PMS Cramping vs. Common Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Updated on March 8, 2018
Ashley Gray profile image

I have experienced two wonderful pregnancies and have a keen interest in the medical field.

Cramping before your period may be a sign you're pregnant!
Cramping before your period may be a sign you're pregnant!

1. Cramps Before Your Period (“Implantation Cramps”)

If you're having cramps a week before your period when you usually only start having cramps a few days before, then you may be experiencing implantation cramping. Implantation is when the fertilized egg (or blastocyst) implants itself into the lining of the uterus. After ovulation, it takes about a week (6-12 days) for the fertilized egg to enter the uterus and burrow its way into the thick, rich lining, which can cause mild pain. Typically this happens about a week before you’d expect your period (in a normal 28-30 day cycle), so it might seem odd. It can also happen close to the time you’d expect your period, so some women confuse it with their normal menstrual cramps. But, if you experience these cramps a week before your period is due, and that is abnormal for you, you may very well be expecting!

Menstrual Cramping or Implantation Cramping?

Dr. Linda Burke-Galloway, MD says, "The character and intensity of pain in "period cramps" and "pregnancy cramps" are very similar, but the timing of pain might provide clues." Period cramps, otherwise known as primary dysmenorrhea, occur 24-48 hours before your period and go away once menstruation starts. They can range from mild to severe, depending on the level of prostaglandins—a hormone-like substance that triggers uterine muscle contractions. In contrast, implantation cramping occurs 2-7 days before your period and starts off very mild. You will only feel it intermittently in your lower stomach or lower back.

What Do Early Pregnancy Cramps Feel Like?

Rebecca Lee, RN explains, "Pregnancy cramps are more mild and intermittent, occurring on and off for 1-3 days." If you feel dull pain and have no period, then you might be carrying a baby! However, if you feel sharp lower abdominal pain on one side that feels like a stitch, and the pain radiates to the rest of the abdomen along with bleeding, then you may have an ectopic pregnancy. This is when the embryo implants itself somewhere other than the uterus—usually in the fallopian tubes. Note that ectopic pregnancies only occur in 1-2% of pregnant women. Severe cramps may also be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease. See your doctor right away if the cramps before your period are more intense than usual.

What Does It Mean If I Have Cramping 10 Days Before My Period?

It is most likely ovulation cramping, which occurs when the follicle—a sac in your ovary that contains eggs—ruptures and releases an egg. Ovulation, otherwise known as "mittelschmerz," a German word that means "middle" and "pain," happens every menstrual cycle, usually mid-cycle, but most women do not feel any pain. Note, however, that because implantation can occur anywhere from 1-2 weeks before your period, 10 days is right in the range for implantation to occur, so many women may confuse what is actually implantation for ovulation pain.

How to Tell the Difference Between Ovulation and Implantation Cramping

If you have mittleschmertz, otherwise known as ovulation cramping, you'll feel a pinch or twinge on one side of your lower abdomen that occurs two weeks prior to your period. The pain should only last a few minutes to a few hours, and it is a sharp pain. In contrast, implantation cramping is a dull pain that is felt around the general lower abdomen area and your lower back. Unlike ovulation cramps, implantation cramping lasts for 1-3 days. If cramping continues for several days, and you do not usually get cramps a week or two before your period, then you may be pregnant.

If I Have Cramps a Week Before My Period, Does That Mean I'm Pregnant?

Not necessarily. Although implantation does take place about a week before your period and can cause mild cramping, there may be other causes. You may be experiencing early pre-menstrual cramps or ovulation cramping.

2. Unusual Spotting Outside Your Period (Better Known as “Implantation Bleeding”)

Are you seeing light pink to brown spotting a week before your period? According to board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist Dr. Mark Trolice, "Vaginal spotting one week after ovulation could represent implantation." Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of your uterus. This can cause some light bleeding or spotting due to the massive burrowing the embryo has to do to completely implant itself. Some of the lining of the uterus (which is made of blood) is sloughed off and passes through your cervix.

Spotting between periods is definitely more common than cramps between periods, so this can be harder for women to distinguish. Some get the spotting so close to their periods they just assume it is the start of their normal period. Normally, implantation spotting should not be heavy and should not last for more than three days. There are also other crucial signs to tell the difference between a regular period versus implantation bleeding. But it's safe to say that if you aren’t used to spotting in between, and your period is not due for more than a few days, then it could be the result of conception and implantation!

3. Dark Areola or Nipples

A rise in estrogen and progesterone levels produces more pigmentation in your breast area. This is a very telling sign of pregnancy because not enough estrogen and progesterone is produced before your period to darken your areola.

If you have hormonal imbalance, you may see a fluctuation in the color of your areola, which is not a sign of pregnancy. But, if you are regular, and you are suddenly seeing darker nipples before your period when you wouldn't normally see it otherwise, you may be pregnant!

4. Tender or Sore Breasts

If you boobs are sensitive to even the softest touch, then you may have a bun in the oven. Sore breasts can appear as early as two weeks after conception. As soon as the egg is implanted, your body starts making HCG – the pregnancy hormone needed to support a pregnancy. The rapid increase of this hormone (typically your levels will double every 48 hours in early pregnancy) leads to breast tenderness or fullness.

Some women might mistake this for regular breast pain before a period, but in early pregnancy, your breasts will feel 100 times more sensitive.

5. Nausea (Morning Sickness)

The rapid increase in the HCG hormone and the rapidly rising levels of estrogen causes a woman's stomach to empty more slowly, which may contribute to feelings of queasiness. A woman's sense of smell is also heightened in early pregnancy, which leads to a sensitive—almost finicky—reaction to certain smells. For most women, these symptoms don’t usually arrive until after the missed period, but some experience them right off the bat. If you're feeling queasy and want to get rid of it, this mom offers tips on how she cured her morning sickness and instantly felt better.

7. Dysgeusia (Metallic Taste in Mouth)

Feeling like you have a mouthful of loose change? The rise in estrogen during early pregnancy changes a woman's perception of taste. Doctor's are still not quite sure what causes this bitter, metallic taste that many women experience in early pregnancy, but they believe it has to do with the role that pregnancy hormones have in skewing a woman's sense of smell and taste in the first trimester. "Metal mouth," as this phenomenon is called, is one of the weird symptoms of pregnancy that women experience very early on, even before a missed period.

6. Food Aversions or Cravings

Taste is one thing that can be altered pretty quickly in early pregnancy. Even before a missed period, some women experience a shift in their taste buds. Some of the foods and drinks that seem to have the most commonly altered tastes in early pregnancy tend to be alcohol and fruits. One’s interest in cigarettes can also change pretty quickly. This may be caused by a heightened sense of smell, which is brought about by a rise in estrogen. This can all happen pretty quickly after implantation and can be a sure sign you may be pregnant.

7. Fatigue

Dr. Jacqueline Darna, N.M.D explains that feeling tired during your period and feeling tired during early pregnancy are very different. She says, "Feeling tired is one thing, but women within their first trimester will feel complete exhaustion to where they just can't get up and function." During early pregnancy, an increase in progesterone levels can put you to sleep. This high levels of progesterone coupled with an increase in blood production and expenditure of calories will sap your energy, which explains why you might feel weak, sick, and tired. Feeling like you’re coming down with something can be a classic sign you are expecting. If you're too exhausted to function, there are ways to fight pregnancy fatigue so that you can feel spritely and get on with your day like normal.

8. Headaches

The sudden rise in hormones and the 50% increase in blood production could cause a rush of blood to your head and give you headaches. Because of the change in hormone levels, some women may also experience low blood pressure, which causes migraines. To feel better, drink ample amounts of water, get plenty of sleep, and try to decrease stress as much as possible. Contact your doctor before taking any medications for headaches because it may effect the baby.

9. Frequent Urination

Shortly after conception, your body produces more blood. The heightened rate of blood flow to your kidneys leads to extra fluid being processed and ending up in your bladder. So if you feel a need to keep peeing, you may be pregnant!

10. Implantation Dip

If your menstrual cycle is regular, and you chart your basal body temperature (BBT) every month, then you may notice an implantation dip (or a drop in temperature) during your luteal phase (about one week after ovulation). Usually, a drop in BBT is not a good indictor of pregnancy because you also experience a dip in temperature in the middle of your menstrual cycle before your period comes. However, if you are pregnant, the implantation dip will last just one day and then shoot back up again the next day. When you have your period, your temperature dips and stays low until your period is over.

Note that only 25% of pregnancy positive charts show an implantation dip, so 75% of pregnant women don't see a dip or feel any symptoms at all.

PMS Symptoms vs. Pregnancy Symptoms

Common PMS Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Acne
  • Mood swings
  • Cramps (dysmenorrhea)

Symptoms Unique to Pregnancy

  • Nausea
  • Change in appetite (food aversions or unusual cravings)
  • Darkened areola or nipples
  • Spotting a week before period
  • Constipation
  • Metallic taste in mouth

Common to Both

  • Mood swings, depression, anxiety
  • Tender or sore breasts
  • Fatigue
  • Lower abdominal cramps
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Constipation
  • Increased urination
  • Low sex drive

A Pregnancy Test Is the Only Way to Confirm a Pregnancy

While experiencing one or more of these signs may likely indicate a pregnancy, a lot of these signs are similar to pre-menstrual symptoms, so the only way to know for sure is to take a pregnancy test.

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    • profile image

      Gina Mason Williams 8 hours ago

      Ok well I just got off my period yesterday but I been cramping ever since then what does that mean ??

    • profile image

      hi 17 hours ago

      hi ,I'm 35th days of cycle luteal phase and my menstrual periods is in the next 5th days ,but this morning I start to get real bad cramps and when I went to the wash room I saw spotting ,and I still having bad belly cramps

    • profile image

      Ani 7 days ago

      Hello, I’m at cycle day 35. My period hasn’t come yet. I’m almost 5 days late. I keep going to bathroom and have the feeling that It will come any min but I have no bleeding but I’ve been experiencing cramping which comes and goes. My last cycle was 29 days. Any suggestion?

      Thank you

    • profile image

      Shan 9 days ago

      I was supposed to come on my period a week ago today. Me and my partner are trying for a baby. Did a pregnancy test and it didn’t come up with anything so I ignored it. Then I looked back and there was a faint line. I’ve been having cramps in the bottom of my stomach for a few days now, I feel like I want to be sick all of the time and I’m out off of my food. My boobs are hurting like crazy and my mood swings are all over the place. I did a test yesterday morning same again nothing there. I looked 30 minutes after and there was a darkish line. I’ve been to the doctors today. They’ve told me to do another test in a few days. Just hope I don’t have a period and I’m actually pregnant

    • profile image

      What? 4 weeks ago

      Using a phrase like, “Period cramps, otherwise known as primary dysmenorrhea, occur 24-48 hours before your period and go away once menstruation starts” is highly misleading. Most woman experience pain DURING their periods, not just prior. Also- this article is extremely scattered and misleading. You repeat the same thing in different phrasing, continually restating your confusing and infactual points.

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      Bethany 4 weeks ago

      I been to the doctors a few times this month and they said I’m pregnant but they don’t see anything and I haven’t had my monthly thing in almost 2 months I feel pain all in my stomach considering I don’t eat much when I do I feel sick I don’t really feel hungry because off the pain the doctors always seemed to see nothing wrong but I do I know what I feel I didn’t feel this when I had my son back in may something is wrong because some times my chest and heart will hurt ??

    • profile image

      DellahG 4 weeks ago

      2 weeks after my period I was feeling real light headed,dizzy, fatigue, tired and moody.....loss my appetite too...I decide to do a pregnancy test and it came back with a 2 lines but one faint line... then like 3 week after I start spotting with dark blood not enough to full a pad and no cramps as a normal period ...and it only last for like one and a half day.....is this a sign of pregnancy?

    • profile image

      Lashia1038 6 weeks ago

      I haven't had period at all in February now I'm having light bleeding after a missed period could i be pregnant?

    • profile image

      Maria 6 weeks ago

      I recently had my period about 2 maybe 3 weeks ago and that same time that my period finished i had sex and my boyfriend.. You know .. A day or two after i had light pink spotting im thinking its still my period being that my period is irregular it can happen , but now my breasts are swollen, a little tender , im very tired all the time , im urinating about every hour , i have stomach pains almost all the time now from when i wake up anytime (day or night) sometimes it feels like cramps in my lower abdominal area or its like a hungry hurt but everything i want to eat just makes my stomach hurt more , i feel nauscous a lot my lower stomach is poking out , ive been emotional like i get super mad over any little thing and i just blow up , lower back pains , ive been getting lightheaded a lot like on friday i was cleaning the bathroom and evrrytime i bend down and got back up i would become very light head and dizzy ,faint almost , if i get out of bed sometimes as well , but some of this was happening before my period came as well , its just more symptoms now. But i just finished my period and it doesnt come back to back like that , i dont want to take a pregnancy test because i feel its going to come out negative , any help or advice ??

    • profile image

      blessings 6 weeks ago

      i have missed my period for 10 days now .and am feeling dizzy and nausua (sick) .my mouth tests bitter could i be pregnant?

    • profile image

      Nikki 3 months ago

      Last weak I was having cramps in stomach but now from two days everything is ok

      Is it sign of pregnancy or something else

    • profile image

      Nicole 3 months ago

      If you can't even talk to your mom about it Addy, you def should NOT be having sex. You're way too young and you cannot support a child.

    • profile image

      Addy 4 months ago

      I’m only 15 so I’m super worried... my boyfriend and I had done it a few times in the past month, once he pulled out on my stomach.. my period comes every two months so I can’t rely on that. For the past 4-5 days I’ve been having really bad cramps, but no bleeding, no spotting and no discharge whatsoever. My breasts done hurt, but I’m super tired. I’m also anemic, so my constant migraines, fatigue and dizziness come with that that happen ALL THE TIME. so I wasn’t too worried about that... I’m super scared that I may be pregnant... but I can’t talk to my mom about it.. help?!

    • profile image

      Annabelle 5 months ago

      I had 2 days of cramping 1 week before my period starts. My cramp didnt last that long, it was like 3-4 times in a day in a span of minutes. and that is just too weird for me. Hoping for a positive result :)

    • profile image

      MeMe 5 months ago

      I really hate when people post "does it mean I'm pregnant" post. The internet cannot tell you if you are pregnant. Only a doctor can people.

    • profile image

      Tiffany L 5 months ago

      I've been having lower back pains and mild cramps.. does it means period or preganat?

    • profile image

      judith 5 months ago

      I have started bleeding today 11th November.and my period should start 15th.November.. and my period is regular(28)days..cycle and the blood Is very slight ..does it mean that am pregnant??

    • profile image

      Sindi 5 months ago

      I'm worried plz help m,I missed my period last month so I bought a pregnancy test.when I tested it it had 2lines,BT de other one wasn't clear,after a few ours it was gone.does that mean I'm pregnant

    • profile image

      Aquashia White 6 months ago

      I Haven't Had A Period In Three Weeks It Usually Starts On The First Week Of The Month Or The Second Week But I Did Not Get It This Month & My 6Month Son Crawling & Standing Up By His self & My Breasts Are Heavier & Darker .. Took To Home Tests Said It was Negative .. Now I go to the Doctor They Say Negative What Can It Be .. My Stomach Has Unbearable Pain .. Can Someone Guess This ?

    • profile image

      @rm 6 months ago

      It is my 49 days now and i got bleeding, last night 48 days delay. around 10am i noticed pink and brown blood in my undies, after i noticed that blood, i experienced frequent urination almost 15x and the blood i saw stop, i dont know why, and around 12am in the midnight. Im bleeding. I dont know if it is my first day of my period or what? Is it implantation, i worried about it, cause i think its my mens. I also experienced pregnancy signs last 2weeks bloating, diarrhea, nausea, constipation, tiredness but when i took PT Its negative now that im bleeding i really dont know if i will try pt again, because im worried about the signs that i’ve experienced. Please help me.

    • profile image

      Grizly 6 months ago

      Hi! I'm a bit worried. For the past month my breasts have been super sore and tender and I havent been feeling well at all. I usually get my period between the 22-24th and for some reason it came today or its just spotting? I've taken 3 pregnancy tests and all came back negative but i have some weird feeling I could possibly still be pregnant. Is that a possibility?

    • profile image

      tee 6 months ago

      i usually do not spot in between periods but i did this time or had implantation bleeding having symptoms as well and haven't gotten a period yet its been a ween and half after spotting am i preg?

    • profile image

      Stella 6 months ago

      I mensturated on 26 August and had unprotected sex on 8 September, am I likely to get pregnant

    • profile image

      Lisa 6 months ago

      Yeah..

      My period were supposed to come on the 19-23 and today is the 23rd and it never came since those 4 in the half past days..

      and I get cramps on the same day and sometimes my period starts on the same day...but today I got cramps and my period never came...is it a sign or my period coming or pregnancy?

    • profile image

      harini 7 months ago

      Hi, I have a regular cycle 27- 30 days. I usually get severe menstrual cramps I the first day, which starts just before I get my periods the same day. Now it's a week before my expected date. And I am experiencing exactly similar menstrual cramps past 2 days which lasts for about 5 mnts. I have never got such an experience. Does it mean I'm pregnant. I'm expecting pregnancy longing for years... kindly clarify me.

    • profile image

      Kini 8 months ago

      what does it mean when for 2 days spotting with back aches, cramps, mild headache and falling asleep and waking up almost every 2 hours at night 2 weeks after period. Period suppose to come in about 1 week or 2 .. am I pregnant and how soon can I take an pregnancy test ?

    • profile image

      Leah 9 months ago

      HI I'm Leah my breast is tender and mild cramping on my belly ,,me and my husband do unprotected intercourse , I expect my periods is come after 10 days,, this is a sign??

    • profile image

      Pinki 11 months ago

      Hi... I had sex 7days after my periods last month in April. I have missed my period this month,but had spotting a day. So is it a possibility to be pregnant. Pls help,m very confused. Thank u.

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      Shelby 12 months ago

      Hey I had my period March 10-15 and I had unprotected sex on the 18th. He came in me. I took a test 12 days after the day I thought i could be pregnant, but it came out negative!! I heard that's too soon to take a test because it's not gonna be accurate!!! I've been experiencing lower stomach and back pain like I would get if i we're about to begin my period. But my period isn't due for another two weeks... What should I do? Am I pregnant? Help please

    • profile image

      amanda 13 months ago

      I had a craving for liver and Rice and when finish eating what i so wanted i feel like i want to vomit then i smell kool aid and my stomach was sick? Am I pregnant

    • profile image

      Lakeshia 13 months ago

      Okay.. so me and my husband is trying to get pregnant again , we have a son . I've been having symptoms after he came in me the next day I had some light bleeding, I took a test 2 weeks after it said no so I'm thinking to my self maybe I'm to early cause it happened the 1st time. I waited . 3 weeks it still saying I wasn't ... but now I'm going through new symptoms! I can't lay on my stomach then I threw up today and been feeling stomach pains. So I'm trying to figure out if I'm expecting or is it just me , because I'm done buying testes!

    • profile image

      Jacky9 15 months ago

      Hi,am feeling backage and my breast are very sensitive,my periods delayed for 20days then i bled 4 5days with some clots bt not heavy bleeding,now my heart beats fast and hard,feeling headache,backage and also heartburn and belching alot,i tested for pregnancy during the time was bleeding and it was positive,so plix help could i be pregnant?

    • profile image

      Bridget 19 months ago

      Add Your Comment..please help I had unprotected sex on the 13th of August and i saw my period on the 19th but I feel different can I test for pregnancy

    • profile image

      Ashley 2 years ago

      Me and my husband had sex about a week or two ago and now my nipples hurt and I have been feeling nauseous but has not been vomiting and now under my belly hurts and had gotten hard and now when we have sex it hurts a little and I missed my period can I be pregnant?

    • profile image

      Faith 2 years ago

      pls I saw my period on 30th march and since den I have been with my husband. twenty days later I felt a serious stomach pain before den I have been having sore and painful breast pls am I pregnant?

    • profile image

      Angelina 2 years ago

      Me and my boyfriend had unprotected sex 4 days after my menstrual ended. About 8 days later I'm vomiting and nauseous, my breasts are painfully sore and now I'm having abdominal cramping. Is it a possibility I could be pregnant or is my mind playing trick on me? Please help! Thankyou

    • profile image

      catnic 3 years ago

      please help so confused ?/ i had sex 2 days before pains of ovulation pains and flutter feelings still going? not due till 29 ? could it be early signs of pregnancy

    • profile image

      natasha 3 years ago

      Hi i had sex a week and a half ago and he pulled out but now in feeling really tied my boobs are beginning to hurt and I've had pains down the back of my legs. Could I be pregnant.

    • profile image

      keisha 3 years ago

      Hi I dnt knw exatly my cycle inJanuary I saw my period on 25 , february 26 this month i thought it wud be on 26 but I ddnt see anything am still breastfeeding my 6 months old me and my husband we had sex without protection am I pregnant?

    • profile image

      mary 3 years ago

      Hi my name is Mary .I had my period fro 3 days but am haven headache everyday and my nipples is paining me .and again I do home preagent test but it bring out no pteagent pls what can I do again

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