Growing a baby means all sorts of twinges and niggles, especially in early weeks of pregnancy. From tender boobs to aching backs, our bodies are growing and changing at super speed. But there are some early pregnancy symptoms that make us worry, like cramping.
Early pregnancy cramps are really common, and it’s usually just a sign that things are moving in and around the uterus. Muscles and ligaments are stretching, you may be constipated or have picked up a urinary tract infection. More worrying is a miscarriage, so it’s worth knowing what to look out for.
What do early pregnancy cramps feel like?
In the very early days of pregnancy, as your baby is implanting, you may feel lower abdominal cramps. Implantation cramps feels slightly different for everyone (and many women don’t feel it at all). It can feel like slight cramping or period pain, wind pain or lower back pain. It happens at around four weeks pregnant (so it’s too early to actually take a prego test), as the fertilised egg buries into your uterus wall.
Along with cramps you may also get a bit of spotting, or implantation bleeding which will only be a very small amount of either light pink or red, or brown spotting. This will usually happen a little bit earlier than you would have expected your period.
What causes cramping in early pregnancy?
Mater Hospital obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Sean Burnet told Mum’s Grapevine uterine cramping happens for a variety of reasons. “It’s common to have intermittent or transient episodes of uterine cramping in pregnancy that only last a few minutes and settle with rest,” Dr Burnet explained.
Early pregnancy cramps usually feel like pulling or stretching and are generally more like a period cramp – achy but not painful. However, there are also more serious reasons for pregnancy cramping, so here’s what you need to know about the different causes of cramping during early pregnancy.
1. Implantation cramps
Stomach cramping is often one of the very first signs of early pregnancy. It can happen as early as a week or two after conception and is known as implantation cramping.
Implantation cramping feels like period cramps, and happens around the time you’d normally get your period. In fact, you may think that you’re about to get a visit from Aunt Flo, only to find out there’s a baby on board! The slight cramps and even small amount of implantation bleeding happen when the fertilised egg attaches to the uterine wall.
2. Expanding uterus
Just because you don’t look pregnant yet, doesn’t mean things aren’t happening. There’s a whole lot of commotion going on in your tummy area, including the stretching and growing of your uterus. As your uterus prepares for the growing baby, it often feels like stomach cramps.
By the end of the first trimester your uterus is the size of a grapefruit – and if you’re having more than one bub, there’s even more stretching happening. The cramps may also feel like twinges or aches quite low down in your abdomen. As long as they’re not painful cramps, it’s all part of the process.
3. Extra weight gain
There’s a whole little human taking up residence in your tummy, so there’s a lot of jostling going on. Muscles and ligaments are stretching to support your growing uterus, and this does often cause cramping in early pregnancy. You may also feel twinges, aches or some discomfort in the lower abdomen. As long as the cramping isn’t painful, it’s all part of early pregnancy changes.
4. Gastro-intestinal issues
Besides making room for a baby, your body is going through a bunch of other changes. Your hormone levels are changing, and new ones are being made, including progesterone. Made in early pregnancy, progesterone relaxes the smooth muscles in your body, including the wall of the uterus.
It also relaxes the blood vessels in your body, dropping your blood pressure. And this can lead to heartburn, reflux, gas, constipation or bowel irritability. And we all know that bowel issues go hand in hand with stomach cramps.
It’s perfectly normal to have some cramping after orgasming when you’re pregnant. Your uterine area usually contracts after an orgasm, and combined with the increased blood flow to your pelvic area during pregnancy it makes for some mild post-sex cramping in early pregnancy. If you’re having a low-risk pregnancy, it’s nothing to worry about. Remember that your uterus contracts during orgasm even when you’re not pregnant.
Another reason you may get cramping during sex is that semen contains prostaglandins – which are also released naturally during labour to help the cervix ripen. This is when contractions kick start in labour, so it’s also why you may get some cramping in early pregnancy after sex. While it may make you worry a little about doing the horizontal tango, it is generally safe to have sex during pregnancy.
6. Ectopic pregnancy
Unfortunately, sometimes a fertilised egg implants somewhere other than the uterus – like the fallopian tube. So while you’ll get a positive pregnancy test, the pregnancy isn’t usually viable. The egg implanting in the fallopian tube triggers early pregnancy cramps, as well as bleeding, shoulder pain and faintness. Cramps caused by an ectopic pregnancy are painful and are felt on one side of your abdomen.
You need to seek medical attention immediately if you think this is happening.
Morning sickness making a mockery of your pregnancy cravings? It can also leave you dehydrated, with vomiting stripping your body of fluids, electrolytes and stomach acid.
All of this can cause your muscles to cramp, and can also impact bub. So up your water intake and see if it helps ease your pregnancy cramps, or chat to your doctor.
It’s super common to get Urinary Tract Infections during pregnancy, thanks to your bub putting pressure on your bladder and urinary tract. While the usual symptoms of a UTI are pain or pressure in the pelvic area, cloudy or foul-smelling wee and pain when urinating, you may also get tummy cramps. These are usually felt in the lower abdomen.
Make sure you see your doctor as soon as possible, because a UTI can become serious.
Early pregnancy cramps are sometimes a sign of something more serious like a miscarriage. These feel more like bad period cramps in the abdomen, pain in the lower back and around the pelvic area, usually with bleeding. It can be difficult to know whether it is actually a miscarriage or implantation, so make sure you seek medical attention pretty quickly if you’re worried.
FAQs about cramping in early pregnancy
Should I worry about cramping in early pregnancy?
It’s really a case of being attuned to your body and keeping an eye on how strong and long your early pregnancy cramps are. “If you are pregnant and cramping in the abdominal area does not settle with rest, or you experience acute pain, especially when passing urine, or spotting, you should see your doctor or healthcare provider immediately,” explains Dr Burnet.
Just keep in mind that cramping in early pregnancy are triggered by your growing uterus are intermittent and shouldn’t last for long.
How do I stop cramping in early pregnancy?
Usually early pregnancy cramping in the tummy area will subside pretty quickly, but Dr Burnet has shared a few tips if the niggle continues:
- Head to bathroom – a full bowel can cause pregnancy cramping
- Eat a healthy diet, to avoid constipation
- Drink plenty of water
- Take warm baths and showers, warm heat may help
Why do my cramps get better or worse when I change position?
If you find that your cramps are either eased, or amp up a little when you change position, it’s actually a good sign. It generally means your cramps are related to your uterus stretching. So try moving around a bit until you find a comfy position that eases the cramps.
Read next …
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