Pregnancy

Determining If You're Pregnant

Are You Pregnant?

Perhaps you have some pregnancy symptoms or a late period. Maybe you've been trying to have a baby and are waiting impatiently for a positive pregnancy test. "Am I Pregnant?" is a question many women ask—and it's one that can be answered to some level of certainty by figuring out whether or not you are experiencing some simple symptoms, and whether or not certain circumstances apply to you. Of course, a positive pregnancy test is the best way to be certain of a pregnancy in its early stages.

Keep in mind, though, that everyone's body is slightly different, and some medical conditions might give you symptoms that mimic pregnancy. (An example would be that people who have hypothyroidism are also very fatigued, just like women in early pregnancy.)

Have You Had Sex? 

This may seem silly to mention, but if you aren't having sex, chances are that you are not pregnant. That said, if you have been intimate and have had semen near your vagina (even if your partner "pulled out"), that may have been enough to cause pregnancy.

If you haven't had sex, but you have been doing fertility treatments, like an intrauterine insemination (IUI), consider that sex for the purposes of this conversation.

Have You Had Your Period? 

Your period is one of the best indicators of pregnancy or no pregnancy. This is why so many of the questions about pregnancy hinge on the answer about your menstrual cycle, whether or not you had your period, and if it was normal. Still, it is not an infallible measure. 

  1. Was it on time?
    If your period was on time, you have a lower chance of being pregnant. When you miss a period, it is a good sign that you are pregnant, though there are other possibilities for why a period is late including stress, illness, or sometimes medication. An early period may indicate implantation bleeding, as opposed to your period. An early or barely late period could be a very early miscarriage, usually called a chemical pregnancy. If your period does come, but is more than a few days late, there is a chance you had a miscarriage. Your practitioner may ask you questions about the normality of your period and cycle to help determine this or do blood work to look for any pregnancy hormones. 
  1. Was it normal in length of time bleeding and flow?
    If the flow was normal or typical for what you would expect, you are less likely to be pregnant. A light flow may indicate implantation bleeding, and a heavier flow may indicate a placental problem with an early pregnancy like a subchorionic hemorrhage, or a problem like an early miscarriage or blighted ovum. If you are tracking your menstrual cycles, this will be easier to figure out. A short period may be more likely to be implantation bleeding, whereas prolonged bleeding may be a sign of a miscarriage.

Were You Using Birth Control? 

Birth control is the best way to prevent unintended pregnancy. Contraception is available in many forms, including birth control pills, condoms, diaphragms, Depo shots, IUDs, etc. Each has its own effectiveness rate, but all are more effective than doing nothing. That said, birth control is not 100 percent foolproof. 

  1. Were you using it correctly?
    This means, for example, taking a pill every day at the same time, or using a condom every time you had sex. If you weren't using birth control correctly, it greatly increases the likelihood that you could be pregnant. If you were, there is still a chance that you could be pregnant, because nothing is 100 percent effective against pregnancy (except abstaining from sex).
  1. Were there any problems with it?
    There are many things that can potentially interfere with birth control. Some medications taken (like antibiotics) can nullify the protective effects of the pill. If you have a condom slip or break, you have a greater likelihood of pregnancy. 

Are You Ovulating? 

If you are ovulating, you are more likely to get pregnant than if you have a history of difficulty ovulating. If you are tracking your cycles and ovulation, you may have a better idea of this information. If you aren't and have no reason to believe otherwise, assume you're ovulating.

You can track ovulation in a variety of manners. Some women prefer to track simply based on physical symptoms, others use their temperatures or a combination of these two methods. There are also methods that look for specific hormones in your urine to predict ovulation. These are helpful when trying to get pregnant, but not necessary for most women. 

Do You Have Pregnancy Symptoms? 

Most pregnancy symptoms don't show up until about the time that you miss your period—about two weeks after your ovulate, and for some women, about four weeks since their last period.

(This can vary woman to woman and sometimes even cycle to cycle.) There are a lot of symptoms of pregnancy, but the most common ones reported include:

Even if you do not have these symptoms (many women experience no symptoms at all), you may consider a pregnancy test if you have missed your period. Sometimes a women will not experience pregnancy symptoms until her period is two weeks late, or her symptoms may be masked by something else. 

Are You Ready to Take a Pregnancy Test? 

You may very well answer "yes" to every single question about potentially being pregnant and still not want to take a pregnancy test. It's understandable to be nervous about getting a result that you're not hoping for (be that negative or positive). The urine pregnancy tests that you can get at the local drug store are nearly identical to the one at a doctor's office, and just as accurate when used as directed. Something to consider: The sooner you know if you are pregnant or not, the sooner you can take the next steps that are right for you.

Have You Taken a Pregnancy Test?

Even if you have already taken a pregnancy test, you might still have questions about whether or not you should believe it. If the result is positive, you're most likely pregnant. The reason is that a pregnancy test is looking for a very specific hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Short of taking hCG as a medication, you would likely not have it in your body unless you were indeed pregnant. 

It is possible that you could have made a mistake taking your pregnancy test. However, the most common ways to do a pregnancy test incorrectly are to read the test wrong or take the pregnancy test too early (which would yield a negative result).

A Negative Pregnancy Test Result

If the pregnancy test yields a negative result, you have either tested too early or are not pregnant. You have a couple of options if this is the case.

You can wait and retake a pregnancy test. This is usually done only if you haven't started your period yet. Alternatively, you can ask your doctor or midwife for a blood pregnancy test, which is more sensitive than a urine-based pregnancy test.

If You Are Pregnant

Your next step is to make an appointment with your care provider. This visit will be to go over what your plans are and where you will receive prenatal care from during your pregnancy. Don't be surprised if your doctor or midwife schedules this appointment several weeks out. If you're having any problems, be sure to ask to be seen sooner. 

Sources:

Nerenz RD, Butch AW, Woldemariam GA, Yarbrough ML, Grenache DG, Gronowski AM. Clin Biochem. 2015 Nov 2. pii: S0009-9120(15)00507-X. doi: 10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2015.10.020. [Epub ahead of print] Estimating the hCGβcf in urine during pregnancy.

Till SR, Everetts D, Haas DM. Incentives for increasing prenatal care use by women in order to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Dec 15;(12):CD009916. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009916.pub2. Review.

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