Is period-like pain during pregnancy normal?

Claire Chamberlain
Photo credit: JGI/Jamie Grill - Getty Images

From Netdoctor

After enduring monthly period pains since your teens, when you first find out that you're pregnant the last thing you expect to feel is abdominal cramping. Surely pregnancy is supposed to be one long healthy glow with the added bonus of going up a cup size? While pregnancy is indeed a magical time, it can also be emotional, confusing, distressing and on occasion, a bit painful.

If you experience mild cramping at any point during your pregnancy, you are not alone. Pregnancy pains can be alarming when you first experience them, but for the most part they are in fact perfectly normal. Mild pain and cramping in early pregnancy is actually very common and is usually nothing to worry about.

‘Uterine cramps and other sensations, such as stretching or pressure, are quite normal in pregnancy and are experienced by many women,’ reassures Liz Halliday, Deputy Head of Midwifery at Private Midwives. ‘It’s not unusual for women to experience this in early pregnancy and some women will also report some discomfort during the second trimester.’

What causes early pregnancy cramping?

It may feel like period pains, but cramping during early pregnancy is actually your body preparing for your baby to grow. ‘Uterine cramps are often a result of the uterus growing and stretching during pregnancy,’ explains Halliday.

‘Other harmless reasons could be a full bladder or bowel, diarrhoea or constipation, ligaments stretching or even dehydration. Women might also experience sensations during or after exercise or sex,’ she adds.

What causes cramping later in pregnancy?

It's also common to experience cramping during the later stages of pregnancy.

‘In the third trimester, many women feel a tightening of the uterus that can be quite regular and, for some women, quite intense,’ says Halliday.

‘However, the sensation is painless. These tightenings are called Braxton Hicks contractions and are harmless. They often occur in late pregnancy, as your body begins to practise for labour, but some women do experience them early in pregnancy – even as early as the second trimester.'

'They can be intensified by dehydration, being on your feet all day or after sex,' she adds. 'If they become painful or uncomfortable, it’s advisable to call your healthcare provider.’

How to ease pregnancy cramping

You might find the following tips helpful for relieving early pregnancy cramps:

✔️ Go for a gentle walk.

✔️ Take a warm, relaxing bath.

✔️ Ask your partner or a friend to rub your lower back.

✔️ Try some gentle stretches.

✔️ Ensure you’re properly hydrated.

Pregnancy cramping warning signs

Occasionally, cramping in early pregnancy is a sign that something isn’t right. Liz Halliday reveals the more serious causes of cramping:

❌ If the cramping is associated with difficulty urinating, mid back pain or general ill health, it could be due to a urinary tract or kidney infection. Speak to your healthcare provider if you are concerned.

❌ Occasionally, a yeast infection or bacterial infection could cause cramping – again, your health care provider can investigate this and provide a prescription if required.

❌ In early pregnancy, if the cramping is severe, one sided or accompanied by bleeding, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider immediately, as these can sometimes be symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

❌ In the second or third trimester, cramping could be a sign of premature labour, so you should seek medical advice as soon as possible if you experience regular or painful cramping.

When to seek help for pregnancy cramping

If you experience acute pain or exceptionally severe cramps or you have any concerns, your GP or midwife will be happy to help you.

‘As a midwife, I always ask my clients to call me if they have any concerns,’ says Halliday.

‘If you experience cramps, pain, discomfort or bleeding, I would advise that you contact your healthcare provider immediately, who can then investigate the cause of your symptoms and act upon them appropriately.’

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