Am I pregnant or not? This can only be confirmed by a pregnancy test or ultrasound, but there are some early symptoms of pregnancy you may experience even before you start missing your periods.
During pregnancy, lots of changes happen at the hormonal level, resulting in physical symptoms.
The appearance of these early symptoms of pregnancy varies from woman to woman and also from one pregnancy to another. Some moms have many symptoms, while others experience only a few.
Common early signs of pregnancy
Here is a checklist of pregnancy symptoms that occur early:
1. Implantation bleeding and cramps
Implantation is a process in which the fertilized egg attaches to the inner lining of your womb. This happens around 6 to 12 days after conception and can result in slight vaginal bleeding. Around 25% of women experience implantation bleeding. It usually occurs before or around the date of your next expected period.
This can be easily mistaken for menstrual bleeding, but it only lasts for a couple of hours to 2 days. It’s not as heavy as menstrual bleeding and usually consists of light vaginal spotting of pinkish or brownish blood. It’s usually the earliest sign of pregnancy.
Some women also experience lower abdominal cramps at the time of implantation. This pain can easily be confused with premenstrual cramps.
2. Missed periods
If you have a regular menstrual cycle (you almost always have your monthly periods on time), then missing your period could be a fairly good clue that you may have conceived.
3. Breast changes
Breast changes occur at around 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy. These changes are more or less the same as many of us experience just before our periods every month. This means it’s difficult to tell whether it’s an early pregnancy sign or a symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Breasts become heavy and tender. This tenderness goes away after a few weeks when the body adjusts to hormonal changes. The areola (the area around the nipple ) gets darker and larger. Some women also feel a pricking pain in their nipples.
4. Nausea and vomiting
Nausea and vomiting start at 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy, usually peaking around the end of the 2nd month. In most women, they are gone by week 13, but in a few cases, nausea or vomiting may continue for several months or even throughout the pregnancy.
Commonly, nausea during pregnancy is referred to as morning sickness, but this is a misnomer because it actually lasts through the day. The symptoms vary from woman to woman. Some moms-to-be experience no nausea at all, while others can have it in a very severe form called hyperemesis gravidarum.
Fatigue is also a common early symptom of pregnancy. It’s mainly due to the rising level of a hormone called progesterone. Many women feel less energetic than usual. They may also feel dizzy. If you are feeling lethargic, listen to your body and take some extra rest or a nap.
6. Frequent urination
During pregnancy, blood volume expands, and the blood flow to the kidneys increases, so they have to filter more blood. As a result, more urine is produced resulting in the need for frequent peeing.
This sign usually appears around week 4, so be prepared for more frequent bathroom trips during pregnancy.
7. Mood swings
Due to significant hormonal changes, you may have frequent mood swings. You may feel elated, joyful, overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. You may also become more sensitive and reactive than usual.
Some women may experience headaches quite often during early pregnancy because of hormonal effects.
9. Food aversion and cravings
There’s no specific time after conception when you start having pregnancy cravings. Some women may not have any food cravings at all. You may develop food cravings or an aversion to certain foods as early as the 5th week of pregnancy. They usually get stronger in the 2nd trimester and then subside during the 3rd trimester.
Some women crave sweet foods, and others may crave fatty or salty foods. You may also develop an aversion to certain foods and even the sight or smell of them can lead to nausea or vomiting. These aversions mostly involve dairy products, meat, seafood, onion, and eggs.
Some women also complain of a metallic taste in their mouth, which is caused by pregnancy hormones.
Some women develop a strong craving for non-food items—a condition called pica. They may crave things like clay, mud, cement, or paint.
10. Changes in the sense of smell
Many women become oversensitive to smells during pregnancy. This heightened sense of smell (hyperosmia) could be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy.
Therefore, it’s better to use scent-free soaps and shampoos if such hypersensitivity triggers nausea.
11. Bloating and constipation
Hormonal changes can also slow down your digestive system, resulting in constipation and bloating. Drink plenty of water and eat fiber-rich foods.
The valve between the esophagus and the stomach relaxes due to high progesterone levels. This makes a pregnant woman more prone to heartburn because of the reflux of food from the stomach to the esophagus.
So, instead of large meals, it’s better to eat small frequent meals.
13. Vaginal discharge
After conception, vaginal discharge usually becomes copious, thick, and sticky. It’s neither foul-smelling nor associated with any vaginal irritation.
How early can pregnancy be detected?
All pregnancy tests detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Its production starts around 6 days after conception.
How early can you detect pregnancy? Many sensitive pregnancy test kits can detect your pregnancy on the day you miss your period. If you have a regular menstrual cycle, you can perform a urine pregnancy test just 1 day after missing your period. However, for more accurate and reliable results, it’s better to wait for 1 week after missing your period and then do a pregnancy test.
In case you have an irregular cycle, you should perform a pregnancy test 21 days after having unprotected sex. These home pregnancy kits are very sensitive and have a 97%-99% accuracy when the instructions are properly followed.
There are many early signs of pregnancy, but none of them is unique to pregnancy. They may also occur because of PMS or stress. So, you have to take a pregnancy test to confirm your pregnancy and then see your doctor for further testing and advice.