What Do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like?

Many people with periods feel some discomfort or cramps before their menstrual cycle. But if you are pregnant, these cramps are not the most welcome ones. Early pregnancy cramps are not something to be concerned about. But knowing about them may help you feel at ease because most people wonder, “What do early pregnancy cramps feel like? “

Your menstrual cramps1 and early pregnancy cramps are pretty similar. You can distinguish between these cramps with few signs. Everybody handles these hormones differently. And these cramps might continue throughout your pregnancy journey.

This article will help you learn more about these cramps. Know about these cramps, the reasons, and when to seek medical attention.

1. How To Tell the Difference?

Early pregnancy cramps mimic the aches and sensations you feel during your periods. So, trying to tell them apart can be a little tricky. These usually happen during the first trimester (0 to 13th week) and are commonly known as implantation cramps.

Implantation refers to the process in which the zygote attaches to the uterine lining. Cramps and slight bleeding also accompany this. These are some early pregnancy symptoms. You can do a pregnancy test for confirmation. The cramps are similar to menstrual cramps, generally in the lower abdomen.

However, these cannot be the only criteria for separating these two. As they are very similar, you need more knowledge. Some symptoms that are related to pregnancy are:

  • Breast tenderness
  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Increased Fatigue
  • Changes to your breasts or nipples
  • Changes in appetite

2. How Long Will You Have Them For?

Even though these early pregnancy cramps are mild, they are not unquestionably enjoyable. Hence, you must want to know how long these usually last.

Well, pregnancy-related issues are different for every woman. Some might experience these cramps, and some might not at all.

Some have early pregnancy cramps, and they might reoccur later on as well.

The cramps are not constant and will come and go in waves. They are mild and should not affect your day-to-day activities. If the pain hinders your daily life along with bleeding, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Implantation Bleeding and Early Pregnancy Symptoms | Am I Pregnant?

3. Causes of Early Pregnancy Cramps

Feeling slight cramps and discomfort during the first few weeks or months is normal. Your body has been constantly changing since day one of pregnancy.

So, it’s quite normal to experience some discomfort as your body adjusts to these changes. You might not even notice anything if you have a high pain tolerance. Some reasons for these cramps are listed below:

3.1 Early Pregnancy Cramps Due to Changes in the Body:

  1. Implantation: This is the first stage of pregnancy. After the egg is fertilized, the zygote travels to the uterus through the fallopian tube2. There it is attached to the uterine lining for further development. This is accompanied by cramps and spotting (light bleeding). These are some early signs of pregnancy. Typically, implantation happens 6 to 12 days after ovulation. Track your periods if they are irregular to avoid any confusion. Not experiencing any kind of cramping is also completely normal.
  2. Changes to your Uterus: During pregnancy, your body undergoes many significant changes. Your uterus is growing and expanding rapidly, extending from your pelvic region to your abdominal region. These shifting of your organs and expanding your muscles can cause discomfort.

3.2 Early Pregnancy Cramps Due to Other Reasons:

  1. Digestive Issues: Sometimes, abdominal pain can be mistaken for pregnancy-related cramps. It could be because of poor digestion, which can cause digestive issues. Your gut motility and the digestive process are slowed down, which can lead to bloating and gas. Constipation is also very common for pregnant people.
  2. Dehydration: For the healthy development of the placenta3, your body needs to be hydrated at all times. So you might feel dehydrated far more quickly than regular. Not having enough water in your system can lead to muscle cramping. So, try to rehydrate by drinking water frequently to avoid it.
  3. Sexual Intercourse: Having sex during pregnancy is normal. And it is not harmful unless your doctor has any concerns. However, during sex, a hormone known as oxytocin 4is released which can cause your uterus to contract and lead to cramps.

3.3 Some Serious Reasons

Almost all mild cramping associated with pregnancy in the first trimester is harmless. But it could be serious in some cases. If cramps are accompanied by bleeding, you should contact a doctor soon. Reasons for this could be:

  1. Miscarriage: It is the early loss of pregnancy and can happen due to many reasons. Almost 10 to 15 % of pregnancies end up in a miscarriage. It mostly happens before 20 weeks. A common sign of miscarriage is severe abdominal pain along with bleeding.
  2. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): A UTI can happen at any time. And it’s not directly related to being pregnant. But you are more at risk of getting a bladder infection around 6 weeks of pregnancy. A burning sensation while you urinate along with cramps, is a telltale sign of an infection. Get treatment before it becomes a severe case of kidney infection.
  3. Ectopic Pregnancy: After fertilization, the zygote travels5 to the uterus. Further development of the fetus occurs there. But in some cases, pregnancy can happen outside the uterus. If the zygote is attached somewhere other than the uterine wall, it is called an ectopic pregnancy. This mostly happens in the fallopian tube. This comes with pain towards only one side of the abdomen. It can also cause bleeding, sharp pains, and lower back discomfort.

4. How to Relieve the Pain?

You can find relief from the pain through some home remedies and self-care. Some strategies you can try to help with the discomfort are:

  1. Warm bath and Heat Pack: Take a warm shower or bath. It will help all your muscles to relax and provide cramp relief. You can also try Epsom salt. Applying a hot water bottle directly to your abdomen can help too, just like you would for menstrual cramps. Ensure that both remedies are done safely and water is warm, not hot.
  2. Yoga: Light physical activity such as prenatal yoga can be very helpful. Gentle stretching and walking can also help release tension from your body and muscles. Don’t overwork yourself and do only pregnancy-safe exercises.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Dehydration can cause muscle cramps. So try to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Your body needs more water than regular when you are pregnant. Try eating a healthy diet for health and proper digestion. No proper digestion can cause gas and constipation, which might result in mild cramps.
  4. Avoid Triggers: Certain foods and drinks can cause bloating and cramps. Some caffeinated drinks and carbonated drinks can make it worse. Try avoiding them or limit the intake as much as possible.
  5. Medications: You can take some medications to relieve pain. One pregnancy-safe option is Acetaminophen. But avoid Nonsteroidal 6anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen, especially in the first trimester.

5. When to See a Doctor?

As mentioned earlier, early pregnancy cramps are not harmful but only to a limit. You should look out for warning signs and symptoms, as they might be related to other health concerns. They might even need immediate medical attention. Some serious signs are:

  • Severe pain: Any kind of sharp and severe cramping is not normal. It can be caused by a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy7. These require medical attention from a professional. So, don’t ignore these signs and visit a healthcare provider soon.
  • Bleeding: Light Spotting during early pregnancy is common and normal. But you should not have heavy vaginal bleeding like a period. This might be a sign of a miscarriage or other complications.
  • Abnormal discharge: Any changes in your vaginal discharge should be talked about with a doctor. Any change in odor, color, or amount of your discharge should not be left unchecked.
  • Fainting: Being dizzy or light-headed should not be taken as a symptom of pregnancy. If you feel like you might faint, it might be dangerous. This can happen because of low blood pressure or other issues. Contact your doctor to discuss it.

6. Conclusion

Experiencing early pregnancy cramps is normal. But they can still be scary. Knowing the reasons for these cramps can make you feel at ease.  It also helps you know about any warning signs. This ensures you can get help if you experience something.

They can be easily managed with the help and support of your doctor and loved ones. You shouldn’t be shy about asking any questions and raising any concerns. Open and healthy communication will make your pregnancy journey a lot easier.

If you are having any doubts or concerns, contact your doctor. Always ensure that the mother and the developing baby are safe and healthy.

  1. Bann, Sewon, et al. “A one-year observational cohort study of menstrual cramps and ovulation in healthy, normally ovulating women.” Scientific Reports 12.1 (2022): 4738. ↩︎
  2. Berek, Jonathan S., et al. “Cancer of the ovary, fallopian tube, and peritoneum: 2021 update.” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 155 (2021): 61-85. ↩︎
  3. Ragusa, Antonio, et al. “Plasticenta: First evidence of microplastics in human placenta.” Environment international 146 (2021): 106274. ↩︎
  4. Carter, C. Sue, et al. “Is oxytocin “nature’s medicine”?.” Pharmacological reviews 72.4 (2020): 829-861. ↩︎
  5. Khan, Yusuf S., and Kristin M. Ackerman. “Embryology, Week 1.” StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, 2023. ↩︎
  6. Doña, Inmaculada, et al. “Progress in understanding hypersensitivity reactions to nonsteroidal anti‐inflammatory drugs.” Allergy 75.3 (2020): 561-575. ↩︎
  7. Hendriks, Erin, Rachel Rosenberg, and Linda Prine. “Ectopic pregnancy: diagnosis and management.” American family physician 101.10 (2020): 599-606. ↩︎

Last Updated on by Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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Sathi Chakraborty, MSc Biology

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