The Signs and Symptoms of Early Pregnancy

Am I Pregnant?

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"Am I pregnant?" is probably the most common health question women ask. It can be confusing as every pregnancy is different – meaning, you may not have the same symptoms from one pregnancy to another. For example, during one pregnancy, you may experience incredible breast pain or nausea and vomiting, while during another pregnancy, you might not experience these symptoms at all. That said, there are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate pregnancy.

Pregnancy Signs and Symptoms

  • Swollen, tender, or sore breasts and/ or nipples - Often, this is the first physical sign of pregnancy. In fact, some women know when they are pregnant based on this sign alone. The reason breasts and/ or nipples are often sore, swollen, or tender during early pregnancy is because the breasts are undergoing changes to prepare for breastfeeding.

    Breast tenderness and pain during early pregnancy is caused by the increased production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occurs during pregnancy. Breasts and/ or nipples are often particularly painful during your first pregnancy; however, some women experience this symptom during subsequent pregnancies as well. If you experience breast pain when you are not pregnant, it's often caused by benign fibrocystic breast disease.

  • Fatigue or unusual tiredness - Do you feel like you could close your eyes and sleep at any time of day? Early pregnancy is a time when a woman's body is working very hard to keep up with the changes that occur. This means increased hormone production, as well as the fact that the heart is pumping harder and faster due to the escalation of blood flow, which is necessary to bring nutrients to the growing fetus. Increased progesterone production is the primary reason for the extra fatigue most pregnant women experience early in their pregnancy. Progesterone, a natural central nervous system depressant known to cause sleepiness, is the reason this occurs.
  • Late period - The most common reason for missing your period is pregnancy, and this is often the first sign that makes women suspect pregnancy. Only a pregnancy test followed by a pelvic exam can tell you positively whether you are pregnant. Once your health care provider rules out pregnancy as the cause of your late or missed periods, the next step is usually to rule in or out several other possible explanations for absence of menstruation, or amenorrhea.
  • Light bleeding and/or cramping - The most common reason for light bleeding during early pregnancy is implantation. Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine lining and usually occurs about 10 to 14 days after conception. Bleeding caused by implantation is very light; often, the only sign you might notice that indicates implantation has occurred is a small (can be as small as a pinhead) spot of blood on your underwear.

    Cramping that is similar to menstrual cramps occurs very early during pregnancy and happens when the uterus begins to expand to make room for the embryo to develop into a fetus.

  • Morning sickness - Nausea during pregnancy can occur with or without vomiting. While morning sickness is most common between weeks four and eight of pregnancy, many women experience this symptom beginning about two weeks from their date of conception.

    Morning sickness is a misnomer since it can, and often does, occur at any time of the day or night. The most common reason for this symptom seems to be the rapid rise in estrogen, produced by the fetus and placenta. Another trigger for nausea is odors. During pregnancy, a woman's sense of smell increases considerably and can make almost anything from everyday household odors, foods, perfume, and smoke, to name a few, trigger a bout of morning sickness or nausea and vomiting.

    The most common foods to trigger morning sickness are coffee, meat, dairy products, and spicy foods. However, it's essential to understand that anything can trigger nausea and/ or vomiting during pregnancy.

  • Running to the bathroom - During the first trimester of pregnancy, it's easy to believe you might have to move into your bathroom since it seems you are constantly running to make to the bathroom. The growing uterus causes frequent urination during pregnancy. The first and third trimesters of pregnancy are typically when the most intense frequent urination happens.

While the signs and symptoms of early pregnancy listed above are the most common, other symptoms can and often do occur in pregnancy. Many times these symptoms are over-looked or simply not seen as common pregnancy symptoms, but if you ask pregnant women, many of them will remember that they too experienced these symptoms and simply did not put two and two together. These other early pregnancy symptoms can include:

  • Headaches - Headaches that occur during pregnancy are often intense and caused by increased hormone levels. This can be particularly painful in early pregnancy, but tend to dissipate by the second trimester. You will want to talk to your doctor or midwife about what you can to for pain relief for headaches during pregnancy. Certain pain medications are to be avoided throughout pregnancy, and some should be avoided during the first and third trimesters.
  • Mood swings - Don't think you're crazy if you suddenly develop atypical mood swings or if you are unusually emotional during pregnancy. Many times, pregnant women burst into tears for reasons that are unclear to anyone, including the pregnant woman. This is another symptom caused by increased hormone levels.
  • Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy - This symptom can be caused by the circulatory system as dilation of the blood vessels occur and the blood volume expands. Low blood sugar early on can also trigger these symptoms of feeling weak in pregnancy or of being dizzy. Many women who experience these changes notice that they cease or become much less of a problem after the first trimester.
    • Increased basal body temperature or BBT- Your basal body temperature is your temperature immediately upon rising in the morning. A person’s BBT normally increases during ovulation and decreases when menstruation occurs. However, when a pregnancy takes place, the increased basal body temperature continues as a result of the hormones. Using the BBT is a good indicator of pregnancy for women who have used it to track their cycles prior to becoming pregnant, either to prevent pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant. They will notice that their temperature does not fall back down to or below the cover line temperatures. This can be the first indication of pregnancy, even before a pregnancy test would be positive.
    • Constipation - Food digests slower than usual during pregnancy due to increased progesterone production. Slower digestion sometimes causes constipation during pregnancy. This is something that can easily be remedied with exercise and by increasing fiber in your diet. Another cause of constipation in pregnancy can be the added iron in your prenatal vitamins. If your prenatal vitamin may be the culprit, be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife to see about finding a supplement that can help you get the vitamins and minerals you need in a way that does not slow your digestive tract.

    If I have one or more of these symptoms, does that mean I'm pregnant?

    Just because you have one, many or even all of these symptoms, does not necessarily mean that you are pregnant. Many of these pregnancy symptoms are common to several different medical conditions, and could mean that you are sick or that menstruation is about to begin

    Another point to remember is that while these symptoms are common during pregnancy, sometimes none of these symptoms occur. It can be perfectly healthy to experience no symptoms of pregnancy. Every woman is different, as is every pregnancy. What you felt one pregnancy may be totally different in future pregnancies.

    If you experience the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, you may want to buy a home pregnancy test and see your doctor or midwife – either to begin prenatal care and confirm your pregnancy, or to determine the cause of your symptoms if you are not pregnant.

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