Difference between Period Cramps and Pregnancy Cramps
By Theydiffer - August 5, 2016

The first pregnancy opens up a new chapter in the life of any woman. She is about to discover a whole new dimension of her body, and, unfortunately, whole new pain and discomfort levels she will have to cope with. Pregnancy cramps are only one such example. But how are they different from period cramps and must women who normally experience horrid pain during menstruation expect the same thing during pregnancy?


Getty Images/Moment/Grace Cary

Period cramps or dysmenorrhea are the abdomen pain felt right before or during menstruation. They can vary in intensity from one month to another, from one hour or day to another, and from one woman to another. Some women describe them as throbbing pain, while others report a dull lower abdomen and back pain. While some lucky few only have light period cramps, others must take the day off from work because the pain is too intense. The pains may also radiate to the lower back, the hips and the legs. They may go away a bit after the woman has her first baby, or with age.

Period cramps are caused by the uterus which is a muscle that contracts. If it contracts too strongly, it reaches the near-by blood vessels and cuts off the oxygen supply, which, in its turn, causes the pain. This is the primary cause of menstrual cramps. They can also have secondary causes like endometriosis (the tissue layering of the uterus expands outside of it and continues to thicken) or uterine fibroids (non-cancerous growths that appear in the uterus).

Period cramps are usually relieved by taking pain medicine, placing a heating pad on the abdomen to relax the muscles or resting, avoiding effort, consuming caffeine or alcohol, and massaging the abdomen. Oral contraceptives are commonly administered as treatment for severe dysmenorrhea.

Pregnancy cramps occur in most pregnancies, especially in the first trimester, but are not the rule. They may vary in intensity, but more severe cramping should make you consult your doctor or midwife to check if the pregnancy is in order.

Some women say that it feels like your abdomen is being pulled to the sides. The description of the feeling is rather correct; pregnancy cramps are caused by the uterus expanding to make room for the baby’s growing body. The muscles and ligaments are stretching and this is more noticeable when the woman sneezes or coughs. The second trimester may come with a different type of pregnancy cramps, sharper, more similar to a stabbing pain or like a dull pain. This is caused by the fact that the muscle supporting the uterus, the round ligament, is stretching as well.

Pregnancy cramps can be relieved by taking a warm bath, lying down, relaxing, placing a warm towel on the abdomen to relax the muscles, doing some light exercise and drinking enough fluids (dehydration is another cause of pregnancy cramps).

Period Cramps vs Pregnancy Cramps

So what is the difference between period cramps and pregnancy cramps?

Period cramps occur before and during menstruation. Pregnancy cramps occur in the first trimesters of the pregnancy. Period cramps are caused by the uterus contracting, whereas pregnancy cramps are caused by the uterus expanding to make room for the baby.

Technically, the is experienced differently with the period cramps feeling like a dull or throbbing pain, and pregnancy cramps varying from feeling your abdomen being pulled aside to experiencing a stabbing pain. However, every woman experiences them differently and it is difficult to say how either of them is supposed to feel.

Intensity varies in both these types of cramping and a doctor must be consulted in case of severe pain. It is only natural to worry more about pregnancy cramps since they can also be an indication of something being wrong with the baby.

Relieving period cramps is done by resting, placing something warm on the abdomen, massaging it and taking pills. With pregnancy cramps, pills are not really an option, so all that is left to do is to help the muscles relax by taking a warm bath, resting or doing light exercise. While you can stop the uterus from contracting severely during menstruation, you cannot do the same with the stretching during pregnancy.

Comparison Chart

Period crampsPregnancy cramps
Occur before and during the periodOccur during the first two trimesters of the pregnancy
Are caused by the uterus contractingAre caused by the uterus stretching
Vary in intensityVary in intensity
When they get severe, a doctor should be consultedWhen they get severe, a doctor must be consulted
Are relieved by medication, placing something warm on the abdomen, relaxing, resting, massaging the abdomenAre relieved by resting, a warm bath, light exercise, relaxing