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Cramping during early pregnancy: What do those first-trimester lower abdominal pains mean?

Many pregnant people experience numerous symptoms in the first trimester, such as nausea, morning sickness, breast tenderness, constipation, cravings, and weight gain. But what if you experience cramping in this early stage of pregnancy? In this article, we will go over what it means if you have cramps during early pregnancy.

What do early pregnancy cramps feel like?

If you’ve been pregnant before, you’re probably very familiar with this cramping pain. Cramping during early pregnancy feels a lot like normal period cramps. The pain is usually located in the lower abdomen and typically only lasts for a few minutes.

Are cramps normal during early pregnancy?

Stomach cramps during early pregnancy are relatively common. If you get a few stomach cramps during the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s probably not a cause for alarm. These cramps are typically part of the normal physical changes in the body that occur in preparation for the baby. 

Very early in your pregnancy, you may get cramps as well as light bleeding when the embryo is implanted into the wall of the uterus. This process can sometimes lead to implantation cramps and bleeding. As the pregnancy progresses, you may also feel cramping as your uterus changes and stretches to accommodate the baby. 

In the following sections, we will talk about the causes of pregnancy cramps and when to call your health care provider. 

cramping during pregnancy

Causes of cramping in early pregnancy

It is common to experience mild pain or cramps in your abdomen during pregnancy. In most cases, abdominal pain in early pregnancy is caused by normal bodily changes such as:

  • Implantation — When a fertilized egg forms a blastocyst and implants into the lining of the uterine wall, it can cause a bit of cramping in your lower abdomen. This is known as implantation cramping and is often one of the first signs of pregnancy. 
  • Uterine growth — During the first two trimesters, there is rapid uterine growth to accommodate the growing fetus. This can also lead to early pregnancy cramping. As the ligaments and muscles that support the uterus also grow, you might experience sharp pain when you stand, change position, or sneeze/cough. 
  • Orgasm — If you have sex while pregnant, you may experience cramps after an orgasm. The pain may feel similar to a period cramp and usually goes away quickly. This doesn’t mean that you have to stop having sex if you’re pregnant, though. That being said, if the pain is severe and accompanied by bleeding, consult with your health care provider immediately. 

In rare cases, early pregnancy cramps may be caused by the following pregnancy problems:

  • Early miscarriage — In some cases, cramping may mean a miscarriage. But this is not always the case. When cramping is severe, prolonged, and/or occurs along with bleeding or vaginal discharge, make sure to seek immediate medical attention. An early pregnancy miscarriage is most likely to occur in the first trimester. 
  • Ectopic pregnancy — An ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. For instance, it may attach to the uterine tube, abdominal cavity, or cervix. An ectopic pregnancy may result in severe abdominal cramps that may be accompanied by bleeding. If you experience severe cramping, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Signs of first-trimester cramps

Stomach pain in early pregnancy can be worrying, especially if it’s your first pregnancy and you’re not familiar with the physical sensations. While cramping during early pregnancy is usually normal, it’s still good to pay attention to your pregnancy pains.

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If something feels out of the ordinary, contact your health care provider as soon as possible. Understanding the signs and symptoms of early pregnancy (or first-trimester) cramps, can help you figure out what is normal and when to call your health care provider. 

Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms during early pregnancy:

  • Normal cramping pain — Normal pregnancy cramps are very similar to period cramps, which are usually not very severe. In early pregnancy, you may experience short cramps in your lower abdomen.
  • Light bleeding — Light spotting during early pregnancy might be linked to implantation bleeding.

If you’re not sure if you’re pregnant and experience cramping along with nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, and spotting, make sure to take a pregnancy test. These can be early symptoms of pregnancy.

pregnancy cramps

How to treat stomach cramps during the first trimester

Needless to say, painful cramps during early pregnancy can be inconvenient and uncomfortable. You might be experiencing physical and emotional changes, and adding cramps to your discomfort might feel overwhelming. Treating pregnancy cramps can help you feel more comfortable and as stress free as possible. 

If you’re experiencing cramps, here are a few tips for alleviating them quickly:

  • Drink water. You are more likely to experience cramps if you are dehydrated. Make sure that you drink at least eight cups of water each day.
  • Change positions. When you experience cramps, try shifting positions while lying or sitting down. Don’t put pressure on the source of the pain.
  • Stretch and exercise. Try doing mild pregnancy exercises or stretch your body to soothe cramped muscles. In addition to relieving active cramps, this can also help prevent future ones.
  • Gentle massage. A massage can stimulate blood circulation in your muscles, relieving uncomfortable cramps. Getting a gentle lower back massage might help relieve aches.
  • Sleep. Try to get a good night’s sleep during early pregnancy as this makes you feel rested. Try to get enough sleep every night.

When to see a health care provider about your early pregnancy cramps

Although early pregnancy cramps are usually normal and not life threatening, it’s also important to see your health care provider if the cramps become severe. Your health care provider can rule out any conditions such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or infectious diseases that may affect you or your baby. Here are a few signs and symptoms to watch out for. Make sure to see your health care provider if you experience any of these:

  • Bleeding — If your cramps are accompanied by any amount of blood, consult your health care provider as soon as possible.
  • Severe pain — If you experience severe cramps that don’t go away and are getting worse, head to the hospital immediately.
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