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Cramps During Early Pregnancy: The Norm or an Ominous Sign?

While some women start experiencing aches and pains within a few days after unprotected sex, for others the discomfort is firstly felt only in the second trimester, when the visible signs of conception become apparent. Undoubtedly, often cramps during early pregnancy are interpreted as a warning sign, particularly by women, who have not experienced them earlier, and by those, who have suffered miscarriages.

Depending on the intensity of the discomfort and the other signs that accompany the abdominal cramps, you may very well have a cause for concern on your hands. However, in about 50% of all pregnancies, unless there are medical issues involved, cramping and spotting are normal. Here is a look at how soon the abdominal cramps are experienced, how you can differentiate them from PMS cramping and what other symptoms of conception become apparent at this stage.

While some women start experiencing aches and pains within a few days after unprotected sex, for others the discomfort is firstly felt only in the second trimester, when the visible signs of conception become apparent. Undoubtedly, often cramps during early pregnancy are interpreted as a warning sign, particularly by women, who have not experienced them earlier, and by those, who have suffered miscarriages.

Depending on the intensity of the discomfort and the other signs that accompany the abdominal cramps, you may very well have a cause for concern on your hands. However, in about 50% of all pregnancies, unless there are medical issues involved, cramping and spotting are normal. Here is a look at how soon the abdominal cramps are experienced, how you can differentiate them from PMS cramping and what other symptoms of conception become apparent at this stage.

Cramps During Early Pregnancy: How Do Women Describe Them?

In terms of the intensity, cramps, linked to implantation, are almost similar to period pains. The discomfort will be experienced in the abdomen, on the one side or both. You may also feel the pain radiating towards the waist and spreading lower into the leg. While most women claim that implantation cramps are mild enough to be ignored, the pain should not be severe. If this feeling is unbearable and it impedes your day-to-day activities, this must worry you.

If you feel you need to take a painkiller, call your doctor immediately. Some drugs are prohibited during pregnancy. Remember, that implantation aches are coupled with spotting, with the discharge being of a characteristic brown/pink color. One of the reasons why the symptoms of conception are confused with those of menstruation is because of the timing. Cramps and spotting appear about a week before menses, but usually it happens 2-3 days before them. Remember this information.

When Do Most Women Begin to Feel Cramps During Early Pregnancy?

Typically, the belly ache can start within 4 to 6 days post ovulation or around the 5th-7th day of having unprotected sex. The cramps, associated with implantation, can last for almost a week; this type of pain is seldom constant and it stops on its own, without taking any special measures.

Although many say that the cramps are wave-like and they last over a long period, for others this discomfort is experienced in the form of short bursts of stabbing pain. There is no hard and fast rule, which states that spotting will always follow pregnancy cramps. Although many women usually experience both, with the discharge starting at around the same time as their periods, some experience only one of the symptoms.

What Causes Abdominal Discomfort in the Early Stages of Pregnancy?

Implantation: During the first days of conception, the fertilized egg (blastocyst) travels down the Fallopian tubes into the uterus. It is made of several cell-layers. The outermost layer is known as trophoblast, which eventually forms the placenta. During implantation, the trophoblast attaches itself to the uterine wall or lining.

The cells in the lining are now displaced for egg-attachment, which causes mild irritation in the uterus. This results in bleeding and cramping. Nearly 1/3rd of all women experience both implantation bloody discharge and abdominal spasms, while almost 1/2 of all women experience either bleeding, or cramping.

Corpus Luteum Cyst: Another reason for cramps is a cyst formation in one of the ovaries that released the mature egg, which was eventually fertilized. Called the Corpus Luteum (or Luteal) Cyst, this growth has a very specific function during pregnancy. The cyst is responsible for producing the progesterone, which nourishes the embryo before the implantation occurs and the placenta forms.

Muscle and Ligament stress: Pregnancy cramps do not stop after implantation. In fact, discomfort and pains are a normal part of conception and will go on in many cases till your precious bundle of joy comes along. As the uterus grows to accommodate the extending fetus, the muscles and ligaments in the abdominal area and the lower back get stretched. This is one of the primary causes of pain and heaviness in the first trimester.

Blood vessels distention: Also, the blood supply to the uterus increases through this period and the arteries and veins become engorged to accommodate the additional flow. Of course, this can add the feeling of heaviness and discomfort. Finally, such unpleasant things as hormonal changes, gases and bloating appear.

Pregnancy Symptoms That Can Be Experienced with Cramps

Generally, cramps during the first weeks of the new state will be accompanied by a host of other symptoms of conception. In fact, this is one of the ways in which you could distinguish pregnancy linked pain from PMS discomfort and the aches that can be felt on missing a contraceptive pill.

Spotting: Menstrual pain is caused as the inner mucosa of the uterus is purged out of the body. The physiology of implantation pain and bleeding can be similar to that of period pains as the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining and dislodges the cells in the process. These blood cells flow out of the uterus causing the brown/pink spotting. The fluid discharge linked to conception is not half as heavy as regular menstrual bleeding. This is usually the first telltale sign of pregnancy. It should be noted that at this point, it is simply too early for taking a blood or urine confirmation test. Both of these can provide positive result on the 3rd-5th day after implantation.

Drop in BBT: A drop in the basal body temperature is another sign of implantation. In fact, this can be seen on the day of implantation. So, the spotting actually comes later as the cells of the endometrial lining travel down the uterus and through the cervix. Implantation typically happens in approximately one week after ovulation.

Tenderness of Breasts: This is one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy and it is felt after cramping and spotting. The changes in the level of progesterone and estrogen are responsible for nipple and breast tenderness. If you miss your period and feel a dull ache in your breasts and nipples on touch, you should definitely go in for a pregnancy test.

Cravings: Another symptom of conception that is directly related to the surge of hormones, is that women become sensitive to smells and tastes. If you have suddenly developed an aversion to your favorite foods or crave something that never used to be on your list of things to eat, you just may be pregnant.

Nausea and morning sickness: This usually occurs on the 2nd-4th week after ovulation and nearly 90% of all expectant moms go through this daunting phase, which is bound to wreak havoc to your life and your early morning sleep. The nausea and vomiting can be attributed to the increase in the HCG level. By the time this symptom raises its head, your home pregnancy kit will detect conception.

Constipation: The enhanced flow of hormones causes the intestines to relax, which in turn leads to bloating, gas and constipation. Fortunately, keeping yourself hydrated and consuming your daily quota of fibers (e.g., from fruits) will help you a lot during this phase.

Fatigue: Progesterone, which is one of the vital pregnancy hormones, has a sedative effect on the organism. This will cause you to sleep longer and feel tired all the day. Also, your metabolic rate goes up, when you conceive. Additional workload on the vital organs and the brain tires the body out. Don’t worry, it will last for several months, not more.

Acne: Sudden bouts of acne along with the other symptoms in the list above could also point to a possible conception.

Mood swings: The pregnancy hormones are also known to cause massive mood swings; you could go from being chirpy to ‘on the verge of tears’ for no apparent reason at all.

Back pain: A dull ache in the lower back can be experienced along with cramps during early pregnancy. The discomfort is caused as the walls of the uterus are prepared for the new life development.

When Can You Expect the Cramping to Cease?

There is no fixed time for the pain to stop. Some women will feel the dull ache for about a week before it stops being a bother. They may feel no other discomfort during their first trimester. On the other hand, a large number of mothers state that the ache does not go away till the 9th month. In other words, what starts as implantation pain continues to be felt as abdominal muscle fatigue as the fetus grows. The added pressure on the ligaments and nerves is also experienced as tingling and numbness.

Although, it is normal to experience cramping at various stages of pregnancy, if you feel a sharp pain that is localized in the lower abdomen and/or is coupled with stabbing sensations in the lower back, which was/were not experienced before, you need to see your gynecologist at once. Even after proper implantation, about 31% of pregnancies end in a miscarriage. Then, there is the risk of ectopic pregnancy, which has to be addressed as a medical emergency.

So, while your body is going through massive changes, both physical and hormonal, which are bound to create discomfort, ignoring signs of pain that just do not feel right could jeopardize your and your baby’s health.

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