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Cramps in Early Pregnancy

Cramping during early pregnancy may prove disconcerting to pregnant woman, as it is often considered as a sign of miscarriage, however, this is not always the case. The stretching and growing uterus results in cramps in early pregnancy.
HerHaleness Staff
Last Updated: May 31, 2018
Pregnancy is a time in a woman's life that is accompanied by all sorts of hormonal and physical changes. She will experience growth, aches and several other changes in her body. One such change is cramping. Cramps during early pregnancy is common and normal. Some women experience cramping seven days after ovulation. Often women worry about cramping being an indication of miscarriage. However, this is not the case. The initial stages of pregnancy are often accompanied with cramping. The onset of cramping is different for each individual. Some women experience cramping right after they receive a positive pregnancy test, while some only a few weeks later.
Why do Cramps Occur during Early Pregnancy?
The cramps felt during pregnancy are similar to the ones experienced during menstruation. Because of this semblance, when newly pregnant women experience cramping, they believe that their monthly period is round the corner. They wear a pad all day long, only to find that their period hasn't arrived. This is because fertilization has taken place and a pregnancy has occurred. The cramping is caused due to the uterus' preparation for the baby / hormonal changes / implantation. At times, cramping is accompanied by slight spotting as well. When a woman experiences cramps and her period is late, then it is the right time to take a pregnancy test. Let's have a look at the different factors leading to cramping in early pregnancy.
Implantation Cramping
Cramping during early pregnancy is caused because of implantation. When the ovum gets fertilized by the sperm, the embryo attaches or implants itself into the uterine walls. A person may experience this a week after ovulation has occurred. Cramping in early pregnancy is often accompanied by spotting or slight bleeding. The occurrence of such bleeding can be a symptom of implantation bleeding. However, during spotting the discharge will be brownish or pinkish, and will not be heavy enough to fill pads or tampons.
Preparation of the Uterus
The uterus has to make room for the growing baby and placenta, and is known to expand a thousand fold during the nine months of pregnancy. Under the influence of hormones, the uterine muscles stretch and change shape in order to accommodate the baby. All this stretching and expansion results in cramping. These cramps bear semblance to cramps experienced during menstruation.
Round Ligament Pain
After about 12 weeks of pregnancy, the muscles under the uterus also begin preparations to accommodate the growing fetus. One may experience cramps caused due to stretching of the round ligament. A dull ache may also be felt in the lower abdominal region. One may also experience cramps slightly more in the right side of the body. This is because as the fetus grows, the uterus tends to tilt slightly towards the right.
Pressure on Nerves
As the uterus expands, pressure is believed to be applied on the nerves and blood vessels of the leg region. This results in cramping in the thighs, feet, etc.
Gas Formation
When the embryo is formed and implantation occurs, the body releases hormones. The progesterone hormone released tends to relax the muscles of the stomach and intestines, thereby slowing down the digestion process. This results in bloating and gas formation. This gas can also be responsible for spearheading cramps in the body.
After Sexual Intercourse
During pregnancy, the blood flow to the pelvic area and genitals increases. Abdominal cramps are also seen to occur during and after sex. Contraction of the uterus after an orgasm can result in mild cramping. This happens because during an orgasm, the hormone oxytocin is released, which is responsible for the cramps experienced. These uterine contractions are very mild and will not cause any harm to the fetus or expecting mother. They will subside within an hour's time.
Corpus Luteal Cyst
We all know the ovary releases the ovum each month from the ovarian follicle. Sometimes, it so happens that at the area from which the egg is released into the fallopian tubules, a tiny cyst is formed. This cyst is known as corpus luteal cyst. The cyst releases the hormone progesterone until placental development takes place. Sometimes this cyst is also seen to cause mild cramping in early pregnancy. These cysts are nothing to worry about as they dissolve on their own. However, most often corpus luteal cysts are devoid of symptoms.
Ways to Ease Cramping During Early Pregnancy
Although cramping will disappear after sometime, there are some things one can do to reduce the discomfort caused by cramping. Let's have a look at some ways to alleviate cramping in early pregnancy.
Exercising
Mild and gentle exercises, such as walking are great ways to combat these cramps and strengthen the tendons in the groin region. It will not only help reduce the intensity of cramping, but will also make labor and birth easier.
Stretching Cramped Muscles
When you experience cramping in your legs, gently flex and extend your legs, to ease cramping. Flexing your toes and standing up might help reduce cramps. Changing one's sitting posture or lying down can also ease cramping.
Getting Adequate Calcium
By drinking low-fat milk, one can ensure the body receives adequate amounts of calcium. Inadequate amounts of calcium in the body is seen to conduce to cramping in the first trimester of pregnancy.
Getting Adequate Rest
Pregnant women should take adequate amounts of rest and should also avoid twisting and turning too much while resting. An oil massage will also help.
Change Position
Mild cramps in the stomach, experienced during early stages of pregnancy can be alleviated by changing one's position. Sometimes sitting down and positioning your feet at an elevated level, using some pillows can also help.
When Should One Worry?
While cramps in early pregnancy is not a call for alarm, there are certain instances when these cramps may signify something dangerous. Severe cramping on one side of the abdominal region is a sign of ectopic pregnancy, which needs immediate medical attention. If this symptom of ectopic pregnancy is neglected, it can lead to rupture of the fallopian tube.
Women may also experience odd cramps in the upper abdomen, which can become severe and extend right till the shoulder region. This is a symptom of gallbladder disease, which is seen to affect several pregnant women. There are several other instances when cramps during the early stage of pregnancy is a reason for concern. These instances are as follows:
  • Cramps lasting for more than an hour.
  • Cramps accompanied by fever or chills
  • Excessive or unusual vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding
  • Severe pain lasting for more than 2 hours.
The onset of cramping occurs differently for different women and is a natural phenomenon. Since the uterus begins to stretch, so as to accommodate the baby, cramps in early pregnancy is bound to take place. However, intense cramping should be brought to the obstetrician's notice immediately. In case of any doubts, don't hesitate to give him or her a call!
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.