Signs of Pregnancy
In the first few weeks of pregnancy, a woman's body begins changing to make a home for the growing baby. For the mom-to-be, that means a wide range of new sensations some more pleasant than others.
Some pregnant women have only a few of these symptoms, while others experience all of them.
- Amenorrhea, or absence of your monthly period. When you get pregnant, rising hormone levels prevent you from shedding the uterine lining at the time you'd expect to have your period. You can also miss your period if you're not pregnant. Other possible causes of amenorrhea include: weight gain or loss, hormonal problems, tension, stress, breastfeeding, and stopping hormonal birth control.
- Morning sickness is nausea and queasiness, often in the morning, but sometimes during the entire day. It's thought to be caused by a high level of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the blood, rapid stretching of the uterine muscles, excess stomach acid, and being more sensitive to smells. Morning sickness tends to start 2 to 8 weeks after conception. Other possible causes of nausea include food poisoning, tension, infection, gall bladder disease, and other diseases.
- Tender, swollen breasts. A pregnant woman's breasts change as levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone rise in the first few weeks of pregnancy. Some women even notice milk leaking from their breasts, usually later in pregnancy. Breast tenderness often begins a few days after conception. Other possible causes of breast tenderness include birth control pills, beginning of your period, and fibrocystic breast condition.
- Darkening of the areolas, the skin around the nipples. The bumps on areolas (called Montgomery's tubercles) may look more prominent. These changes happen gradually during the first few weeks of pregnancy, as your breasts prepare to produce milk. Other possible causes include hormonal imbalance, prior pregnancy, tanning, and the physical changes of puberty.
- Food cravings reflect shifting hormone levels. Food cravings often happen during the first trimester. Other possible causes include poor diet, stress, and the beginning of your period (PMS).
- Frequent urination. Women gain water weight early in pregnancy. This extra fluid and pressure from the growing uterus means you need to urinate more often. This usually starts 6 to 8 weeks after conception. Other possible causes of frequent urination include urinary tract infection, diuretics, tension, diabetes, and drinking excess fluid.
- Fatigue. In the first few months of pregnancy, your body builds your baby's placenta, the organ that provides nourishment over the next 9 months. That takes energy, and, coupled with high levels of the hormone progesterone, it makes mothers very, very tired. As the first trimester ends, women often begin to feel less fatigued. Other possible causes of fatigue include tension, stress, depression, poor diet, flu, lack of exercise, and poor sleep or lack of sleep.
- Bleeding. About one half of women with normal pregnancies will have some spotting of blood that's pink or brown in color, sometimes with stomach cramps. While many women with spotting or bleeding go on to have normal pregnancies, bleeding can also be a sign of miscarriage, or of an ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening condition. If you have bleeding, contact your health care provider to be sure that your pregnancy is progressing normally. Other possible causes of spotting include the beginning of your period, or breakthrough bleeding from the pill.
What Should I Do?
If you're having signs or symptoms of pregnancy, take a pregnancy test! Here are the different types:
- Home pregnancy test. Most such tests can tell if you're pregnant as early as the first day of your missed period or even a couple days before. They detect the hormone hCG in your urine. Results are available in as little as 5 minutes. If the test shows that you are pregnant, contact your health care provider as soon as possible for a physical exam. Home-pregnancy tests are very accurate. If your pregnancy test is positive, it's highly likely that you are pregnant. If you test negative but are still experiencing symptoms of pregnancy, contact your provider.
- Lab test. A lab pregnancy test can determine if you're pregnant even before you've missed your period. It also detects hCG in your urine. You must go to your provider's office or lab to take this test. Results are available in just a few minutes if the test is given in your provider's office. The accuracy is close to 100%.
- Blood test. This can show if you're pregnant as early as one week after conception. It assesses the presence of hCG in your blood. You must go to your provider's office or lab to have the test.
Once you have a positive pregnancy test, make an appointment with your provider to begin prenatal care. If you have bleeding or spotting, be sure to let your doctor or midwife know so that they can check an ultrasound and make sure your pregnancy is developing normally.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I took a pregnancy test and it was negative, but I'm still having symptoms. Could I be pregnant?
A: You may be. To find out, ask for another test (preferably a blood test, since it's the most sensitive). In the meantime, take all prenatal precautions, such as avoiding alcohol.
It is possible, however, to have symptoms and not be pregnant. There might be other biological causes such as hormonal imbalances or diabetes that your health care provider should investigate.
John D. Jacobson, MD, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Loma Linda University School of Medicine, Loma Linda Center for Fertility, Loma Linda, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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