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Early pregnancy cramping: What’s going on?

If you’re on high alert in the early days of your pregnancy, I’m pretty sure you’re in the majority. Pregnant bodies go through the weirdest stuff. The process is both interesting and terrifying, so you’re allowed to freak out a little. It’s normal.

Take this hypothetical (but probably real) example:

Normal You: Ouch! What is that? Ugh, a cramp. I shouldn’t have eaten those 12 slices of pizza last night.

Pregnant You: OUCH! A CRAMP! What do I DO?! Am I having a miscarriage?! Am I going into premature labour? WHAT IS HAPPENING OUCH WHY?!

Yes, it’s easy to leap to wild conclusions when you feel early pregnancy cramps. It can be one of the more alarming first signs of pregnancy. I think I visited my GP about six times because of unexplained abdominal pains, convinced that there was something wrong with me/my pregnancy. (There never was, thankfully.)

To alleviate some of your potential anxiety about cramping, let’s explore what it’s like in pregnancy, and when you should see your doctor about it.

PMS vs early pregnancy cramps

Keep in mind that many of the early pregnancy symptoms are suspiciously similar to PMS symptoms. If your cramps are happening around the time you’re expecting your period to show… well, this is also the time you could experience implantation-related cramping.

When a fertilised egg attaches itself to the wall of your uterus, you may experience some cramping or light bleeding. This is common early on in pregnancy.

Implantation cramping may be:

  • Light tingling, pulling or pricking sensations in your uterus
  • Felt in your lower abdomen or back
  • Constant or intermittent for 1–3 days.

Then again, it could be your normal PMS cramps. 

The only way to know for sure is to wait and see if your period comes. You could also take an early pregnancy test, but at-home tests are often more accurate after your expected period date.

Causes of cramping in pregnancy

Cramps in the early stages of pregnancy could be due to a range of reasons.

  • Constipation – this is common in early pregnancy, along with bloating and gas. You might feel better after a good poop!
  • An expanding uterus – your uterus is an impressive muscle. It’s doing its thing and stretching out to accommodate your growing baby.
  • Hormones – progesterone levels are increased during early pregnancy, and can cause cramping by slowing down digestion, causing bloating and abdominal discomfort.
  • Overexertion – overdoing your workout could cause cramping. This is your body telling you to take it easy! You’d be wise to listen to it.
  • Infections – UTIs or STIs could cause bleeding and cramping. They can lead to further health issues or pregnancy complications, so make sure you see your doctor to treat any infection. Stat.

When to be concerned

If your early pregnancy cramping is light and doesn’t last for too long, there’s probably no cause for concern. However, if you experience the following symptoms along with the cramping, check in with your care team as soon as possible.

  • Severe cramps
  • Decrease in signs of pregnancy (i.e. sore boobs, tiredness)
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Fever or chills
  • Heavy bleeding or passing large blood clots.

While mild cramping is usual in early pregnancy, pain accompanied by any of the above symptoms should be looked into. In some cases, it could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or other complications.

If you ever feel worried during your pregnancy, there’s no harm in visiting your doctor for a quick checkup. At the very least, it will reassure you that everything is fine. And that you probably just should’ve avoided the 12 slices of pizza.

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