typically comes and goes by the time a woman’s menstrual cycle is due. A chemical pregnancy can only be detected by administering the test shortly after ovulation. Testing within a week or two afterwards typically yields a negative pregnancy test result. For most women, the false positive and negative test, followed by a menstrual cycle that is either on time or only a couple days late, may indicate that a chemical pregnancy has occurred.

Ectopic pregnancy
Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the egg implants outside the uterus. This is a serious medical condition for which immediate treatment should be sought.

Miscarriage
Miscarriages, on the other hand, are usually accompanied by severe pain and moderate to heavy bleeding. In most cases, the pregnancy was known prior to the miscarriage. On average, miscarriages occur within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, but they can occur up to the 20th week. Miscarriage after the 20th week of gestation is known as stillbirth.

Hormone changes
At the moment of conception our body begins to produce hormones. The most common hormones are estrogen, progesterone, and hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). Each hormone affects the body differently. However, during the early stages of pregnancy each hormone is being produced in high levels, which can lead to aches, pains and cramps.

Treating Cramps in Early Pregnancy

If you are experiencing cramping during the early stages of pregnancy, try drinking water while the cramping is occurring. Standing up and walking around is also said to help reduce cramping. Exercising throughout your pregnancy can reduce the incidence of cramps. Pelvic tilts and kegel exercises can strengthen your pelvic and abdominal muscles, and they can also reduce pain during labor and delivery by making the uterus and surrounding muscles and ligaments strong enough to handle the pressure caused by the baby. Try taking a warm shower or bath, using a heat compress on your lower back, or asking your partner for a massage. Talk with your healthcare provider about dosages and other pertinent information before taking over-the-counter medications for pain relief. Although acetaminophen is commonly used on pregnant women, too much of this drug can lead to problems with your liver.

When to Contact Your Doctor

It’s important to remember that cramps during pregnancy are common and normal. If you are you are concerned, however, you should contact your healthcare provider. If the cramps are not intense and they are not accompanied by other symptoms, you may want to wait a day or two to see if they go away on their own. Contact your healthcare provider immediately, however, if:

  • Bleeding is heavy or intensifies
  • Pink or gray tissue clots appear in your discharge
  • You experience spotting for three or four days, followed by cramps
  • Your lower belly becomes tender when cramps occur
  • You experience severe pain for 24 hours
  • You experience severe pain on one side of your lower abdomen

If you think you may be pregnant and are experiencing symptoms of pregnancy, contact your doctor for a blood analysis. If anything is wrong, early detection is best.

[Page updated October 2014]