Those colored lines on home tests aren't the only signs of early pregnancy. Many women start noticing changes in their bodies very soon after they conceive. If pregnancy is a possibility for you, you should watch out for the early symptoms. The sooner you realize you might be pregnant, the sooner you can take a pregnancy test to make sure.
Keep in mind, however, that your body's early pregnancy warning system is a little unreliable. Some women don't have any early symptoms at all, and every symptom that you might have could potentially be explained by something other than pregnancy.
What are the early symptoms of pregnancy?
- A missed or late period. This is the classic symptom, and it's the most common reason that women take a pregnancy test. But it's far from a telltale sign. If your periods are irregular, you may not notice when you're late. And there are lots of other things that can make you miss a period, including stress, rapid weight loss or gain, fatigue, and giving up birth control pills.
- Implantation bleeding. An embryo will attach to the wall of the uterus about eight to 14 days after conception. This might cause a little bit of spotting and possibly some cramping. The bleeding will be lighter and spottier than your regular period, and it will probably start earlier than your period would have. This can be the very first symptom of pregnancy.
- Tender, swollen breasts. As early as two weeks after you conceive, your breasts may start getting ready for nursing a baby. They may feel full, sore, or extra sensitive. Also, the skin around the nipples (areola) may become darker.
- Nausea. You may start feeling queasy just two weeks after you conceive, although the worst of the nausea doesn't kick in for four to eight weeks. So-called morning sickness can strike any time of day. Your stomach is especially likely to jump when you smell something strong, such as perfume, cigarette smoke, or an item that overstayed its welcome in the fridge.
- Frequent urination. Early in pregnancy, your uterus starts to expand and crowds your bladder. Later on, your increased blood flow to nurture the baby will also boost the amount of urine produced by your kidneys. You may as well get used to frequent bathroom trips now.
- New feelings about food. Pregnancy can do funny things to your tastes. You may develop a strong dislike for meats, cheeses, or spicy foods. At the same time, you may have unusually strong cravings for a pretzel or vanilla wafers. Cravings and aversions tend to be strongest early in the pregnancy when hormones are raging. This can include a heightened sense of smell.
- Fatigue. Lots of things in life can sap your energy, and pregnancy is one of them. Your body is hard at work. In addition, you're producing hormones that make you sleepy.
- Aches and pains. Many women have backaches and headaches early in pregnancy. Then again, many women have backaches and headaches anyway, so don't start buying baby clothes just yet.
How accurate are home pregnancy tests?
If you follow the instructions carefully, home pregnancy tests are quite accurate, especially two weeks or more after conception. If the test says you're pregnant, you almost certainly are. Still, you should go to your doctor right away to confirm the results and start prenatal care.
However, if you test very early on in your pregnancy, a negative result -- one that says you're not pregnant -- will be less reliable than a positive result. Pregnancy tests work by detecting a certain hormone, and some women produce this hormone a little more slowly than others. If you have a negative test, you should test again a week later. Until you know with absolute certainty, continue to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol and other potentially risky behaviors -- just in case.
Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of Pregnancy: What You Notice Right Away.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Home Pregnancy Tests How to Use a Popular Test Wisely. Updated February 15, 2009.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Frequently asked questions about pregnancy tests. http://www.4woman.gov/faq/pregtest.htm
Merck Manual of Medical Information. Second Home Edition Online. Pregnancy, Physical Changes. http://www.merck.com/mmhe/sec22/ch257/ch257d.html