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Most newly pregnant women are hyper-aware of the risk of having a miscarriage, and experiencing abdominal cramping during the early stages of the first trimester of pregnancy can be especially worrying. Some cramping during the first trimester of pregnancy is completely normal, however. How do you differentiate between normal early pregnancy cramping and cramping that indicates you may be having a miscarriage?

Normal Early Pregnancy Cramping

A great many women experience a very familiar type of cramping during their early pregnancy — cramping that feels almost exactly the same as the menstrual cramps many women go through every month. These menstrual-like early pregnancy cramps are caused by the embryo's implantation in your uterine lining, and from the sixth week of pregnancy also by the physical expansion of the uterus. Normal early pregnancy cramping may cause slight discomfort, but it should not manifest as excruciating pain and is never accompanied by heavy blood loss (though some light spotting can also occur during early pregnancy). 

Early pregnancy cramping may be more noticeable when you cough, sneeze, or make a sudden physical movement. You may attempt to reduce it by having a nice bath, placing a hot towel on your tummy, by experimenting with different positions (sit down if you were standing, find a different sleeping position at night), or by engaging in some yoga or meditation. 

Due to your increased progesterone levels, you are also much more likely to experience gas, bloating and constipation during your pregnancy. Again, this can manifest as cramping, cramping that you may interpret as being uterine cramping even though it originates in the digestive system. If you have noticed gas and constipation, it is quite possible that your cramps, though pregnancy-related, have nothing at all to do with your reproductive system. 

When Should You Contact A Doctor About Early Pregnancy Cramps?

Severe early pregnancy cramps that are accompanied by heavy bleeding that is clear red in color and may contain tissues (as opposed to light dark brown or pink spotting) will usually signal a miscarriage. Contact your doctor or midwife in this case. 

Sharp, heavy cramps higher up in abdomen that occur alongside bleeding, fever, dizziness and fainting, fatigue, and gastro-intestinal symptoms may indicate an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when an embryo implants itself somewhere other than the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tubes. Such pregnancies are not viable and can quickly become life-threatening if left untreated. A trip to the ER is warranted if you experience the above-mentioned symptoms. 

If you experience burning during urination, and more frequent urination during which you are not able to pass much urine along with your cramps, it is highly possible that your cramping is, in fact, the symptom of a urinary tract infection. Again, contact your doctor, who will be able to prescribe a course of antibiotics to clear the infection up.

What if you are only experiencing light cramping, but are still worried? In this case, you should also feel free to get in touch with your OBGYN or your midwife. You will neither be the first nor the last woman to be worried about this symptom. Wanting reassurance that everything is OK is a perfectly legitimate reason to visit your healthcare provider — that, too, is part of their job.

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