13 Early Signs Of Pregnancy That May Show Up Before You Can Take A Pregnancy Test

·7 min read
Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images
Photo credit: PeopleImages - Getty Images

If you’ve ever tried to conceive, you know it can be an exciting and sometimes agonizing process. After all, you have to wait an entire cycle to see if all that hard work actually paid off. If it didn’t, you’re back to starting over again—and that can make you even less patient with time.

Given that it’s really, really tough to wait to find out if you’re pregnant, you probably want to know upfront about the early signs of pregnancy—which is totally fair. This is a life-altering moment we’re talking about here.

Just know this: “The most reliable early sign of pregnancy is a positive pregnancy test,” says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Many potential symptoms of early pregnancy can be the result of a lot of other conditions, or can even be brought on by your period coming, making them less reliable than, say, actually missing your period, she points out.

Also, every woman—and every pregnancy—is different, Dr. Greves says. So, while your BFF might swear that her breasts immediately swelled the second she got pregnant, you probably won’t have the same experience.

All of that said, there are a few potential tip-offs that you could be expecting that don’t involve you needing to take a pregnancy test. (Although you should definitely do that to confirm the situation when it’s time.) Before that, keep this early pregnancy information in mind.

How early do pregnancy symptoms start?

Again, a missed period is really the biggest tip-off that you might be pregnant. Still, you can get other symptoms earlier than that, and before you can even take a pregnancy test to confirm the big news. It’s all due to—yep—hormones.

“Human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG, is the hormone tested by a pregnancy test, and which contributes to the secretion of progesterone, the main hormone responsible for most pregnancy symptoms,” explains Jonathan Schaffir, MD, an ob-gyn at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. HCG starts entering your bloodstream about seven to 10 days after you conceive, but it “doesn't reach levels that would show up on a pregnancy test until a couple of days before a period would be missed,” he says.

Still, the levels of HCG are pretty low at this point, although not so low that a test won’t pick it up. “The tests are very sensitive,” Dr. Greves says. At the same time, Dr. Schaffir says, it’s unlikely that you’d have extreme symptoms. But some women are more sensitive to changes in their bodies than others, or may experience certain symptoms like implantation bleeding or cramps five to six days after they become pregnant, says women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD.

What are the symptoms of early pregnancy?

These symptoms aren’t necessarily a guarantee of pregnancy—taking a test is really the only way to confirm that—but they could be a sign that you’re expecting. Keep your eye out for these early pregnancy symptoms:

  • Increased urination. If you're pretty aware of how often you pee, you might notice that you’re hitting the toilet a little more often than usual. “Pregnancy hormonal changes can cause the kidneys to expand and churn out more urine, which helps the body rid itself of waste more rapidly,” Dr. Wider says.

  • Fatigue. This is a tricky one, Dr. Greves says, given that you can feel tired from so many things, including being about to get your period. But, if you are pregnant, you can feel a little fatigued from high levels of the hormone progesterone and an increase of blood production in your body, Dr. Wider says.

  • Tender, swollen breasts and nipples. When you’re pregnant, increasing levels of progesterone can make your breast glands expand (so that you can breastfeed down the road), Dr. Schaffir explains. So, you might feel a little soreness or notice swelling early on.

  • Nausea with or without vomiting. Not everyone experiences nausea and/or vomiting with pregnancy. If you’re going to have them, it’s more likely that the symptoms will be more noticeable after your missed period due to increased levels of pregnancy hormones. “Nausea is thought to be a direct result of the HCG hormone, which peaks at eight to 10 weeks from the last menstrual period before declining,” Dr. Schaffir says. Still, you might notice you feel a little queasy before that. “Some women are more vulnerable to that than others,” Dr. Wider says.

  • Constipation. Pooping less than usual? You could be pregnant. “Progesterone relaxes the smooth muscle of your gut, slowing down transit time for food,” Dr. Greves says. As a result, you may feel a little stopped up.

  • Headache. This isn’t overly common and it’s a tough one to figure out given that—hello—you can get a headache for a ton of different reasons. When it comes to pregnancy, a headache can be “caused by a combination of a rise in hormones and an increase in blood volume,” Dr. Wider says.

  • Raised basal body temperature. This is due to a rise in progesterone levels, which stay high if your egg is fertilized, Dr. Wider says. You won’t necessarily feel any different, but you may notice a slightly increased temp if you’ve been tracking it.

  • Bloating or gas. This goes back to progesterone slowing down your GI tract: It can also cause you to feel gassy and bloated, Dr. Schaffir says.

  • Mild pelvic cramping. This can happen after the egg attaches to your uterine wall, Dr. Wider says, although not everyone may notice or feel this. “Sometimes it feels like menstrual cramps, making some women think that their period is on its way,” she says.

  • Spotting. Some women may notice a small amount of implantation bleeding (i.e. when the egg attaches to your uterine wall and causes some spotting), Dr. Schaffir says. This isn’t a lot of blood, though—it's only a small amount—different from your period.

  • Food aversions. Suddenly don’t want your go-to breakfast? It could be a sign of pregnancy, and it’s usually linked to rising HCG levels, Dr. Schaffir says. It doesn’t last forever, though. “It usually improves at the end of the first trimester,” he says.

  • Mood swings. Not everyone experiences these, but you may feel a little moody or emotional if you’re sensitive to the effects of progesterone on your brain receptors, Dr. Schaffir says.

  • Nasal congestion. Your blood supply starts to increase during pregnancy, and that can trigger swelling in your nasal passages, Dr. Wider says. It’s unlikely to be major, but you may notice you’re a little congested, she says.

How soon can you take a pregnancy test to know for sure if you're pregnant?

Again, at-home pregnancy tests look for the presence of HCG in your body, and this hormone can usually be detected in your pee 11 to 14 days after you conceive, Dr. Schaffir says.

While plenty of pregnancy tests promise they can give results several days before your missed period, they’re not as reliable at that point. “Many tests are designed to give the best result after a woman's period is late,” Dr. Wider says.

Basically, if you can wait to test until you miss your period, you’ll get the most accurate results.

The bottom line: There are several symptoms of early pregnancy you can be on the lookout for, but the best way to know for sure if you're pregnant is to wait until your period is late to take a test.

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