Even before you miss a period, your body gives off signals that a pregnancy might be in the works. Catching these very early signs of pregnancy may give you time to consider all your family planning options.
As Hormones Shift, Pregnancy Symptoms Start
An embryo is the tiniest thing—not even half an inch long in the first two months of pregnancy. But the changes it wreaks on a woman’s body right from the start are enormous. This is primarily due to the shifts in key hormones that start at the beginning of a pregnancy, says Sherry Ross, MD, a gynecologist and author of the books She-ology and She-ology, the she-quel.
These hormones include estrogen, progesterone, and human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), which multiplies rapidly at the start of a pregnancy.
When to Use Home Pregnancy Tests
Of course, the most accurate way to know that you are pregnant is to take a home pregnancy test. This test uses urine to measure hCG and is generally accurate as early as two days before your expected period, says Hugh Taylor, MD, chair of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine and its medical practice, Yale Medicine. (Remember that pregnancies are dated from the first day of your last menstrual period, which means that a woman with a regular monthly cycle might already be four weeks pregnant at this time.)
Of course, women who have irregular periods can find it harder to know when to test. If you get a negative test, repeat it the following morning the first time you use the bathroom, when the hCG is most concentrated, Dr. Taylor says. If it’s still negative and you haven’t yet gotten your period, test again a few days later.
While waiting for pregnancy test results, many women look to their symptoms to help determine if they have conceived. It’s important to note that symptoms are different for every woman. Some experience many signs, others just one or two—or even none. And many of the symptoms attributed to early pregnancy can also be caused by other situations and conditions.
Still, symptoms are the way many women know they are pregnant. Here are 10 of the most common early pregnancy signs you should look for:
1. A Small Amount of Bleeding, Which Could Be Implantation Bleeding
You may think that if you’re slightly bleeding or spotting it’s a sign your period is on its way, but this can actually indicate a fertilized egg implanting into your uterus or other normal effects of early pregnancy. A quarter of pregnant women experience this spotting, researchers published in the American Family Physician.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spotting generally starts about 6 to 12 days after you conceive.
This spotting may last a few days or can continue for several weeks, or even through the first trimester. Experts at the Cleveland Clinic note that this implantation bleeding might look like a brownish discharge or it may contain small drops of redder blood.
2. Round the Clock Peeing, Increased Urination
Bolting for the bathroom at every turn is something many women assume happens only in later pregnancy, when the uterus is big enough to press on their bladder. But it’s also a common symptom in the first few weeks, Dr. Ross says.
That’s because the hormone hCG increases blood flow to your pelvis, and the extra fluid volume can trigger the need to urinate more.
If the urinary frequency is accompanied by pain or cloudy urine, though, it’s possible you have a urinary infection and should be checked, Taylor says.
3. Feeling Beyond Tired, Fatigue
As early as a week after you conceive, you may find yourself getting extremely tired. Chalk that up to hormones as well as the support system the body starts setting up right away to house, feed, and grow a baby, Taylor says. Blood gets pumped to the fetus to deliver nutrients, and all those hormones start soaring — all of which can tax a woman’s body.
If you do feel fatigued, be kind to yourself and put your feet up. You might even take a daily nap, even if you haven’t nodded off in the daytime since childhood.
4. Pain in Your Boobs, Sensitive Breasts
“Breast tenderness if one of the earliest and most common signs of pregnancy. It occurs as a result of hormonal changes which start the process of getting your milk ducts ready to feed the baby,” Ross says.
Your boobs may feel as sore as they sometimes feel before your period, the Cleveland Clinic notes. But other changes may accompany this soreness: Nipples may darken and enlarge. And some women start busting out of their bra because the hormones enlarge breast tissue.
5. Nausea and Vomiting Symptoms
Whoever coined the term morning sickness obviously never had it, because nausea and vomiting can actually happen any time of the day.
This sensation generally starts from two to eight weeks after conception, the NIH says, and it may continue throughout pregnancy, although most women improve after the first trimester.
Adjusting mealtimes and eliminating foods that especially make you nauseous are some ways to deal with morning sickness, advises the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
More severe cases, when women feel sick for several hours a day and vomit frequently, are known as the medical condition hyperemesis gravidarum. Fortunately, this affects only 3 percent of pregnancies, ACOG says. Women with this condition sometimes need to be hospitalized to restore crucial body fluids that are being lost.
6. Craving or Avoiding Certain Foods
Most women don’t actually want that mythical pickles-and-ice cream combo, but food cravings do regularly occur, as does disliking a formerly favorite food.
A review of cravings in pregnancy published in Frontiers in Psychology lamented how little research exists for such a common symptom, which Ross says occurs in more than half of pregnancies. Cravings typically start in the first trimester. In one study the reviewers cited, three-quarters of women reported craving at least one food item by the thirteenth week of pregnancy.
What do women most want in early pregnancy? Mostly sweets, including fruits, juices, dairy, desserts, and, frequently, chocolate. But a small number of women prefer savory or salty fare, the review authors noted.
It’s not clear why these cravings happen. Some speculate it’s due to fluctuating hormones, which can change the sense of taste or smell, but others say it fills specific nutritional needs of the fetus or are brought on by cultural norms or other factors.
7. A Pounding Head
Headaches normally come on during the first trimester of pregnancy, according to the nonprofit organization March of Dimes, brought on by stress, lack of sleep, or other situations.
Of course, head pain can signal many things besides pregnancy — flu, sinus infection, and more — so it’s best to use this in concert with other early pregnancy symptoms when trying to determine whether you’ve conceived.
If you do get headaches early in pregnancy, the March of Dimes suggests drinking a lot of water, trying to get quality sleep at night, doing stress-reducing techniques like yoga or deep breathing, and identifying triggers such as eye strain or certain foods that you might avoid or limit.
8. Cramping in the Abdomen or Pelvis, Due to Implantation
Mild cramping in the pelvis, lower back, or abdomen commonly occurs early in pregnancy, as the embryo attaches itself to the uterus.
These cramps should feel more like discomfort than pain, the Cleveland Clinic cautions. Severe cramping or pain mostly on one side of the body could indicate an ectopic pregnancy or other complication. Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you experience cramps like this.
9. Slightly Elevated Waking Body Temperature
Fluctuations in body temperature during a woman’s cycle are extremely subtle — with resting, or basal body temperature typically rising just ½ degree F at the time of ovulation. To catch a body temperature that might indicate early pregnancy, then, you have to be taking it every day.
There is no specific temperature that indicates an early pregnancy, states the period-tracking company Clearblue. However, basal body temperature is highest during ovulation and soon starts falling if an egg is not fertilized. If your basal body temperature has risen and stays up for the next 18 days, that’s a sign you may be pregnant, the company says.
To track basal body temperature, keep a thermometer on your nightstand because this temperature must be taken every morning, ideally at the same time, before getting out of bed. Record the temperature on a paper chart or a tracking app for easy comparison with prior days.
10. Moodiness and mood swings
Sometime between weeks 6 and 10 you might notice shifts in your mood. This is common in early pregnancy, especially in the first trimester, points out Nemours Children’s Health System. Mood shifts are caused by — you guessed it! — shifting hormones, which can also alter brain chemicals that regulate mood. The fatigue and physical stresses brought on by early pregnancy likely also contribute.
Mood shifts are usually nothing to worry about, but if they drop you into a deep depression, or if you develop thoughts of self-harm, it’s crucial that you reach out to a professional, the Cleveland Clinic cautions.