The signs of an early pregnancy can vary from woman to woman. You may feel your body making changes quickly (within the first month of pregnancy) or you may not notice any symptoms at all. Symptoms of early pregnancy can include a missed period, an increased need to urinate, swollen and tender breasts, fatigue, and morning sickness.
Pregnancy is a different experience for each woman. Some women may suspect they’re pregnant within the first few days of pregnancy, while others don’t notice anything until they miss a period. There are also some women who don’t know they’re pregnant until months after conception.
The most clear-cut way to know if you’re pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. When you take a pregnancy test, it’s measuring a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). This hormone starts building in your body from the moment of conception and will multiply rapidly in the beginning of your pregnancy. Despite its early appearance in the process, it takes some time for your body to build up enough hCG to register on a pregnancy test. Typically, it takes about three to four weeks from the first day of your last period before there’s enough hCG in your body for a positive pregnancy test.
Because it takes time for the hormone hCG to build up in your body, it’s often best to wait till you miss your period before taking a home pregnancy test. Before this point the test may come up negative, even if you are actually pregnant.
Home pregnancy tests are generally very reliable. These tests involve urinating on a small test strip and then waiting for a symbol to appear in the result window. This window will usually show a test image (sometimes this is a single straight line). This symbol appears first and means that the test is working. Always check the packaging and instructions of your test to make sure it is working correctly. Within a few minutes, the test will show either a positive result or a negative result. Some digital tests will display a word or phrase (pregnant or not pregnant).
Blood tests for a possible pregnancy are done in your healthcare provider’s office. This version of the test looks for hCG in your blood. You still need to wait for hCG to build up in your body before taking this type of pregnancy test. Your healthcare provider may recommend this option in some cases. Call your provider if you suspect you’re pregnant and discuss the best type of test.
There are several signs of early pregnancy that you could experience. Not everyone will have all of these symptoms, and some women may not feel any of these things. Pregnancy symptoms throughout the entire pregnancy can vary dramatically between women. It’s important not to compare your pregnancy to someone else’s.
Common early pregnancy symptoms can include:
. A missed period: The most common and clear-cut sign of pregnancy is a missed period. Once conception has happened, your body produces hormones that stop ovulation and the shedding of the lining of your uterus. This means that your cycle has stopped and you won’t have a period again until after the baby is born. However, missing your period isn’t always a sign of pregnancy. You can also miss your period from stress, excessive exercise, dieting, hormone imbalances and other factors that might cause irregular periods.
. Frequent trips to the bathroom: Before you even miss a period, you may notice that you have to urinate more often. This actually happens because you have more blood than before. During pregnancy, your body’s blood supply increases. Your kidneys filter your blood and remove the extra waste. This waste leaves your body as urine. The more blood in your body, the more you will have to urinate.
. Fatigue (feeling tired): Many women feel extremely tired in early pregnancy. This sign of pregnancy happens because of high levels of the hormone progesterone. Similarly to other early pregnancy symptoms, fatigue tends to get better in the second trimester. However, it does come back in the third trimester for many women.
. Morning (and noon and night) sickness: Despite the name, this pregnancy symptom can happen at any time of the day or night. Nausea can happen as early as two weeks into a pregnancy or it can start a few months after conception. Not everyone experiences nausea and there are various levels of nausea. You can have nausea without vomiting—this changes from woman to woman. About half of pregnant women have vomiting. Though nausea during pregnancy is fairly normal, it can be a problem if you become dehydrated. Women who cannot keep down food and fluids because of extreme nausea could have a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing extreme nausea and dehydration.
. Sore (and enlarging) breasts: Your breasts can become tender to the touch during pregnancy. The soreness may be similar to the way breasts feel before a period, only more so. Your nipples might also begin to darken and enlarge. This soreness is temporary and fades once your body gets used to the increased hormones. You may also notice that your breasts have enlarged and your bra is tighter than normal.
There are some additional signs of early pregnancy that aren’t as common. Just like with the most common symptoms, these signs of pregnancy may or may not happen. It’s important to remember that everyone is different and will experience unique symptoms.
Less common signs of early pregnancy can include:
. Spotting (also called implantation bleeding): Though it may seem like a bad sign, light bleeding (spotting) can be a sign that your embryo has implanted in the lining of your uterus. Implantation takes place several days after conception. Implantation bleeding will look like small drops of blood or a brownish discharge from the vagina. It can start around the time of your regular period and can last for a few days to a few weeks. Spotting can cause some women to think they have just had a light period and aren’t pregnant.
. Food cravings, constant hunger and food aversions: Food can be complicated during early pregnancy. Some women begin to crave certain foods or feel constantly hungry. While some foods and flavors may seem wonderful in early pregnancy, others might suddenly taste unpleasant. Food aversions can happen throughout pregnancy, making you dislike things you previously enjoyed.
. Metallic taste in your mouth: Many women say that they experience a metallic taste in their mouths during the early stages of pregnancy. It may taste like you have a pile of coins in your mouth. This can happen when you eat certain foods or randomly throughout the day.
. Headaches and dizziness: Headaches and the feelings of lightheadedness and dizziness are common during early pregnancy. This happens because of both the hormonal changes in your body and your increasing blood volume.
. Cramping: You can also experience cramps that might feel like your period is about to start. If these cramps are felt mainly on one side of your body or are severe, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider immediately. This could be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy or other complication.
. Mood swings: As your hormones continue to change, you could experience mood swings. This is normal and can happen throughout pregnancy. However, if you ever feel anxious, depressed or have thoughts of harming yourself, it’s important to reach out to your healthcare provider.
Many of the symptoms of early pregnancy overlap with other medical conditions, as well as your typical menstrual cycle. Premenstrual symptoms can be very similar to pregnancy symptoms. This can make it difficult to tell the difference. You can also miss a period without being pregnant. This can happen when you exercise in extreme amounts, lose or gain a lot of weight, or even are stressed. Breastfeeding can also cause your period to stop for a while.
The best way to know you’re pregnant is to take a pregnancy test. If you have missed a period and think there’s a chance you could be pregnant, consider taking a test.
If you have missed a period, taken a pregnancy test and gotten a positive result, your next step will be to call your healthcare provider for your first appointment. While scheduling, your provider may ask if you have already started taking a prenatal vitamin with at least 400mcg of folic acid. These vitamins are important in early pregnancy because they help in the development of your baby’s neural tube. The neural tube will become the brain and spine. Many healthcare providers recommend that any women who could become pregnant take folic acid at all times.
If you are planning a pregnancy, a preconception appointment with your healthcare provider is a good place to start. A preconception appointment is especially important if you take medication for a chronic illness or have other medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension or lupus.
During this appointment, your provider will discuss any current medical conditions, as well as your general health before pregnancy. This appointment is meant to get you into the best place for a new pregnancy.