Many expecting women worry about cramping, especially during the first trimester when the risk of miscarriage is at highest. Learn what miscarriage cramps usually feel like.
Cramping during pregnancy can be a sign of an impending miscarriage, or could be a harmless incident. At eight weeks pregnant with my first child, I experienced what I thought was the start of a miscarriage. I started with flu-like symptoms like chills and fatigue. Later on I experience lower abdominal cramping that lasted several hours.
Fortunately, I never miscarried and I delivered a healthy baby boy seven months later. However, not all women who experience cramping will have the same outcome. While most miscarriages start with bleeding, cramping can also occur first or simultaneously.
“That crampy feeling may just be the uterus expanding,” explains obstetrician Dr. Alison Barrett. “They may also be what are called Braxton-Hicks contractions, which tend to start earlier with each pregnancy. However, cramps or contractions that become progressively stronger may indeed be a sign that you are getting ready to miscarry.”
Mild aches and pains are common during pregnancy as the baby grows and the womb stretches. However, severe cramping is not a common pregnancy sign and could indicate a miscarriage.
Many women who have miscarried compare the cramps to strong menstrual cramps. The cramping often develops in the pelvic area and may be accompanied by pressure. Some women also have pain or cramping in the back or abdomen.
What the Experts Say
“The uterus contracts at all times whether you are pregnant or not; during a period, during orgasm, and even at times in the normal course of a day. If you have miscarried before and feel some cramping, you are bound to become agitated. But it is often normal to cramp without bleeding during pregnancy.”
Preventing Miscarriage, Jonathan Scher, Carol Dix
“Menstrual-type cramps are very common in the first trimester. This discomfort can be a red herring, because it can make a pregnant woman feel like she’s going to get her period. Cramps in early pregnancy are a result of the uterus contracting in response to growing larger, whereas contractions to expel blood are what cause menstrual cramps.”
The Stress-Free Pregnancy Guide, Carol Livoti, Elizabeth Topp
“Women who have experienced severe cramping during pregnancy often say it resembles heavy menstrual cramps. Noticeably heavy cramping is one of the first signs of miscarriage, as is bleeding a degree greater than a mere occasional spotting or staining.”
It’s Your Pregnancy, Niels H. Lauresen
“The symptoms of miscarriage are bleeding from the vagina and cramping of the uterus. In first trimester miscarriages, you may not even realize you are pregnant. Usually there are no warnings until you see a brownish discharge when you to go to the bathroom or have a cramping pain in the lower abdomen.”
Making a Baby, Samuel S. Thatcher, Debra Fulghum Bruce, Britt Berg
“Some of the warning signs of miscarriage can also happen in perfectly normal and healthy pregnancies. Do not take any symptoms seriously and contact your provider as soon as they occur, but keep in mind the appearance of blood spots or minor cramping doesn’t guarantee miscarriage.”
Bottles, Budgets, and Birthplans, Katrina Z. Jones, Vincent Iannelli
Other Signs of Miscarriage
Every woman’s experience with miscarriage is different. Some women will have no initial signs that their baby has died, while others may experience a variety of symptoms in the hours or days leading up to the miscarriage.
If you think you may be miscarrying, look for other symptoms in addition to cramping. Common symptoms include:
- Vaginal bleeding (may be light or heavy, constant or irregular)
- Fluid coming from the vagina
- Pain (typically pelvic cramps, belly pain, or a dull ache in the lower back)
- Unexplained weakness
- Blood clots (or grayish tissue that passes from the vagina)
Confirming a Miscarriage
If you are showing signs of an early miscarriage, your obstetrician will perform a variety of tests to determine if a miscarriage has occurred. An ultrasound may be performed to see if the baby is still present in the womb and if so, if there’s a heartbeat.
Your doctor may also check your hormone levels, particularly your human chorionic gonadotropin (hGC) levels. If your hormone levels have dropped, it may be a sign that you miscarried.
If it’s discovered that you miscarried, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove fetal or placental tissue, such as a dilation and curettage (D & C).
If you’re pregnant and experiencing unusual symptoms such as cramping, contact your healthcare provider immediately. While the cramping may be nothing to worry about, it’s important to rule out an early miscarriage.