Causes of Cramping & Lower Back Pain in Early Pregnancy

Pregnant woman sitting on bed holding her back in pain
Pregnancy can sometimes be a pain in the back. (Image: Westend61/Westend61/GettyImages)

Women can begin experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy within a few weeks of conception. Some of these symptoms may be mild and go unnoticed, but others can be quite obvious.

Early abdominal pain can be startling, but there are many normal explanations for this symptom. Lower back pain in early pregnancy is fairly common and is usually a healthy symptom of bodily changes. However, some serious pregnancy complications can also cause both back and abdominal pain, so pay close attention to any other symptoms you experience.

Implantation

Implantation of a fertilized egg occurs about six to 12 days after conception, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Implantation is the process of the fertilized egg attaching to the uterine lining. Some women never notice symptoms of implantation, but other women may have abdominal cramping and spotting.

The cramps will be milder than a menstrual period in most cases and do not last very long. The spotting will also be light and resolve quickly. If a woman does not realize she is pregnant she may assume these to be signs of an upcoming period.

Posture Change

As the uterus grows, it places stress and strain on the back. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out that a woman's center of gravity changes when her stomach gets larger.

This change can make her lean backward or adopt other poor postures that cause lower back pain in early pregnancy. The back muscles can also be strained from the weight of the uterus, but this discomfort is more common later in pregnancy.

Hormones

Several different hormones increase during pregnancy. Research published in the journal Pain Research and Treatment describes one hormone, called relaxin, that helps make a woman's ligaments relax for delivery. When this hormone starts surging through a woman's body, she can experience lower back pain in early pregnancy from joints in the body becoming too flexible.

Beautiful pregnant woman at home.
Taking it easy on yourself can help alleviate pain from cramping and back pain early pregnancy. (Image: NataliaDeriabina/iStock/GettyImages)

Round Ligament Pain

As the uterus grows to accommodate the fetus and its surrounding fluid, the tissues that connect the uterus to the abdomen and pelvic area can be stretched. This stretching can be painful and is called round ligament pain.

Women may feel this pain after the first few weeks of pregnancy and more commonly toward the end of the first trimester, or at about 14 weeks. Moving, sneezing and even laughing can make the pain worse. Resting or making slow movements can reduce the discomfort.

Miscarriage

A miscarriage is most likely to occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, reports the American Pregnancy Association. Warning signs of a miscarriage include mild to severe back pain that is often worse than normal menstrual cramps.

True contractions can occur, which are painful and repeat every five to 20 minutes. Other symptoms include spotting and the passing of tissues from the vagina. Miscarriages cannot be prevented, unfortunately, but women should seek medical attention to reduce the risk of infection if tissues remain in the uterus after a miscarriage.

Ectopic Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg attaches somewhere other than into the uterine wall. The most common location is the fallopian tube, according to the American Pregnancy Association. An ectopic pregnancy can't be carried to term. If the egg is allowed to remain in place, it can rupture or separate from its place of attachment and cause internal bleeding.

A woman may have several warning signs of a rupturing ectopic pregnancy, including pain in the pelvis, abdomen and lower back pain in early pregnancy. Sometimes vaginal bleeding occurs. If rupture occurs and causes internal bleeding, a woman may develop pain in the shoulder and neck and may become dizzy. Ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency, even if only the warning signs are present.

When to See a Doctor

Though most cramping and back pain in early pregnancy is mild and considered a normal symptom, contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the below symptoms.

  • Severe back pain during early pregnancy
  • Increasingly severe pain or pain that begins abruptly
  • Difficulty urinating or “pins and needles” in your arms and legs
  • A fever over 100 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Swelling in your hands, fingers, or face
  • Blurred vision or spots before your eyes
  • Severe headaches
  • Pain or cramping in your arms, legs, or chest
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