Why Do I Feel Pregnant When I'm Not?

How Hormones Can Make You Think You're Pregnant

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Feeling pregnant? If you've been trying to conceive for awhile, this may be a monthly issue for you. You feel pregnant. You have all these signs and symptoms of pregnancy—fatigue, cravings, maybe even nausea. But then, when your period arrives, you realize that no, you're not pregnant this month either.

Other scenarios could be that you're having pregnancy symptoms but your pregnancy test was negative.

Or you’re spotting. Or maybe you had pregnancy symptoms, and they’ve disappeared. What does it all mean?

The experience of feeling pregnant when trying to conceive isn't uncommon. Spend any time on fertility forums or social media sites and you're bound to hear members refer to "imaginary pregnancy symptoms." Are these feelings all in your head? Maybe not.

Imaginary Pregnancy Symptoms

Imaginary pregnancy symptoms (IPS) are exactly what they sound like—symptoms women experience that make them think that they may be pregnant.

Don't expect to hear your doctor use the term IPS. It's not a technical term. The phrase was invented by the fertility-challenged as a loving way to refer to those obnoxious "symptoms" that haunt you during the two-week wait.

The time between ovulation and your expected period is when you're most likely to be anxious about whether or not this month will be the month. It's natural to assume that you may imagine some early pregnancy symptoms such as tender breasts, fatigue, bloating, emotional sensitivity, light cramping, and even food cravings.

You want to be pregnant so much that you're sure you can feel it.

Note: When we talk about imaginary pregnancy symptoms, we're not referring to the very serious psychological condition pseudocyesis, where a woman believes that she is pregnant when she isn't. This is completely different than the normal experience of feeling that you may be pregnant, even if you aren't, during the two-week wait.

Your Optimistic Body and Progesterone

What may surprise you is that these "pregnancy" feelings aren't all in your head. They're real reactions to the hormones in your body that are preparing for possible pregnancy. Our bodies are optimistic when it comes to pregnancy potential. As soon as ovulation occurs, the body starts preparing for a new life. This occurs even if conception did not take place.

One of the hormones responsible for maintaining a healthy early pregnancy is progesterone. Progesterone increases just after ovulation. One of its many roles is to support a potential embryo. If you're not pregnant, your progesterone levels will fall after 12 to 16 days after ovulation. This drop brings on your period. High levels of progesterone can make you feel tired and emotional. This hormone is also responsible for tender breasts, constipation, and fluid retention.

Progesterone levels will rise in your body whether or not you are pregnant. Also, fertility drug side effects can sometimes be mistaken for early pregnancy symptoms. This is especially true if you're taking progesterone injections or suppositories.

What About Women Who Swear They Just Knew?

We all know at least one person with a "feeling pregnant" story that came true.

They just knew that month was different. 

Maybe one particular symptom was stronger, or they were extra tired, or they were craving some food they never eat otherwise. Or they had a strange cramp or twinge. They may claim women's intuition let them know they were with child before the pregnancy test came back positive.

Here's the thing with these kinds of tales: these women are putting much more weight on the one time they felt pregnant and actually were pregnant over the dozens of times those same feelings didn't indicate pregnancy.

It's called confirmation bias. It's a nice idea that a woman can "just know" when she's pregnant.

But there's no research to back up these stories.

Research on When Women Start "Feeling Pregnant"

While you can't actually distinguish the difference between normal two-week wait symptoms and "feeling pregnant," there has been some research documenting when women (on average) start to have pregnancy symptoms.

In a small study of 136, about half of the women didn't start experiencing pregnancy symptoms until day 36 of their cycle. This is slightly after their periods would be late. By the eighth week of pregnancy, almost 90 percent of women were experiencing pregnancy symptoms.  

The key takeaway here is this: the vast majority of women in this study didn't report pregnancy symptoms until their periods were already late. A pregnancy test would have told them they are pregnant by this point.

Symptoms With a Negative Test

This is one of the most common questions on pregnancy symptoms—you’re feeling pregnant, but the test is negative. So are you or are you not pregnant?

The answer is it depends. Feeling pregnant doesn’t mean you are, but a negative pregnancy test can be wrong. A pregnancy test may be negative if

There are other rare reasons you may get a negative test but actually may be pregnant.

Symptoms With a Period

It is possible to be pregnant and get your period. This leads some women to hold onto hope that they may still be pregnant, even after Aunt Flo knocks at the door.

Odds are, if you got your period, you’re not pregnant. Feeling pregnant on your period could happen due to

  • normal hormonal fluctuations during menstruation
  • the flu or another illness
  • fatigue or queasiness for other non-pregnancy reasons

Just like feeling pregnant before your period doesn’t mean you’re pregnant, feeling pregnant on your period also doesn’t indicate you’re expecting. If your period is very different than your usual, then you may want to take a pregnancy test or call your doctor.

For example, you might consider taking a pregnancy test if your period is

  • abnormally light for you
  • more like spotting than a period
  • much shorter than it usually is

There are non-pregnancy reasons to have an off period. Anything from stress to illness can cause one irregular menstrual cycle.

Online Pregnancy Quiz Results

Online pregnancy quizzes usually ask a series of questions on pregnancy symptoms. Then, based on how many symptoms you answer yes to, they tell you how likely it is that you are pregnant.

Except an online quiz can’t verify if you’re pregnant. If you’re already obsessing over how you feel, pregnancy quizzes are one way to make two-week-wait obsession time more fun. But that's all they can do.

With that said, if an online pregnancy quiz says your pregnant, it doesn't mean anything if

  • you got your period
  • the test is negative
  • you’re not even capable of getting pregnant (you're in menopause).

Symptoms With Spotting

Pregnancy symptoms plus spotting can lead many trying-to-conceive women to worry about early miscarriage. Spotting is a possible early pregnancy symptom. It’s also possible to spot and have a healthy pregnancy. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have an early miscarriage.

Spotting that occurs about seven to ten days post ovulation is sometimes called implantation spotting. Whether it's actually caused by an embryo implanting into the uterine lining is questionable.

Spotting can also be caused by things other than pregnancy. It’s possible you’re spotting, having “pregnancy symptoms,” but not pregnant.

Not Feeling Like You're Pregnant

Here's some good news! Not experiencing pregnancy symptoms does not mean you're not pregnant. In fact, there are some lucky women out there who don't experience morning sickness and other discomforts during the first trimester of pregnancy.

Feeling sick is not a pregnancy requirement.

Pregnant and Disappearing Symptoms

Pregnancy symptoms can come and go from day to day. They can also fluctuate from hour to hour. You may feel tired and nauseated in the morning but feel pretty alright in the early afternoon.

You may also get used to some of the symptoms, or learn how to handle them better. Also, as the first trimester ends, some of the initial discomforts of pregnancy fade or disappear. Morning sickness, for example, usually ends by the 12th week.

If you have a history of miscarriage and your symptoms suddenly disappear, you may still want to contact your doctor. They may be able to run some tests to reassure you.

If symptoms disappear, and you're spotting or cramping, then you should contact your doctor. Before you panic, though, know that this can also turn out to be normal.

A Word From Verywell

If we could just feel whether we're pregnant or not, it sure would cut down the anxiety of the two-week wait! However, the symptoms of early pregnancy are practically indistinguishable from any normal premenstrual symptoms. 

While your "pregnant feelings" aren't 100 percent imagined, focusing on these "symptoms" can cause emotional distress. Remind yourself that whether you feel pregnant or not, it doesn't mean anything.

Some women are sure they are pregnant, complete with throwing up in the morning, and then find out they're not. Some women feel absolutely nothing and find out they're pregnant after all.

The only way to know if you're pregnant is to wait until your period is late and take a pregnancy test. If an at-home pregnancy test still leaves you with questions, see your doctor.

Sources:

Pregnancy Symptoms: Early Pregnancy Symptoms. American Pregnancy Association.

Progesterone. National Women's Health Source. http://www.healthywomen.org/healthtopics/progesterone

Sayle AE1, Wilcox AJ, Weinberg CR, Baird DD. “A prospective study of the onset of symptoms of pregnancy.” J Clin Epidemiol. 2002 Jul;55(7):676-80.

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