First Trimester Cramps: Causes, Remedies, and When to Worry
Nothing is more nerve-wracking than having cramps during your first trimester.
I still remember the first day I experienced early pregnancy cramps. My husband and I were getting ready for a week-long trip to the Grand Canyon. We were putting gas in the car when I felt the first, shocking twinge. Throughout the trip, the consistent aches were every bit as strong and uncomfortable as menstrual cramps. In my mind, these cramps were a sure sign that something was off or my baby was unwell.
Thank goodness, I was wrong.
If you’re experiencing something similar, let me be the first to reassure you that early pregnancy cramps are completely normal. Almost 20% of pregnant women experience cramps at some time or another during the pregnancy.
Most importantly, the overwhelming majority go on to have completely healthy pregnancies!
But that statistic alone probably won’t stop that nagging worry you’re dealing with, or the pain you’re experiencing. By the end of this post, you’re going to know what causes first trimester cramps, how to treat them, and what cramps should warrant a trip to your provider.
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First Trimester Cramps: Causes and Remedies for Early Pregnancy Cramps
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Sometimes pregnant mamas tend to envision the worst case scenario any time they start to feel any aches or pains down there. In reality, there are several causes for cramps during the first trimester. While we will go over the dangerous causes in a moment, let’s touch on normal causes for first trimester cramping.
What do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like?
Most of the time, normal early pregnancy cramps feel like menstrual cramps, ranging from a dull, radiating ache in the pelvis, to sharp, pin-point sensations.
First trimester cramps can become very uncomfortable, but they should never be severely painful and or long-lasting.
Normal First Trimester Cramping Causes
Implantation occurs about 8-10 days after ovulation, when the egg burrows itself into the uterus. You’re not technically feeling the physical event of implantation, rather the cramps triggered by the hormonal process behind it. It’s a lot like getting your period, so some women experience implantation bleeding (spotting) as well.
From personal experience, these cramps seemed less severe than menstrual cramps and lasted for about a day. However, some women may experience implantation cramps for up to 3 days.
Implantation cramps are considered a sign of early pregnancy. If you’ve already confirmed your pregnancy with your doctor, implantation isn’t the reason behind your first trimester cramps.
Pregnancy will transform your body in ways you never imagined. Unfortunately, many of these changes cause aches, pains, and lots of discomfort. (If you haven’t experienced breast pain yet, get ready for it!)
Right now, the biggest change is happening in your uterus. As this muscle grows and expands, it pulls and stretches, causing period-like cramps. Cramps from uterine expansion range from dull (or not-so-dull) aches to sharp pains when you twist quickly or turn.
Water is the primary mode of transportation for nutrients to your baby. When your body isn’t getting enough water, your uterus will be the first to complain. It will send you little warning signs–like cramps–to make you aware of the problem. Listen to your body, if you’re experiencing frequent cramps, get yourself some water.
Later on in your pregnancy, these cramps will turn into contractions, a much, much bossier sign of dehydration.
Bloating and Gas
Progesterone, the hormone that’s causing all of the ruckus your body is experiencing, can also cause painful bloating and gas. These two side effects can actually cause pelvic and abdominal cramps.
When my midwife suggested that my cramps were actually caused by gas and bloating, I didn’t believe her. Prior to pregnancy, I certainly had never experienced gas this painful.
But, it’s true!
Gas can cause a distinct feeling of pressure in your pelvic area, as well as sharp, period-like pains. Sometimes, in cases of severe gas, you might experience pain in not only your pelvis, but your abdomen, back, and chest.
Hey, Mama! Are you feeling a little nervous about pregnancy? Check out this FREE Mini-Prenatal Class! In one segment, it actually discusses what signs you need to look for that warrants a trip to the doctor’s visit!
Sometimes the diet we’re used to doesn’t quite align with the diet our pregnancy demands. There are actually several foods that can trigger contractions and cramps in the uterus.
Take a quick inventory of your diet to ensure that isn’t the root cause. For example, raspberry leaf tea is excellent for building up uterine strength and reducing your labor time. However, if ingested more than once a day in the first trimester, it could cause a little too much uterine activity.
A few other foods to keep in mind are:
- Caster Oil
First trimester cramps can also be caused by a deficiency in your diet. Make sure that you’re getting an adequate supply of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C by regularly taking a good prenatal vitamin. If you haven’t bought a prenatal vitamin yet, I loved the Rainbow Light Prenatal One. It was the only vitamin that didn’t increase my nausea.
Round Ligament Pain
Towards the end of your first trimester, your round ligament could be the culprit for your early pregnancy cramps.
Your round ligament supports and connects your uterus to the pelvic area. As your uterus grows, your round ligament extends and stretches. Movement especially can cause round ligament pain. It’s most often described as a sharp, stabbing pain that occurs when you get up, twist, or even get out of bed in the morning. It can originate from one side, both, or in the center of your pelvis.
Sex and Orgasms
Unfortunately, your love life isn’t even safe from first trimester cramps.
Many moms notice period-like cramps after they have sex or, more specifically, orgasm. Don’t worry, though. This does not mean that having sex is hurting you or your baby! Most of the time, these first trimester cramps are simply a side-effect from the excessive blood that flows to your uterus after an orgasm.
You may also experience this later on in pregnancy, as your cervix begins to ripen and becomes even more sensitive.
Abnormal First Trimester Cramping Causes
Unfortunately, sometimes first trimester cramps can be a warning sign that you shouldn’t ignore. Below are a few conditions that you need to look out for.
Yeast Infections or UTI
From 6 weeks to 24 weeks, you’re more likely to develop a urinary tract infection. UTIs and yeast infections can cause period-like cramps from time to time. If you first trimester cramps are accompanied by a burning sensation when you pee, more frequent trips to the bathroom, or cloudy, smelly urine, it’s time to call your provider.
The unfortunate fact is, miscarriages do happen more frequently in the first trimester and sometimes cramps can be an indicator of one. Evaluate your level of pain and trust your gut. If you’re experiencing severe cramps that simply won’t let up, you need to visit your physician.
In addition, keep an eye out for these signs:
- Bleeding (Spotting is normal, bleeding is not. Look for bright red or brown blood.)
- Severe lower back pain
- White-pink discharge
- Decrease in pregnancy symptoms
- Excessive passing of tissue
In a healthy, normal pregnancy, the fallopian tube releases the fertilized egg to the uterus, where implantation occurs, and your baby begins to grow. In the sad case of ectopic pregnancies, the egg remains in the fallopian tube or somewhere outside the uterus.
The symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually occur between 6- 8 weeks if the developing baby remains in the fallopian tube, or a little later if it’s growing in the abdominal cavity.
If this is an early ectopic pregnancy, women might experience cramps or bleeding. If the condition has progressed into a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, the mother might experience these symptoms:
- Pain in the neck and shoulder
- Signs of shock (from internal bleeding)
- Stabbing pain in pelvis
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How to Treat First Trimester Cramps
Drinking lots and lots of water needs to be your go-to solution throughout your pregnancy. Your body uses a ton of water during pregnancy. It’s the main way nutrients travel to your baby. When your body is starting to get dehydrated, your uterus will let you know!
Pregnant women should drink about 10 8oz. glasses of water a day. I know that seems like a lot, but I’m not kidding when I say that your body needs it. Water will help prevent urinary tract infections, pregnancy cramps, and eventually, preterm labor.
My pregnancy hack for getting enough water was drinking from a huge tumbler with a straw. The tumbler was 30oz, so I knew I just had to drink 3 a day to hit my goal. Plus, drinking from a straw created a vacuum, allowing me to drink more in less time.
It’s okay to apply warmth your your pelvis, as long as the heat isn’t too great. At this stage of pregnancy, a hot pad may be damaging for your baby. Instead, apply warm, gentle heat to treat your cramps.
Try filling a plastic bottle with warm water, wrapping it in a towel, and holding it over your pelvis. A warm, wet washcloth is also a great, safe way to ease your muscles.
You may have already heard that hot baths can be detrimental to your baby. However, research also suggests that a warm bath (where the water temperature is below 100 degrees) is just fine. A good rule of thumb is to make sure that your body temperature does not exceed 102 degrees for over 10 minutes. A warm bath eases and relaxes your muscles, providing some relief for your cramps.
You can also safely add a cup of epsom salt to your bath. The magnesium in epsom salt is well-known for its ability to relieve poor, aching muscles.
Change positions or activities
If your cramps are continuous, try shifting into a different position or doing a different activity. Or, if you’ve been inactive, try getting some exercise. Sometimes, your body just needs a little bit of stretching to get the kinks out.
Get Your Nutrients
If you’re not taking a prenatal vitamin, find a good one ASAP! Regularly taking a prenatal vitamin can improve fetal development and decrease the chances of birth defects like spina bifida.
Plus, when you’re lacking key nutrients like magnesium, vitamin c, sodium, or potassium, you’re more subject to cramps (including Charlie Horses).
When You Should Talk To Your Doctor About First Trimester Cramps
Most first trimester cramping is normal, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take your concerns to your provider. This is your pregnancy and your body. If you’ve been having cramps off and on for the last couple days and things just feel off, there is nothing wrong, embarrassing, or paranoid about calling your provider.
Just keep in mind the big warning signs:
- Severe cramps accompanied by blood
- Burning sensation when peeing
- Irregular shoulder or neck pain
- Back Pain
- White-pink discharge
- Clots of discharge tissue
Stay Calm and Preggo On
I hope by now you’re feeling a little better about your first trimester cramps, or at the very least, have an idea of what’s going on. I understand how scary it can be to experience these sensations. You have no idea what’s going on, and all you can do is interpret the obscure signals your body is giving you.
Just remember, most mom-to-be’s that experience pregnancy cramps have absolutely no issues and go on to deliver healthy, happy babies. Just monitor your discomfort and keep an eye out for the red flags above.
If you’ve experienced first trimester cramps in the past and have a great tip you’d like to share, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know in the comments below!