Is Cramping in Early Pregnancy a Sign of Miscarriage?

Learn How to Decode Your Abdominal Pain

Young woman in bed with PMS suffering
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If you're pregnant, you're likely paying extra close attention to your body. This tends to be especially true in the first trimester, when experiencing a miscarriage (a type of pregnancy loss that occurs 10% to 25% of the time, according to the American Pregnancy Association) is most common.

Every time you feel something inside your abdomen, you might wonder: What was that? Is something going wrong with my pregnancy? Is my baby OK? 

A little bit of anxiety is totally normal. After all, your life is about to change with the addition of this tiny bundle of joy. Your instinct is to protect your little one and make sure that he or she is as healthy and as safe as possible. 

So if you happen to feel a cramp at some point during your pregnancy, what exactly does that mean? Does it signal what you're dreading—that you're having a miscarriage? It depends on when it occurs, the severity of the cramping, and whether you're experiencing other symptoms alongside it. Find out more, below. 

Cramping in Early Pregnancy

Having cramps in your lower abdominal area or lower back in early pregnancy (think: first trimester) most likely signals one of three things. 

  • Normal pains. The good news is that cramping without bleeding is usually not a sign of miscarriage. Cramps or short-lived pains in your lower abdomen can happen early in a normal pregnancy as your uterus adjusts to the implanted baby. These pains are likely mild and brief. If you feel anything severe and/or prolonged, always call your doctor to be safe.
  • Miscarriage. There are times when cramping can, indeed, be a sign of miscarriage—when the cramping is accompanied by spotting or other vaginal bleeding. You should call your doctor for advice and possibly to schedule some testing to determine whether you are having a miscarriage. A miscarriage can occur within the first 20 weeks of gestation, but chances are higher that it will occur in the first trimester.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. If you are feeling faint and/or if your abdominal cramping is severe, your cramping may be a symptom of ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that implants outside the uterus, usually in a fallopian tube. This happens in only 1 out of every 100 pregnancies. This type of pregnancy is, unfortunately, not viable. In fact, it can put the mother's life in danger if the fallopian tube ruptures, causing severe bleeding, if she doesn't undergo emergency surgery immediately. Go to the emergency room to be evaluated. 

Cramping in Late Pregnancy

Cramping in the second or third trimester could be harmless or concerning—it depends on the situation.

  • Round ligament pain. You may experience shooting pains in the lower abdomen or around your hips due to a phenomenon called round ligament pain, which occurs as your body accommodates your growing uterus. These types of pains are normal and will pass.
  • Preterm labor. If cramps are occurring in regular intervals (try timing them), it's important that you know the signs of preterm labor. Signs of preterm labor include having more than five cramps or contractions in one hour, vaginal bleeding that's bright red, a sudden gush of clear, watery fluid from your vagina, a low, dull backache, and intense pelvic pressure. If you experience any of these symptoms, call your doctor immediately. 

    The bottom line: Talk to your doctor whenever you are concerned about any level of cramping during pregnancy.

    Source:

    March of Dimes, "Abdominal Pain or Cramping." Pregnancy and Newborn Health Education Center 2008. Accessed 22 Jan 2008.

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