The pain is actually very familiar to most women. Cramping during early pregnancy feels a lot like normal period cramps. The pain is usually located in the lower abdomen and often lasts for only a few minutes.
Stomach cramps during early pregnancy is a relatively common experience, so don’t reach for the phone to call 911 just yet. If you get a few stomach cramps during the first trimester of pregnancy, it might not even be a cause for alarm. These cramps are part of the normal physical changes in the body that occurs in preparation for the baby.
Expecting mothers may get cramps as well as light bleeding when the embryo is implanted into the wall of the womb. This is called implantation cramps and bleeding, which are quite common. Moreover, as the pregnancy progresses, the mother may also feel cramping as her womb changes and stretches to accommodate the baby.
In the succeeding sections, we will talk about the causes of pregnancy cramps and when you should call the doctor.
When you’re pregnant and you suddenly feel cramping in your abdomen, any woman is bound to be a little scared. However, it’s important not to panic if you get a mild pain or contraction in your abdomen. In most cases, abdominal pain in early pregnancy is caused by normal bodily changes, such as:
- Implantation. When an embryo, otherwise known as a fertilized egg, implants itself into the lining of the uterine wall, it may cause a bit of cramping in the lower abdomen. This is known as implantation cramping and can usually be the first sign of pregnancy.
- Uterine growth. During the first two trimesters of pregnancy, 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, the mother may also experience sharp pains whenever she stands, changes position or sneeze/cough. In the second trimester, this is called round ligament pain and can manifest through sharp or stabbing pain.
- Orgasm. Women who have sex while pregnant may experience cramps after reaching an orgasm. The pain may feel similar to a period cramp and will usually go away shortly after. This doesn’t mean that a pregnant woman should stop having sex, though. However, if the pain is severe and is accompanied by bleeding, consult with your healthcare provider immediately.
- Braxton Hicks contractions. Braxton Hicks contractions, also called practice contractions, are labor-like pains that can occur in the second trimester of pregnancy (although it is more common in the third trimester). During this type of contraction, a woman feels her uterus tighten up for about thirty seconds to a full minute. They are also described as preparation contractions for real labor and can allow a woman to practice her breathing exercises. Braxton Hicks contractions are irregular, infrequent, and unpredictable. Although, their known causes are activeness of the mother or baby, a full bladder, and dehydration among others.
- Early miscarriage. In the worst case scenario, the cramping may mean a miscarriage. But this is not always the case. When the cramping occurs along with light bleeding (spotting) or vaginal discharge, go to an emergency room immediately as you may be experiencing a miscarriage. Take note that an early pregnancy miscarriage is most likely to occur in the first trimester.
- Ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy happens when the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. For instance, it can attach instead to the fallopian tube, abdominal cavity, or the cervix. An ectopic pregnancy manifests through severe abdominal cramps. If you experience severe cramping, go to the ER to have yourself examined as soon as possible.
Stomach pain in early pregnancy can be quite unnerving, especially if it’s your first pregnancy and you’re still not familiar with the feeling of carrying a baby in your belly. While cramping during early pregnancy is usually a normal part of it, it’s still a good thing to pay attention to your pregnancy pains.
If something feels out of the ordinary, you should contact your midwife or GP immediately. But if you know the signs and symptoms of early pregnancy (or first trimester) cramps, you should be able to tell if something is wrong or not.
Here are some of the most common signs and symptoms that you may experience during early pregnancy:
- Normal cramping pain. A normal pregnancy cramp is very similar to period cramps, which are usually not very severe. In early pregnancy, you may experience short cramps in the lower abdomen.
- Light bleeding. Light spotting during early pregnancy is usually linked to implantation bleeding. However, if the bleeding becomes too much to be considered as spotting, contact your GP immediately.
- Other pregnancy symptoms. Women who are not yet aware that they are pregnant should take a pregnancy test if they experience cramping along with nausea, vomiting, breast tenderness, and spotting.
Needless to say, painful cramps during early pregnancy are greatly inconvenient and uncomfortable. A pregnant woman has so many things to deal with in terms of physical and emotional changes, and to add cramps to that long list is a bit overwhelming. Thus, treating pregnancy cramps is important to make sure that the mother is as comfortable and stress-free as possible.
If you’re experiencing a cramp, here are a few tips on how to alleviate it as soon as possible:
- Drink water. You are more likely to experience a cramp if you are dehydrated. Thus, make sure that you drink at least 8 cups of water each day. Drink water along with meals and take a few sips in between.
- Change positions. When you experience a cramp, try shifting positions while lying or sitting down. Don’t put any pressure on the source of the pain.
- Stretching and exercise. Try doing mild pregnancy exercise routines or stretch your body in order to soothe cramped muscles. Aside from relieving cramps, this can also help to prevent future cramps from coming on.
- Warm compress. Just as you used to do during period pains, place a warm compress against the source of the cramp. This can help soothe the pain as well as relax the cramping muscles. Alternatively, you can also take a warm bath.
- Gentle massage. A massage can stimulate better blood circulation in the muscles, thus relieving uncomfortable cramps. Ask your partner to give you a gentle lower back massage to relieve aches.
- Take paracetamol. If you feel like you need an extra helping hand to relieve the pain, take the recommended dose (if your doctor allows you to do so). Remember to consult with your doctor first before taking any medications!
- Sleep. A pregnant mother who is deprived of sleep is most likely to experience cramps throughout the day. Make sure to get yourself at least eight hours of sleep every night.
Although we take comfort in knowing that early pregnancy cramps can be normal and are usually not life-threatening, it’s also important to make sure you see a doctor if the cramps become out of the ordinary to make sure you don't have any infectious disease. Here are a few signs and symptoms that you need to watch out for so that you know when to see a doctor about it:
- Bleeding. If your cramp is accompanied by an amount of blood that is too much to be considered spotting, this may mean that you are experiencing a miscarriage.
- Lower abdominal pain and contractions.
- Severe pain. If you experience severe cramps that don’t go away and are getting worse, head to the hospital immediately.
- Pain during urination. If you experience a stinging pain during urination, it could mean that you have a UTI.