How Period vs. Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel

Abdominal cramping can feel similar, whether from your period or early pregnancy, but experts say there are a few telltale signs that may help you tell the two apart. Becoming familiar with your ovulatory phase will help you distinguish between the two.

This article discusses the similarities and differences between menstrual and early pregnancy cramping.

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Period vs. Early Pregnancy Cramps

The familiar ache in your pelvic area is often a reminder that your period is on its way. But in some cases, cramping can also indicate early pregnancy.

Do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like Period Cramps?

As a fertilized egg implants in your uterus (implantation), you may notice different changes and sensations while your body adjusts to being pregnant.

Implantation can cause light cramping and other symptoms like bloating or constipation in some people. There is not a lot of research on implantation cramping, but the sensation appears slightly different for everyone.

Some people report the feeling as mild cramps, a dull achiness, or light twinges. Early pregnancy cramps may also feel like a prickling, tingling, or pulling sensation that can come and go or last for a day or two before disappearing altogether.

On the other hand, period cramps may feel more intense, noticeable, severe, or painful. Many period cramps can be felt on just one side of the lower abdomen as one of the ovaries releases an egg. Early pregnancy cramping might be more likely to be felt across the entire lower abdomen, pelvic area, or lower back.

Timing of Your Last Period

The time between ovulation and menstruation is roughly 14 days for people with an average 28-day menstrual cycle. If implantation cramping happens up to 10 days after ovulation, you might expect that it's been about 20 to 24 days since the first day of your last period.

Timing of Possible Conception

Because everyone's menstrual cycle is a slightly different length, timing possible conception can be challenging. Generally, an egg can be fertilized minutes to days after unprotected sex, also known as condomless sex. The newly fertilized egg can take up to 10 days after ovulation to officially implant into the uterine wall.

Beyond Cramping: Period vs. Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Besides cramping, your menstrual cycle and early pregnancy can have similar symptoms due to varying hormone levels. These symptoms include:

While it can be challenging to differentiate between an upcoming menstrual cycle and a pregnancy, experts still say that a missed period is the most common sign of early pregnancy. Close to a third of pregnant people report this as the earliest sign.

PMS Relief

Premenstrual syndrome (or PMS) commonly affects menstruating people with physical and mental symptoms such as:

  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Mood changes
  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue
  • Acne
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Cramping

While there aren't specific treatments to relieve PMS symptoms, some lifestyle tips experts recommend can help you cope and manage this time of the month. You might consider:

  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids
  • Eating a balanced diet with smaller, more frequent meals
  • Getting plenty of exercise, particularly during PMS time
  • Keeping a regular sleep routine
  • Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers for aches, pains, and cramping
  • Utilizing antidepressant or anti-anxiety medications if needed for more severe cases

When to Take a Pregnancy Test

Many people take a pregnancy test as soon as they think they might be pregnant or after missing a period.

Some at-home pregnancy tests can detect whether you're pregnant up to five days before your missed period. However, experts advise against taking a test too soon, as this can sometimes produce inaccurate results. Instead, it might be safest to aim for the first day of your missed period.

It's best to take an at-home pregnancy test first thing in the morning, as the hormone levels that indicate pregnancy is highest when your urine is more concentrated.

Next Steps With a Positive Pregnancy Test

After receiving a positive pregnancy test result, it's a good idea to see a healthcare provider as soon as possible to ensure you receive the best prenatal care. The healthcare provider may also perform another blood test to confirm your pregnancy.


Abdominal cramping, such as during your period or early pregnancy, share similar sensations, but there are telltale signs to tell the difference. Light spotting can occur with both sets of cramps. While it can be challenging to differentiate between the two, early pregnancy cramping is typically reported to be milder than period cramps. It's best to take a pregnancy test at the first sign of a missed period or check with a healthcare provider for confirmation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you tell if you're cramping with irregular periods?

    With a menstrual cycle that's either shorter or longer than the average 28 days, it can be helpful to keep a fertility calendar. This can help you track whether your cramping is due to an upcoming period or early pregnancy.

  • How many days before your period does cramping begin?

    Menstrual cramps typically start a day or two before you start your period.

  • How soon after condomless sex does pregnancy occur?

    Each scenario is different, but this can take up to a couple of weeks. Conception (when sperm fertilizes the egg) can happen minutes after condomless sex, or it could take several days. The fertilized egg may implant (attach to the uterine wall) up to 10 days after fertilization.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.