Why Do I Feel Pregnant When I'm Not?

How Hormones Can Make You Think You're Pregnant

Couple sharing cake, the woman craving cake and feeling pregnant
When a woman says she is feeling pregnant, she may mean she's tired, craving sweets, or feeling nauseated. But feeling pregnant doesn't guarantee that you are pregnant. Ashley Gill / Getty Images

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 discover that nope... not pregnant this month either. 

The experience of feeling pregnant when trying to conceive isn't uncommon. Spend any time on fertility forums or on 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.

Much like an oasis in the desert, you want to be pregnant so much that you're sure you can feel it.

Your Optimistic Body and Progesterone

What may surprise you is that these 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 drop 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.

Fatigue, moodiness, tender breasts... sound like early pregnancy symptoms, right?

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.

But 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. (They say...) 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 truly distinguish the difference between regular 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 take away 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.

The Bottom Line on Feeling Pregnant

If we could just feel whether we're pregnant or not, it sure would cut down the anxiety of the two-week wait!

The symptoms of early pregnancy, though, are practically indistinguishable from any normal two-week wait symptoms.

While your "pregnant feelings" aren't 100% imagined, you can feel worse the more you focus on the feelings.

It may help to 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.

Note: When I talk about imaginary pregnancy symptoms, I'm not referring to the very serious psychological condition pseudocyesis, a psychological condition where a woman really 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.


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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