What Are the Early Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy?

Girl holding a pregnancy test
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Typically, pregnancy symptoms begin in line with when hormones ramp up and get to levels that start to produce symptoms. In some cases, this may mean that you experience symptoms before your missed period.

What signs and symptoms can you look for early on? It may be confusing, as some symptoms, like headache and bloating, are those you may experience when you're not pregnant. Also, if this isn't your first pregnancy, your symptoms may vary from those you experienced last time.

The only way to confirm pregnancy is through a test, but there are some common signs to look for.

Does Everyone Have Pregnancy Symptoms?

The truth is that not everyone will experience pregnancy symptoms as expected. Some women experience none at all while other have temporary ones. The vast majority of people who do not have pregnancy symptoms still have a perfectly healthy pregnancy. If your lack of symptoms worries you, be sure to ask your health care provider if you're doing okay and what you can expect.

You should also bring any and all questions you have to your next prenatal visit. Don't panic if you wonder if every little twinge is something wrong—that's normal. Your doctor will be able to analyze what's going on, reassure that everything is OK, and find solutions if anything is off.

Most Common Pregnancy Symptoms

Missed or Strange Period

A missed period is probably one of the most reliable signs of pregnancy (but pregnancy isn't always the reason for a missed period).

This is why you are asked for the first day of your last normal period (LMP).

Although some women will experience implantation bleeding around the time that their period is due, it is usually lighter and/or shorter than their normal period. Although rare, a few women may continue to cycle throughout their pregnancy.

It may be harder to note a missed or strange period if you experience irregular cycles. In this case, a pregnancy test followed by a pelvic exam may be necessary. If your doctor rules out pregnancy as the cause for your missed period, he or she will take next steps to rule out other culprits.

Increased Basal Body Temperature

This is your temperature as soon as you wake up. It's also a result of hormones. Using this is agood indicator that a woman is pregnant if she continuously tracked her temperature prior to becoming pregnant, for fertility purposes. If this is you, you'll notice that your  temperature does not fall back down to or below the cover line temperatures. Elevated BBT can be a first indication of pregnancy, even before your pregnancy test result is positive.

Morning Sickness

About half of pregnant women will experience morning sickness. Any variation of sickness is applicable. Some women are sick only at night, some are sick all day, and for other women feeling ill comes and goes with its own pattern. Vomiting may or may not be present.

The ill feeling occurs with the rapid rise of estrogen, which is produced by the fetus and placenta. Since a woman's sense of smell also becomes tuned, odors from foods, fragrances, and smoke can trigger morning sickness.

Most woman begin to experience this between four and eight weeks of pregnancy, but it can occur as early as two weeks after conception.

Some women may have a severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum. This can lead to dehydration and other problems. Your doctor can help you find solutions.

Breast Soreness

This is usually one of the first physical signs of pregnancy and goes away during the second trimester. Once again, hormones cause this symptom. As the breasts prepare for breastfeeding, estrogen and progesterone rise and cause the tenderness.

Frequent Urination

Are you going to the bathroom more than usual?

 Frequent urination is also a pregnancy symptom. It's common fairly early on—the first trimester, and then the third trimester, are when you'll experience it most because of the growing uterus. There isn't a lot that you can do about this pregnancy symptom except to know where all the bathrooms are! Be sure to stay hydrated.

Fatigue or Feeling Dizzy

Not being able to keep your eyes open or needing a nap is a pregnancy symptom. Fatigue sets in very early for some women, as their bodies undergo multiple changes in preparation for carrying a baby. Additionally, extra progesterone, which is a central nervous system depressant, contributes to the sleepiness. If you find that you are really sleepy, try learning to power nap to get through the day.

Expanding blood volume and blood vessels may cause vertigo, but this is usually only in the first trimester.

Cramping

Cramping is not something you might think of as an early pregnancy symptom, but rather as a sign of your impending period. Some women experience early cramping in the uterus as it begins to stretch and changes occur. Anything severe should be reported to your practitioner immediately. The same is true if the cramping is accompanied by bleeding.

Acne

Are you breaking out like you're a teenager all over again? An increase in acne and other skin changes can also be a pregnancy symptom. Be careful what medications you use—some medications like Accutane and those high in vitamin A can cause birth defects. Talk to your practitioner about how to help battle bad skin in pregnancy.

Headaches

Headaches are more common in pregnancy due to changes in hormones. This may be a pregnancy symptom, but it is not necessarily a pregnancy sign. There are many things that could cause the headaches, including stress.

This symptom can occur at any point in pregnancy but is most common during the first trimester. If the pain is too much to handle, talk to your doctor about appropriate medications. Not all may be safe for your baby.

Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge, without itching or burning, may be a sign of pregnancy and can occur in the very beginning. The cervix is building a mucous plug to block the opening of the cervix to help protect your baby from infections. You might notice a slight increase in vaginal secretions. Again, it shouldn't smell, burn, or itch. These would be signs of infection that would require proper medical treatment.

Cravings

Strange pregnancy cravings are something you hear a lot about. In reality, you may have cravings or aversions to certain foods, particularly stronger smelling or unhealthier ones, early on and throughout your pregnancy.

Bloating and an Enlarging Belly

Early pregnancy is not when pregnant women begin to show, but some women report an enlarging belly as a pregnancy symptom. This is typically from bloating as opposed to the baby. Weight gain in the first trimester is generally not very big—usually only a pound or two. In fact, some women lose weight from a combination of not feeling well, food aversions, and potentially a better diet as you make lifestyle changes.

Mood Swings

Once again, hormones are to blame for varying feelings and moods. Don't be surprised or upset if you're suddenly bursting into tears or experiencing intense emotions.

Constipation

Progesterone in the body impacts multiple processes, including food digestion. Increased levels of this hormone cause slower digestion.

If you experience this symptom after you've confirmed your pregnancy, exercise and increased fiber can help. Note that once you begin to take prenatal vitamins, the iron in them can exacerbate the constipation, so do your best to find one that works well for you.

    Confusing Pregnancy Symptoms and PMS

    Many people confuse the symptoms of pregnancy with PMS, or it is even more likely that the changes are so slight that you completely miss them. Feeling a bit bloated? That's easy to pass off as normal since many women experience this around the time of their period. The same goes for things like a backache and cramping.

    The only way to confirm your pregnancy is to take a pregnancy test or make an appointment with your doctor. Doing this will also alleviate any worries you have. If you are pregnant, know that most of these symptoms are normal. They're mainly an issue when they are so severe that they interfere with daily life or health or if you have pregnancy symptoms that completely disappear, seemingly overnight.

    When to Take a Pregnancy Test

    If you suspect that you're pregnant, take a pregnancy test. These tests measure the levels of hCG (a hormone secreted when you're pregnant) in your urine. The amount of hormone each test can detect varies widely. The amount of hormone each woman secret may also vary, but not as widely.

    The better tests on the market will measure 25 to 50 mIUs of hCG, which is usually the amount found in urine between the fourth and fifth weeks of gestation. The levels of hCG in your urine and blood will be different.

    First-morning urine will always contain the highest concentration of hCG. However, most tests do not require that you use first-morning urine. You can help better your chances of having enough hCG in your urine by waiting four hours after you last urinated to take the test. This will allow hCG to build up.

    A negative result that is later revealed to be wrong is usually because the test was performed too early. A false positive, on the other hand, may indicate a very early miscarriage. Talk to your practitioner if you have questions about your pregnancy tests and consider calling the toll-free number provided by the test manufacturer.

    Blood tests are the most accurate and can be performed seven to ten days post-ovulation. They may also be used to help predict the health of a pregnancy at various points. You'll need to visit your doctor to get one.

    When to Call the Doctor or Midwife

    If you have questions, it's important that you call your doctor or midwife. Even if you don't have an appointment they can address your concerns and make sure everything is OK. They understand that you have a lot of questions and they are willing to give you the answers, but you have to call! Many practitioners have someone available who just answers patients' questions all day long.

    Sometimes answers lead to more questions. If it is appropriate to ask clarifying questions—do not feel like you are taking up too much of your doctor's time. They are there to help.

    A Word From Verywell

    Remember, pregnancy symptoms can start very early in pregnancy, but some take a while to develop. It can also be perfectly normal not to feel anything. If you think you might be pregnant, take a pregnancy test. If you're pregnant, or unsure of your results, check in with your doctor or midwife.

    Sources:

    Avoiding Inappropriate Clinical Decisions Based on False-Positive Human Chorionic Gonadotropin Test Results. Number 278, November 2002 (Reaffirmed 2013). Committee on Gynecologic Practice. 

    Er TK1, Chiang CH, Cheng BH, Hong FJ, Lee CP, Ginés MA. “False-positive urine pregnancy test in a woman with adenomysosis.” Am J Emerg Med. 2009 Oct;27(8):1019.e5-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2008.12.023. Epub 2009 Sep 22. 

    Johnson S, Cushion M, Bond S, Godbert S, Pike J. Comparison of analytical sensitivity and women's interpretation of home pregnancy tests. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2015 Feb;53(3):391-402. doi: 10.1515/cclm-2014-0643.

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