Cramping in Early Pregnancy

Uterine Pain in the First Trimester

Concerned Pregnant woman worried
Photo © Brand X Pictures

So you're pregnant! (Congratulations.) Now you have joined the club where many people are really worried all the time. For something that is supposed to be fairly easy going, pregnancy can be fraught with worry for lots of families. One of the most common things women worry about in the first weeks of pregnancy is cramping.  

Why Do Women Cramp in Pregnancy?

Many women will notice that they feel uterine cramping in early pregnancy. One study from the journal Human Reproduction found that about eighty-five percent of pregnant women noticed lower abdominal cramping in pregnancy. This can be rather worrisome for some. You may notice that you feel period-like cramps or even pain on one side. Some women even describe the pain as feeling very much intermittent, or spastic.

The most common reason to have pain that feels like cramping is actually your uterus growing or stretching. This is normal pain and should be expected in a healthy pregnancy. You may also feel "full" or "heavy" in the area of your uterus. It's not uncommon to hear that in early pregnancy women describe feeling like they were about to start their period "any minute."

"I really expected early pregnancy to be like you see on television," says Amanda. "With my first pregnancy, I felt like I was going to start my period any minute. I felt heavy and weird. Every twinge had me in a panic. I needed to just think that all that cramping in early pregnancy wasn't a problem, but I couldn't see what was going on and so it was frightening."

When is Cramping a Problem in Pregnancy?

There are times when cramping in early pregnancy is a cause for concern. Your practitioner can help you determine if you are experiencing normal cramping or if there is something else that requires further investigation going on. You should call your doctor or midwife immediately if you experience any of the following with your cramping:

In between your regularly scheduled prenatal appointments, you may have questions, but don't quite fall into the above categories. You have a couple of options. The first option is to write your questions down, so that you do not forget them, and to wait until your next appointment. You can also choose the second option, which is to call in during normal business hours and ask to speak to the nurse or leave a message for your practitioner. This can help you feel more confident. The study from Human Reproduction found that about a quarter of women who experienced lower abdominal cramping did go on to have a miscarriage later, but remember, this means that three quarters, or about seventy-five percent, did not have a miscarriage.

"I was really worried, but I didn't have any of the symptoms that they tell you to call for," remembers Robin. "So I was asking another mom friend of mine for advice. Her advice on the symptoms was great, but what I loved was her encouragement to call and talk to the nurse at the obstetrician's office. That had never occurred to me. I called and within the hour had a reasonable answer and some guidelines that made me feel a lot more relaxed. I'm really glad I called."

The real concern with the pain is that there is something wrong with your pregnancy. Obviously, with every ache and pain, the fear of miscarriage can increase. The good news is that many women experience some types of pain in pregnancy that are not related to any form of pregnancy loss.

View Article Sources
  • Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Fifth Edition.
  • Sapra KJ, Buck Louis GM, Sundaram R, Joseph KS, Bates LM, Galea S, Ananth CV. Signs and symptoms associated with early pregnancy loss: findings from a population-based preconception cohort. Hum Reprod. 2016 Apr;31(4):887-96. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dew010. Epub 2016 Mar 2.