Early Pregnancy Symptoms and Signs (Am I Pregnant?)
As soon as you have conceived, your body starts preparing you for pregnancy. These things usually happen without you noticing as they are happening well within your body: your uterus is starting to enlarge and soften and your cervix is changing texture. Some women instinctively know when they are pregnant but for other women the early pregnancy symptoms might not be so obvious.
Missing your period
Missing your period is the first sign that most women use to determine that they are pregnant. Be mindful that there are other reasons for a missed period, such as stress, illness, extreme weight loss or weight gain, coming off the oral contraceptive pill or having irregular periods. Once you have missed a period, a positive pregnancy test will also confirm your pregnancy at this point; this is due to the hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG) being produced by the forming placenta. HCG passes into your bloodstream and urine from the day of your first missed period (around two weeks after conception - week four or five of your pregnancy). A home pregnancy test, used correctly, will be able to tell you if this is present in your urine.
Other even earlier symptoms of pregnancy can include:
- Morning sickness/ nausea and vomiting
- Tiredness - breast swelling/tenderness
- Frequent urination
- Changes to taste and smell
- Mood swings
Morning sickness / nausea and vomiting
This is probably the most common early symptom of pregnancy due to your body starting to produce a lot of progesterone. Most women experience this at around 5 to 6 weeks pregnant (two weeks after their missed period). Morning sickness can happen at any time of the day and can vary in severity from pregnancy to pregnancy. These symptoms should have eased or disappeared between weeks 14 and 16 of your pregnancy. If you begin to suffer from severe morning sickness and you can't keep food or water down, you need to contact your midwife or doctor immediately. You could be suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum and you may need to be hospitalised and rehydrated with an intravenous drip. This condition is rare, affecting 1 in 200 women.
Many women feel extremely tired when they first become pregnant, especially at the beginning of pregnancy or if you have other children to care for. This is perfectly normal and can happen at any time of the day. You may even want to nap mid-afternoon or early evening, so rest when you can. Your energy levels should increase around the beginning of the second trimester. You may also feel tired due to iron levels, if you continue to feel extremely tired, talk to your midwife or doctor. Blood tests for anaemia are carried out routinely at the beginning of your pregnancy and should you be anaemic you will be treated accordingly.
Breast swelling / tenderness
A change in the size and feel of your breasts is one of the earliest symptoms of pregnancy due to your body getting ready for breast feeding. Your breasts will begin to enlarge and you will probably feel them getting sore and heavy. Some women also experience very sensitive breasts at the beginning of their pregnancy too. This symptom should ease as your pregnancy progresses. Breast changes may not be as noticeable with further pregnancies.
Due to the pressure of your growing uterus pressing on your bladder you will, from as early as week five or six of your pregnancy, begin to find yourself wanting to visit the toilet more. This usually lasts until you are around 14 weeks pregnant when your uterus rises up into your abdomen. The need to urinate frequently will return towards the end of your pregnancy as your baby's head starts to engage. During pregnancy you are also producing more progesterone; this stimulates the bladder into thinking that it's full when it's not so you will feel the need to urinate even if you aren't full.
Change to taste and smell
Pregnancy can cause you to start feeling nauseous about certain foods or smells. Pregnancy can also make you crave certain foods as well. Sometimes women can suffer from a rare condition known as 'pica'. This is where you have an impulse to eat non-food matters such as clay, ice, coal, chalk, toothpaste or burnt matches. If you are worried about any of your cravings speak to your midwife or a health professional and they will reassure or advise you as necessary.
Increased levels of hormones associated with pregnancy can also make you feel all over the place emotionally, especially at the beginning of your pregnancy. This should ease as your body gets used to the hormones and the pregnancy.
Constipation is another early pregnancy symptom that can be caused by high levels of progesterone which relaxes the bowel and slows down your digestive system. Taking iron supplements can sometime make this worse. Your discomfort can be eased by drinking plenty of fluid and eating high-fibre foods. If you are worried about this, contact your midwife or a health professional.
It is possible to have none, one or two of these, or all of them, it is down to you and your pregnancy and all pregnancies are different. If you are worried about any symptoms that you are experiencing, whether you are pregnant or not, speak to a health professional who will reassure or advise you as necessary.
When to take a pregnancy test?
If you have any of these early pregnancy symptoms, have missed a period and/or you think that you are pregnant, take a home pregnancy test. Used correctly they are 98 - 99% accurate. If you get a positive result make sure you contact your GP as soon as possible to make an appointment for a professional medical follow up. Due to the reliability of home pregnancy tests, don't be surprised if your doctor relies on yours for proof of your pregnancy. If you get a negative result on your pregnancy test and are still getting early pregnancy symptoms, wait a few days and try again as your levels of HCG will be higher at this point if you are pregnant.