Written by Tara Carnegie
Before you take your first pregnancy test, you might be one of the women who notices small and early changes in their body that suggest they might be pregnant. But what are those early pregnancy signs and symptoms? When should you expect them, and how common and reliable are they for indicating you might be pregnant? We pulled together 10 of the most common early signs of pregnancy, and read the science to see if they are real or old wives tales
It's important to realize that not all women have early signs of pregnancy, that the signs may be experienced different for each woman, that some of the signs are completely unreliable, and some of them might be easily confused with something else. We've done our best to explain all of those details, but if you have more questions you should definitely contact your OB-GYN!
Here are the Early Signs of Pregnancy!
1. Bigger and Darker Nipples and Areolas.
Is the skin around your nipples getting darker or larger and puffier? According to our research, this is one of the first and most common signs of early pregnancy. This can happen as early as a week after conception, and here are the specifics. The dark area around your nipple is called the areola (pronounced Air-Ee-O-la). When you conceive a baby, your body will experience a sudden surge of a hormone called hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). This is why pregnancy tests designed to detect hCG tend to be very effective. Your breasts are one of the first noticeable targets of hCG. Your areolas will likely get a bit larger and darker, which is totally normal. You might also see little bumps forming around your areolas, which are also completely normal. Another thing you might notice is that veins might become more visible on your boobs, making a web of little blue or purple veins as your breasts make room for increased blood flow during pregnancy. All of these early pregnancy signs are completely normal, harmless, and painless. But they might be the critical sign that you're really pregnant, especially if you have one or more of the other early symptoms. As you continue through your pregnancy, your areolas might get even darker and larger, making them a large visible target for your breastfeeding baby!
2. Breast Soreness and Tenderness.
Do your breasts feel swollen or tender? This is one of the most common early pregnancy symptoms among expecting moms, and it just might mean that you're pregnant. Of course, many women report breast soreness during ovulation, about a week before their period. But that soreness is part of PMS and tends to go away quickly, maybe after a day or two. If you're pregnant, it is likely that your sore boobs will not only stick around, but may even get a little worse over the course of the next several weeks. That's because early pregnancy is associated with increases of pregnancy-related hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone. When these hormones increase, the blood flow to your boobs also increases, leaving your boobs a bit larger, firmer, and sore and tender to the touch. If you are actually pregnant, these hormones will continue to increase through the first trimester and your breasts will become increasingly sore and tender. This means your body is preparing to breastfeed your baby! To help reduce breast soreness, we have a few suggestions. First, make sure you are wearing a well-fitting, supportive, and softly padded bra. Second, use cold or warm compresses, such as a washcloth or cold/hot pack from your local drugstore, to reduce the swelling and pain. Cold can help reduce inflammation, while warm can help reduce the pain and tenderness.
3. Spotting and Implantation Bleeding.
Are you having a little bit of spotting about a week or two after having unprotected sex? This might be a sign of something called implantation bleeding, which can happen with a little fertilized egg successfully implants itself into the wall of your uterus. As it implants itself into the lining of the uterus, it can cause the uterus to bleed a bit. Since implantation is the first step of conception, this is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. But not all moms-to-be experience implantation bleeding (most of them, about 75%, don't experience it at all), and when they do it might be so temporary that she doesn't even notice. So it's definitely not the most common or reliable sign of early pregnancy. Also, many women mistake implantation spotting as just an early sign of their period, and then only realize what it was after the fact. If you get some spotting within a week or two of when you think you might have conceived, and it doesn't turn into your period, then you might be pregnant. Note that if you are bleeding and in a lot of pain, or if you are spotting or bleeding after finding out you are pregnant, visit your doctor immediately.
One of the tricks when you are trying to conceive is to chart your basal body temperature. Every morning when you wake up, you check your temperature with a thermometer and write it down. You will notice a pattern that when you ovulate your basal body temperature will increase and peak during ovulation, then it will decrease slowly until your period starts. But if you're pregnant, your body temperature will not decrease after ovulation - instead, it is likely to stay at a higher temperature. That's because when you're pregnant certain hormones, such as estrogen and progesterone, will increase and cause your body temperature to increase. We are talking about a very small increase, usually around half a degree F. But if you're charting that will be pretty noticeable; the chart to the right was borrowed from Ready to Groove, a great resource for charting. So if you've been charting your basal body temperature for at least a couple months, then you'll be one of the first moms to know when you're pregnant. And it's a very reliable and common pattern, so if you haven't been charting you might consider starting now! The only reason this sign is down lower on our list is that you need to have been charting to notice it, and most moms-to-be don't chart their basal body temperature unless they've had some difficulty conceiving in the past. Of course, note that if you have a high temperature above 99 degrees F, definitely contact your doctor as you might have an illness that needs attention.
5. Period-like Cramps.
Do you have some mild cramping? Not quite as strong as when you're getting your period, but a dull aching cramp? That might be an early sign of pregnancy. Once the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of your uterus, there will be increased blood flow to your uterus that can cause some mild cramping during early pregnancy. This can be very difficult to distinguish from normal PMS cramps leading up to your period, even though they are caused by very different things. If you're having mild early pregnancy cramping, then the cramps should be centered above your pubic bone and not concentrated on one side. That's pretty normal in early pregnancy, but not super common and also easily confused with the cramps that come before your period. So this isn't a sure sign that you're pregnant, and most women don't experience any cramping during early pregnancy at all. If you think you might be pregnant, you should avoid taking any medications for the cramps. Instead, consider some of the more natural cramp treatments, such as a warm compress resting above your pubic bone. If you're experiencing severe cramps, or your cramps have lasted for more than a couple days, definitely contact your doctor.
6. Sleepiness and Fatigue.
Feeling tired all the time? This is not only a challenging thing to deal with as a woman, but also one of the more ambiguous signs of early pregnancy. There are tons of different things that can make you feel a little sleepier than usual, such as an upcoming period, staying up late trying to conceive a baby (!), and the stress related to trying to conceive. But if all of those things don't typically make you feel fatigued, and suddenly you're feeling more tired than usual, it could be an early sign of pregnancy. When you get pregnant, your hormones will kick your body into overdrive, sending more blood and fuel to your baby. All of that is great for your growing baby, but when you combine that with the lower blood sugar and blood pressure that are common during pregnancy, you can get hit pretty hard with total exhaustion. This isn't the best early sign of pregnancy because not all moms-to-be experience it, but also it can take a month or two after conception to develop. And when it does, don't be surprised - it's completely normal and will likely subside by the second trimester when you'll get a little boost of energy.
7. Peeing all the Time.
Feeling like you constantly need to pee, even though you haven't really had a ton to drink? That could be those pesky pregnancy hormones at work again! Remember that hCH hormone that is associated with the changes in your body temperature? It's also linked with having a frequent urge to urinate during early pregnancy. Of course, during later pregnancy this will happen too, but for a different reason (namely, the weight of your baby pushing on your bladder!). While all pregnant women will show a surge in hCH, not all of them will feel a frequent need to urinate. But if you're one of the (un)lucky ones, rest assured that it's a natural sign of early pregnancy and nothing to worry about. And unfortunately there's nothing you can really do about it either - you need to stay hydrated during pregnancy, so don't try to restrict your fluid intake to reduce peeing. Since this is not very common symptom of early pregnancy (only about 30% of first trimester pregnancies seem to report it), it's lower down on our list. But if you are experiencing this sign along with some of the others, especially the darkening areolas and higher basal body temperature, that's a pretty good sign that you might be pregnant!
8. Nausea and/or Bloating.
Is your tummy feeling a bit off? Do you feel some bloating like you're expecting your period, or some unusual nausea? Bloating and nausea can again be linked back to pregnancy hormones, specifically hCG and progesterone. The progestrone can really mess with your stomach, making it slower to digest food and causing you to feel fuller and more bloated for longer. You might also feel a little constipated because of it. To help with the bloating, try to eat smaller meals more often, and avoid foods that are high in fats and sugars. Try some high fiber foods, but avoid things that can cause gas, like beans, cabbage, and seltzer water. Bloating can happen pretty early on in a pregnancy, as early as 3-4 weeks but usually around 6 weeks or so. Same goes for nausea, which can be in the form of morning sickness or general nausea throughout the day and night. Morning sickness and nausea usually only last for the first trimester, but can start as early as a few weeks after conception. To help with the nausea, we have similar advice as with the bloating: eat smaller meals more often, try to avoid high fat and sugary foods, and maybe try drinking ginger tea. If you find that your bloating or nausea is so bad that you can't keep food down or are losing weight, definitely contact your doctor. Bloating and nausea are pretty common signs of pregnancy, but they are most commonly reported after about 6 weeks or so, and though the first trimester. So not a great early sign, but definitely a common symptom when you're further along.
9. Sensory Effects of Pregnancy.
Does it seem like you are more sensitive to smells? Are some smells making you super hungry or interested, and others making you want to vomit? Do you feel like you have a strange smell in your nose all the time, or a strange taste in your mouth all the time? Are some foods and their smells just too much to stand, while others are suddenly so appealing that you're craving them all the time? These are some common signs of pregnancy, and are thought to be caused by pregnancy hormones over-stimulating the sensory areas of your brain. Some moms-to-be think that aversions and cravings are the body's natural way of telling them that they need to avoid or seek out certain things for their health and well-being. We want to point out that there is no strong scientific evidence of that! But these heightened sensory effects of pregnancy tend to come along around 5-6 weeks after conception, so they are not the best early signs of pregnancy. Though some pregnant women report experiencing a heightened sense of smell, or food cravings and aversions, after only about 3-4 weeks post-conception. So these are reasonably common (most women experience one or more of them during pregnancy), but they may not come early at all, and if they do come they might be mild or short-lasting. And that's why we've put them lower down on this list.
10. Missed Period.
We saved the most obvious one for last. Did you miss your period? Is that a very unusual thing for you? While some women miss their period due to changes in diet or exercise, or they simply have irregular period schedules, most women have normal periods that are highly predictable. If you are one of those women, and you have missed your period, you may very well be pregnant! If the time has passed when you usually get your period, then it could be the case that the fertilized egg has implanted itself into your uterus wall, preventing the egg from being broken down and flushed out with your period. And if you get a little bit of spotting one day, and your period never arrives, then it's even more likely that you might be pregnant! If you have missed your period and think you might be pregnant, then this is the time to take a pregnancy test. Tests that detect hCG should be able to provide you with a pretty definitive answer at this point! IF you missed your period but do not seem to be pregnant, call your doctor.