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    Everything you need to know about cramping during pregnancy

    Updated 02 May 2023 |
    Published 09 November 2018
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenna Beckham, Obstetrician and gynecologist, WakeMed, North Carolina, US
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    From your bump growing to trapped gas, there are a few reasons why you might experience cramps during pregnancy.

    Breast tenderness, nausea, and a metallic taste in your mouth — early pregnancy is full of weird and wonderful symptoms. You might have done your research to help you to prepare for the next nine months, but you might not have been expecting cramps during pregnancy. 

    You may be no stranger to aches and pains around the time of your period, but did you know that mild abdominal cramps during early pregnancy are normal? Your body is going through some monumental changes, and you may be more aware of any new twinges and aches than ever before. 

    While cramps during pregnancy are considered to be pretty common, it’s to be expected if they leave you feeling a little worried. To get to the bottom of this, Dr. Nazaneen Homaifar, obstetrician and gynecologist, Inova Health System, Washington, DC, US, explains what early pregnancy cramps might feel like, what causes them, and how to cope with them. Grab your hot water bottle and settle in. 

    What do early pregnancy cramps feel like? 

    Your body goes through a lot of changes in early pregnancy as your baby starts to grow. While you may not have a bump yet, your baby is developing rapidly, and because of this, you’ll likely experience a lot of new symptoms. One really common symptom is cramping. Dr. Homaifar explains that it might feel like the cramps you have during your period. You might describe them as: 

    • A dull ache
    • Sharp abdominal and vaginal pain
    • A pulling or stretching feeling 

    Cramping might last a few minutes or a few hours and it may feel better if you change positions or try to poop. You might feel them in your bump, lower abdomen, lower back, or legs. It’s really important to remember that usually, they aren’t something to be worried about, but it’s totally understandable if you do feel freaked out. 

    Reach out to your doctor and explain what the cramps you’re experiencing feel like and when they happen. They will be able to support you and may ask you to come in to be examined. You can learn more about the different symptoms you may experience during early pregnancy using an app like Flo

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    What are the causes of cramping during pregnancy?

    Understanding why you’re experiencing cramping during early pregnancy may alleviate some of your worries. “Lower abdominal pain in pregnancy is quite common and can sometimes be confusing,” says Dr. Homaifar. “The pelvis houses the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and many other organs like the large intestines and bladder,” and all are impacted by pregnancy. That sounds like a lot, right? Well, fear not. In most cases, abdominal cramps during pregnancy are caused by normal bodily changes. 

    Implantation cramping

    During your first trimester, your embryo (a fertilized egg) implants in your uterine wall, and your baby starts to develop. Some people have reported feeling mild cramping at the beginning of pregnancy, called implantation cramping. However, even now, there’s very little scientific evidence that documents cramps during implantation, which is why you might not have heard lots about them.

    Uterine growth and round ligament pain 

    As you watch your bump grow on the outside, your uterus is stretching on the inside to create more space for your baby. If you feel severe cramping, aches, or tightening as your bump gets bigger, then you might be experiencing round ligament pain. Stick with us here. After you’ve conceived, your body releases a hormone called relaxin which encourages the ligaments on either side of your uterus (called your round ligaments) to loosen. That makes sense, right? These ligaments are around 10 to 12 cm long (or between 3.9 and 4.7 inches), and as your uterus stretches as your baby grows, these ligaments stretch too. This stretching can lead to a tightening feeling or cramping in your bump. Round ligament pain is very common and isn’t usually something you should worry about. You can think of it as a growing pain in pregnancy. 

    Constipation and trapped gas

    Constipation, or struggling to poop, is incredibly common during pregnancy. It’s estimated that as many as 39% of people experience this unpleasant symptom at some point during pregnancy, and it’s caused by a number of things. 

    • Hormones: During pregnancy, your body produces more progesterone, which relaxes your bowels, making it harder to poop. You absorb more nutrients and water from the food you eat during pregnancy as it passes through your system at a slower pace. This benefits both you and your baby. However, this also means that food remains in your intestine for longer and more moisture is taken from it. When it reaches your large intestine, it’s harder and dryer, making it harder to pass. As your digestive process slows down, it can also lead to painful trapped gas. 
    • Your growing baby: As your baby gets bigger, your bump will grow and will put pressure on your bladder and bowels. And you guessed it — if pressure is put on your bowels, it can be harder to poop. 
    • Iron levels: As your baby grows and develops, it takes all the nutrients it needs from the food and drink you consume. Your doctor may have suggested you start to take a pregnancy supplement with iron in so that both you and your baby are getting everything you need. However, vitamins that contain iron can make it more difficult for the bacteria in your bowels to break down food. This could lead to the side effect of constipation. 
    • Dehydration: It’s recommended that you drink 8 to 12 cups (64 to 96 ounces) of water every day when you’re pregnant. It helps nutrients to circulate through your body and aids in digestion. If you don’t drink enough water, your poop can become harder and more difficult to push out. 

    Constipation can be incredibly frustrating and painful and it isn’t just another pregnancy symptom you have to put up with. Speak to your doctor about ways you can treat it at home. They may recommend that you drink more water, increase the fiber in your diet, or take a stool softener. However, before you take any new medication, you should always speak to your doctor.

    Braxton Hicks contractions  

    Braxton Hicks contractions are sometimes called fake labor contractions and feel like tightening around your bump that comes and goes intermittently. You might have received your due date and penciled in when you think you might give birth, so the idea of fake labor probably sounds pretty frustrating. However, the good news is that there are ways to spot if the tightening you’re experiencing around your bump is Braxton Hicks or the real deal. 

    Generally, Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, last between 30 seconds and 2 minutes, and you feel them at the front of your bump. Real contractions usually start in your lower back and wrap around your lower abdomen and last between 30 and 90 seconds. 

    Doctors don’t currently know why some people experience Braxton Hicks contractions, and others don’t. However, a number of things can trigger them, including: 

    • Sex
    • Dehydration 
    • Needing to pee
    • Strenuous exercise 
    • Picking up something heavy 

    Are cramps common during pregnancy?

    Every pregnancy is different, and no two people will experience exactly the same symptoms. So, for this reason, while many medical experts highlight that abdominal cramps during pregnancy are very common and often not something to worry about, it’s difficult to know exactly how many people will have them.

    The key thing to remember as you move through your pregnancy is to trust your gut. You know your body best, and if something doesn’t feel right or you’re worried, then don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor.

    When do they go away? 

    Like some of the other more unpleasant symptoms of pregnancy, you might be curious as to when the cramps you’re experiencing will go away. Well, that all depends on what’s causing them. Round ligament pain and Braxton Hicks contractions will go away by themselves and shouldn’t last any longer than a few hours. You can learn more about how to cope with Braxton Hicks contractions using an app like Flo

    Stomach pain associated with constipation will go away once you’ve treated it. Keep reading to find out how you can remedy this at home.

    How to relieve the pain 

    Cramps can be pretty uncomfortable, but there are a number of things you can try at home to make yourself feel a bit better. It’s all about working out what feels good for you. You might want to try: 

    If you notice that your cramps are becoming more persistent or painful, then reach out to your doctor. They will be able to establish if they’re common mild cramps or may be a sign of an underlying issue. 

    How to cope at night

    Now that you know that abdominal cramps during pregnancy are pretty common, it’s also useful to remember that you might experience cramps in your legs too. It’s estimated that around 30% to 50% of pregnant women get leg cramps, and it’s not totally clear what causes them. Annoyingly, they may be more prominent at night. However, they don’t need to stop you from getting that all-important shut-eye. Before you get into bed, you may want to try stretching your legs out, raising your feet on a pillow, and soaking in a warm bath. This may relax and stretch out the muscles. If you’re finding that your achy legs are interrupting your sleep pattern, then speak to your doctor. 


    No matter how hard you try, pregnancy symptoms are unavoidable, and it isn’t clear why some people experience cramping while others don’t. However, Dr. Homaifar says there are some things you can do to help you feel better while you’re pregnant. “Maintaining good hydration, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing stress” are just some ways you can keep any symptoms at bay. Gentle stretching, soaking in a warm bath, and eating a fiber-rich diet may also help. However, if you’re experiencing cramping or discomfort during pregnancy, seek the advice of your doctor. 

    It’s also important to remember that some of the cramps you’re experiencing during pregnancy might not have anything to do with the fact that you’re expecting and could be symptoms of something else. Abdominal cramps, whether you’re pregnant or not, could be a sign of: 

    • Appendicitis
    • Pancreatitis
    • Gallbladder problems (these can be more likely during pregnancy, too, thanks to elevated estrogen levels.)
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Gastroenteritis
    • Celiac disease
    • Bowel obstruction
    • Ovarian growths
    • Fibroids

    When you’re already juggling scans and prenatal appointments, this might sound like too much medical information to take on. So, if you’re experiencing persistent cramps or something doesn’t feel right, speak to your doctor. 

    When should you see a doctor? 

    As you’ll now know, pregnancy cramps are often considered to be really common and normal and they don’t pose a risk to either you or your baby. However, Dr. Homaifar explains that there are certain circumstances where you should speak to your doctor immediately. These include: 

    • Heavy vaginal bleeding during pregnancy: If you’re experiencing cramps alongside vaginal bleeding while you’re pregnant, then it’s crucial that you speak to your doctor immediately. While this may not be something to be worried about, it could also be a sign of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, or issues with your placenta. This can be really scary, but your doctor will be able to examine you and offer you the best advice as to what to do next. 
    • Pain or burning when you pee: Cramping alongside pain or burning when you pee could be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). UTIs are fairly common and can be treated with antibiotics. 
    • Severe pain: Pregnancy is a time of a lot of change. However, if the cramps you’re experiencing feel severely painful or in any way “bad,” then speak to your doctor. You can run through a checklist with your doctor to suss out a possible cause. Could you be constipated or dehydrated, or does the pain feel muscular? If you experience any other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, or bleeding, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.

    Cramping during pregnancy: The takeaway

    Your body undergoes some pretty amazing changes during pregnancy. You’re growing a new person, after all. However, that can come with a few aches and pains along the way. Cramping during pregnancy can be scary, but remember, you know your body best so trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right or you’re worried, speak to your doctor. A problem shared is a problem halved, and they will be able to assess if what you’re experiencing is commonplace mild cramping or something else.


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    “How Much Water Should I Drink during Pregnancy?” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Accessed 31 Mar. 2023.

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    History of updates

    Current version (02 May 2023)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Jenna Beckham, Obstetrician and gynecologist, WakeMed, North Carolina, US

    Published (09 November 2018)

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