Causes of Cramping During Early Pregnancy and Should You be Worried?

Cramping can be caused by many things during early pregnancy. It isn't always something to worry about! Edits by Becki Rizzuti.
Cramping can be caused by many things during early pregnancy. It isn't always something to worry about! Edits by Becki Rizzuti. | Source

I am not a medical professional. This article does not substitute for medical attention!

Cramping during pregnancy can occur for a number of reasons, but first-time mothers in particular are often frightened of what it means when those first pains begin early on in pregnancy. If you're concerned about cramping, this article should help you to determine if you should be worried about what the cramps mean. You should always be encouraged to call your doctor or midwife with any questions that you may have about your pregnancy, but in the meantime, continue reading for more information on the common causes of cramping during pregnancy.

Please note that if you are experiencing cramping combined with vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, you should seek medical attention right away!

There are many possible causes of cramping during pregnancy. (Image adapted by Becki Rizzuti.)
There are many possible causes of cramping during pregnancy. (Image adapted by Becki Rizzuti.) | Source

Cramping During Pregnancy Has Many Causes

Cramping during pregnancy may not be something to worry about, but there are potentially dangerous causes of cramping during pregnancy (many of which are caused by things unrelated to pregnancy). Knowing the causes of cramping can help you to be empowered to talk to your doctor about what's going on with your body, so make yourself aware of the different causes of cramping. The earlier in your pregnancy you arm yourself with information, the less likely you are to panic when discomfort strikes later on in pregnancy. Be prepared, and you'll feel much calmer and safer in the long run.

This article lists possible causes of cramping during pregnancy, beginning with issues which are not directly related to pregnancy (since some of these may be the most serious that you'll deal with). If you feel that you're having a medical emergency, call your doctor or midwife immediately, or get yourself to the nearest emergency room. Cramping can be a sign of something dangerous.

If you experienced cramping during pregnancy, did you have a healthy child?

  • Yes, I did.
  • No, I had a miscarriage.
  • No, I had another issue.
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Implantation Cramping

Implantation occurs so early in pregnancy that you won't yet know that you're pregnant. The body doesn't begin producing the pregnancy hormone until after implantation occurs, and therefore a pregnancy test won't give a positive result (until there is sufficient hCG in your urine to measure).

Some women experience minor cramping at the time of implantation, and many will also experience some minor bleeding. This is nothing to be concerned about. After implantation occurs, you should be able to get a positive pregnancy test within three to five days, depending on the amount of hCG in your urine and the strength of the test.

This is the very earliest point in pregnancy.

Cramping in early pregnancy is often quite normal.
Cramping in early pregnancy is often quite normal. | Source

Avoid taking painkillers during your pregnancy. Most of them are in one way or another dangerous to yourself and your unborn child. It's best that you attempt to find holistic healing methods or something homeopathic to help you with the pain that you're experiencing. In particular, avoid the following:

  • Aspirin
  • NSAIDs (including Ibuprofen and Naproxin).

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be safe for use during pregnancy according to doctors and pharmacists, but when taking in large amounts it is damaging to the liver. What damages your liver also damages your baby's liver, and you may wish to be careful about all pain killers as a result.

Round Ligament Pain -- Nothing to Be Concerned About

During pregnancy, your ligaments begin to loosen up in order to allow for the expansion of your hips and pelvis (in order to accommodate and birth the baby). The hormones which cause this loosening affect all of the ligaments in your body. You may experience joint pain as a result of this, but it will also cause some pain in the abdominal area. Ligaments in your abdomen support the muscles and also help to support your growing infant.

These pains feel very similar to period pains, and therefore many women think of them as "cramps." In fact, it's just your body settling. Because these pains can be quite painful, they are concerning in particular to first-time mothers who are under-educated about the causes of such pains.

Ligament pains are nothing to be worried about, even if they are quite painful. They will pass in time. Most women experience these pains very early in pregnancy and then again between weeks 16 and 20 (and sometimes beyond). Try not to worry: This is all quite normal. In fact, if you're experiencing pains that feel like period pains, you probably don't have anything to worry about. The pain associated with labor and miscarriage is quite different than the pain of having a period and you'll feel the difference.

Braxton Hicks Contractions -- Practice for Labor

Later in pregnancy (starting around 16 weeks), you may begin to feel some cramping in your abdomen along with a tightening sensation. This type of cramping is referred to as Braxton Hicks contractions, and these contractions prepare your body and the baby for the coming labor and birth.

These will feel different than the period-like pains that you'll feel if you're having round ligament pain, and you will distinctly notice that your abdomen becomes hard. Sometimes these contractions are painful and sometimes they aren't, but don't allow anyone to tell you that "practice contractions" shouldn't be painful for you. Every woman's body is different, and if they hurt, they hurt. Once again, you'll know if you're in labor or having a miscarriage. The pain from Braxton Hicks contractions is general minimal.

Sometimes cramping during pregnancy is something to be concerned about. Trust your body and your instincts and make sure to call your doctor if you feel something is wrong!
Sometimes cramping during pregnancy is something to be concerned about. Trust your body and your instincts and make sure to call your doctor if you feel something is wrong! | Source

Concerning Cramps During Pregnancy

The following type of cramping may be concerning for pregnant women, and you should consider these with some caution. If you believe that you may be experiencing one of these types of cramping, please contact your doctor or midwife immediately and let them know what's going on.

Most of all, trust your instincts while you're pregnant. Nothing beats maternal instinct. If something hurts and alarm bells are going off in your mind, contact a doctor or midwife.

Bladder Pain Indicates Urinary Tract, Bladder, or Kidney Infection

Urinary Tract and Bladder Infections may be more common in pregnancy than at other times in a woman's life due to the changes in hormones and the frequent need to urinate. They can be prevented by following some simple steps, but women should be aware that the changes in hormones may result in a shifting pH balance in the urinary tract, leading to infection. Cramping in the lower abdomen, particularly when urinating, may be caused by a urinary tract infection.

These aren't necessary anything to worry too much about. Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that will help you to recover from the infection. Do note that these antibiotics may cause yeast infections, so you should make sure that you are prepared for this possibility. Eating yogurt is believed to ward off yeast infection, so this is certainly an option.

This pain doesn't feel like period pains, so you'll recognize the difference. It's a painful tightening in the lower abdomen, where your bladder is. If you feel this type of pain, you should talk to your doctor right away to get the necessary medication. Bladder infections and UTIs can cause problems in pregnancy, including the possibility of miscarriage.

Severe Cramping During Pregnancy is Never Good

Severe cramping during pregnancy -- such that you have trouble catching your breath -- is never a good sign. If you're experiencing unusual cramping (that which doesn't feel familiar, like period pains), call your doctor right away! This type of cramping can indicate a problem, including miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. You'll need to have an ultrasound to reveal the condition of your pregnancy and determine whether or not your pregnancy remains viable (whether the fetus is still living, or exists at all). Call your doctor for advice. She'll probably recommend that you take a trip to the hospital.

If you are experiencing cramping accompanied with bleeding during pregnancy, visit the hospital's ER right away! The combination of bleeding and cramping often indicates miscarriage is already occurring, and you will need medical confirmation and, if you choose, a D&C (dilation & curettage.)

© 2014 Becki Rizzuti

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