What Do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like?

Published June 2nd, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

If you get cramps early in pregnancy, it’s completely normal to feel some anxiety. After all, cramps can be a symptom of pregnancy complications.

However, cramps are also a normal symptom of a growing uterus and, in most cases, are nothing to worry about. 

This guide from USA Rx explains what causes early pregnancy cramping, what you can do to get relief, and when you should see a doctor. 

What Causes Cramps in Early Pregnancy?

During the first trimester, your body prepares for a growing baby.

One of the main changes that occur is the growing of the uterus, an organ mainly made of muscle. 

While the uterus grows, its ligaments (tough elastic tissue) resist being stretched.

This can lead to temporary cramping in the lower abdominals. 

Another cause of cramping in early pregnancy is sexual intercourse. Orgasms release a chemical called oxytocin, which can cause uterine contractions that last several hours after sex.

woman experiencing pregnancy cramps

UTIs can also lead to cramps in early pregnancy. Pregnant women are susceptible to urinary tract infections (UTIs) because their growing baby puts pressure on the uterus and can block the bladder from draining properly. 

Due to hormonal fluctuations, pregnant women are also more likely to get yeast infections. Both UTIs and yeast infections can cause mild cramping. 

What Do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like? 

What early pregnancy cramps feel like largely depends on what is causing them. 

If you experience cramps due to a growing uterus, implantation cramps (and potentially implantation bleeding), or the release of oxytocin during sex, you may feel mild-to-moderate pain in the lower abdomen.

Like menstrual cramps, you may experience persistent, aching, or gnawing pain. 

However, if your cramps are due to another common cause, like a UTI, you might feel a slightly different type of pain, more similar to soreness.

In addition to cramps in your lower abdominals, you may also feel lower back pain, a burning sensation during urination, and soreness in the pelvic area. 

How To Relieve Early Pregnancy Cramps 

If the source of your cramps is a urinary tract or yeast infection, then you may experience a little bloating, too.

Get treated by a healthcare provider to prevent any further complications.

Once you receive medical attention, you should start to feel better. 

However, if your cramps are due to uterine stretching, your doctor may not be able to help with this early pregnancy symptom.

Instead, you can turn to home remedies to ease the discomfort. 

In between food cravings, eat a nutritious diet that supplies your body with ample sodium, potassium, and magnesium; in fact, deficiencies in these specific muscle-supporting nutrients have been linked to cramping

If you can’t get these nutrients from your food, you can take a high-quality supplement after getting the green light from your doctor. 

Applying a warm compress to your belly can also help with some discomfort.

If you can, try to make time for a nightly warm bath, which can provide some of the benefits of a warm compress while feeling incredibly soothing and providing whole-body stress relief.

Last but not least, try to take it easy. Sometimes, women experience cramping brought on by stress, which should be avoided as much as possible especially during pregnancy.

If you’re more on-edge than usual (and it’s accompanied by cramps), try a few stress-relieving strategies, like meditation, breathwork, or prenatal yoga

Can You Get Cramps Later in Pregnancy? 

Cramps don’t only happen in early pregnancy. As the uterus grows larger in the second and third trimesters, cramps are more likely to occur.

The round ligament — a muscle that supports the uterus — begins to stretch more than ever. 

While your body makes hormones to help make ligaments more elastic, you can experience periodic spasms in the round ligament.

This can lead to sharp or stabbing pain in the lower abdomen. Round ligament pain is most common during the second trimester. 

However, you can also get cramps in the third trimester. During this time, your baby’s main organs experience rapid development, leading to increasing uterine stretching.

While this is generally nothing to worry about, stay on the lookout for signs of preterm labor, such as frequent cramps, intense pelvic pressure, and lower back pain. 

When To See a Doctor 

While mild-to-moderate cramping similar to period cramps is fairly normal during pregnancy, you should see your doctor whenever you experience severe cramps, moderate vaginal bleeding, or severe pain.

If your cramping is mild but you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about it, you can always give your OBGYN a call to ask if they think it’d be beneficial to come in for further examination.

In the first trimester, severe cramping and stomach pain can indicate pregnancy loss if accompanied by heavy bleeding.

While nothing can be done to stop a miscarriage, it’s still important to see a doctor, take a pregnancy test, and get advice on attempting a future pregnancy.

Early pregnancy cramps can also result from an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when the fertilized egg implants itself into the fallopian tubes.

If an ectopic pregnancy continues to develop, it can cause the fallopian tubes to rupture, leading to severe life-threatening bleeding. 

You may not always feel like your cramps are severe enough to warrant a visit to your doctor. However, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

With the internet, it can be easier than ever: If you don’t want to make the trip to an urgent care clinic, you can try speaking to a doctor virtually using a telehealth service

In Conclusion 

Abdominal cramping in early pregnancy is relatively common. Normal cramping should feel mild or moderate in intensity. If cramping is due to implantation cramping,

it may be accompanied by light bleeding and is an early sign of pregnancy. Abdominal pain, however, shouldn’t be taken lightly.

If you experience severe, persistent, or sharp pain, it’s best to check in with your OB-GYN.

Even if it’s not because of a serious complication, it’s better to be safe — for you and your baby’s health. 

References and Sources: 

Maternal Plasma Levels of Oxytocin During Physiological Childbirth – A Systematic Review With Implications for Uterine Contractions and Central Actions of Oxytocin | BMC 

Urinary Tract Infection In Pregnancy | NCBI Bookshelf 

Muscle Cramps and Magnesium Deficiency: Case Reports | PMC 

Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Uterus Round Ligament | NCBI Bookshelf 

Ectopic Pregnancy | NCBI Bookshelf