A missed period is one of the most common early signs of pregnancy, but it’s not the only one. If you think you might be pregnant, it’s important to listen to your body and know what to look out for.
The two-week wait between trying to conceive and taking a pregnancy test can be understandably anxiety inducing, and it’s perfectly normal to be scanning your body for signals you could be pregnant. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve noticed some unusual symptoms, and you’re feeling worried it might be a poorly timed pregnancy. Either way, being equipped with as much knowledge as possible can hopefully help to reassure you.
Below, an obstetrician and gynecologist explains the early signs of pregnancy to be aware of, as well as when to take a pregnancy test or what else could be causing your symptoms. So whether you’re in the midst of anxiety over the two-week wait or feeling concerned about any symptoms, here’s all the information you need to know. Don’t forget you can also use our pregnancy test calculator to help you decide whether it’s time to take a pregnancy test or not.
How early can you show the first signs of pregnancy?
First things first: how early can you show signs of pregnancy? The answer will vary from person to person, but women and people who menstruate can expect to experience very early pregnancy symptoms around two or three weeks after ovulation if conception occurred. Some people may experience the signs earlier, while others might not experience a single symptom until a missed period. “Sometimes it could be a little earlier or a little later, but most of the time it’s around the four- to five-week mark [since the first day of your last period] that you start to feel signs,” explains Dr. Charlsie Celestine, obstetrician and gynecologist, New Jersey, US.
Most common early signs of pregnancy
Of course, everyone is different, but there are some symptoms that many women experience when pregnant. As well as a missed period, some of the very early signs of pregnancy can include nausea, breast tenderness, and spotting.
A missed period
According to Dr. Celestine, one of the common first signs of pregnancy is the classic one: a missed period. “That’s usually around what we call four weeks pregnant,” she explains. “Even though it might seem like less than that, we count it from the first day of your last period.” Don’t forget using a period tracker such as Flo can help you determine whether you’ve missed a period or not.
Nausea and vomiting
Two other common (and admittedly less pleasant) early signs of pregnancy are nausea and vomiting. One study found that 87.8% of women experienced these symptoms, so if you find yourself feeling queasy and physically sick, take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. You might have both symptoms at the same time, or only experience one. “Some people only feel nauseous, and some people vomit constantly,” says Dr. Celestine.
These signs of early pregnancy are most likely to appear after a missed period. “Nausea and vomiting are most commonly experienced at around seven to eight weeks,” she adds.
Food aversion and cravings
Do you find yourself horrified at the thought of eating your usual lunchtime sandwich while also feeling a sudden and inexplicable craving for something you’ve never liked to eat before? Or perhaps it’s a strange new combination of foods that’s suddenly weirdly appealing. These are also common early signs of pregnancy to look out for. In the early days of pregnancy, around three weeks after conception, 54% of women experience food aversions, meaning you might have a more sensitive sense of smell or experience an aversion to certain food and drink.
You could also crave new foods that you wouldn’t usually eat — something that happens to 61% of women. Wondering if anyone else has experienced your immense and insatiable pregnancy craving for pickles? You can find out about the nine most common pregnancy food cravings here.
You might also be able to spot the very early signs of pregnancy through how your breasts feel. According to one study, 76.2% of women experienced breast pain or tenderness in the first trimester. Breast tenderness can occur from a few days to one to two weeks after conception and is caused by the change in hormones in your body that occur during a pregnancy.
This might be an early sign of pregnancy before a missed period, as you can experience it as early on in your pregnancy as one or two weeks after conception. “It’s different for everyone, and some people don’t get it all,” says Dr. Celestine. “It’s caused by an increase in both estrogen and progesterone in pregnancy.”
The term “spotting” usually refers to light bleeding that happens outside of your normal period. While this might be an alarming symptom to experience, it’s not necessarily a cause for concern. Spotting in early pregnancy can be due to implantation bleeding, which is perfectly normal and can occur when the embryo implants itself into the wall of the uterus, usually around 10 to 14 days after conception.
Spotting is also common in the first trimester of a pregnancy, with around 25% of pregnant women experiencing bleeding in the first 12 weeks of their pregnancy.
Dr. Celestine advises anyone experiencing this kind of “abnormal period” to take a pregnancy test. If it’s positive, she says it’s a good idea to monitor the bleeding. Implantation bleeding typically lasts for one to two days and is very light; it’s usually not enough to need any more protection than a panty liner. Unfortunately, bleeding any more than this can sometimes be a sign of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. As scary as this sounds, try not to panic; one study found that one in four pregnant people reported bleeding, but only around 1 in 10 women (12%) who experienced bleeding had a miscarriage.
So rest assured, “A lot of times, pink, brown, or red spotting can still be a normal pregnancy,” explains Dr. Celestine.
Just as you might have cramps during your period, you might also have some cramping in the early stages of pregnancy, around six to 10 days after conception. This can happen during implantation, with some women experiencing implantation cramping, although there is currently little scientific evidence around this phenomenon.
“If you experience mild cramping, just like if you experience mild spotting, then keep an eye on it,” advises Dr. Celestine. “But if it’s severe pain and heavy bleeding, then we need to look into it as soon as possible because it could be a miscarriage,” Dr. Celestine says. Unfortunately, this could also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. It’s important to consider how intense the cramping is, as mild cramping is not necessarily a cause for concern, so try not to jump to conclusions and cause yourself unnecessary worry.
During pregnancy, some women will experience more vaginal discharge than before pregnancy. But the discharge you have might change, too. “Sometimes your vaginal discharge might change because of the new hormones with the pregnancy,” says Dr. Celestine. She explains that “increased estrogen causes a white milky discharge.”
What about expecting a change in urine color during pregnancy? “No, definitely not,” she says. “It’s not related. Urine color has to do with what [and how much] you eat and drink in all people, whether pregnant or not.”
Obviously, a bad mood could be caused by many things, but mood swings are one of the early signs of pregnancy, experienced as early as three weeks after conception. “Some people feel more irritable,” says Dr. Celestine. If you’re feeling anxious or depressed, you’re not alone. These are the most common mental health concerns during pregnancy — around 12% of women experience depression, while 13% experience anxiety. These can be understandably difficult feelings to navigate, so if you need support, don’t hesitate to reach out to loved ones or your doctor.
Hands up if you feel absolutely exhausted! Dr. Celestine says that while fatigue isn’t usually the first sign of pregnancy, people do tend to experience fatigue in the first trimester. In some people, that could be as early as one week after conception. For others? “A little after the nausea and vomiting, so after seven or eight weeks, people usually start to feel more tired,” she explains. That makes sense, considering your body is creating an entirely new human from scratch.
Feel like you need to pee a lot? If you’re visiting the bathroom more often than usual, including during the night, that could be an early sign of pregnancy. This is because you have increased blood levels during pregnancy. Your blood is filtered by your kidneys, which remove the extra waste fluid, which then leaves your body as urine. Basically, the more blood you have in your body, the more you will need to pee. This can happen as early as three weeks after conception, although Dr. Celestine explains that this symptom tends to be more noticeable in the third trimester because of “pressure on the bladder from the uterus, due to having a larger uterus and baby.”
Bloating is another early sign of pregnancy, thought to be caused by a rise in progesterone. You’ll likely experience this around a week after ovulation, although remember that bloating can be caused by a wide range of things, including eating a large meal too quickly (we’ve all been there).
It might not be the most pleasant early sign of pregnancy, but you could find yourself becoming constipated as early as three weeks after conception. In fact, one study found that between 11% to 38% of pregnant people experienced constipation at some point in their pregnancy, usually around the third trimester. Again, you can likely thank a rise in progesterone for this one.
Less common early signs of pregnancy
While many of the very early signs of pregnancy are well known, there are some less obvious indications, too. Read on to find out more about unusual signs of early pregnancy.
A headache might not be the most obvious sign of pregnancy, but it can be an early symptom. “Sometimes I’ve seen people have headaches early on. It can happen with hormone changes,” explains Dr. Celestine. The most common headaches associated with pregnancy are migraines and tension headaches. Research shows that tension headaches account for 26% of all headaches experienced during pregnancy, while up to 10% of pregnant women will experience a migraine without aura (a migraine with aura is where you also experience sensory symptoms such as flashes of light or blind spots).
A range of things can cause headaches during early pregnancy, including changing hormones, nasal congestion (more on that below), hunger, and low blood sugar levels. If you’re (understandably) struggling with pregnancy headaches, experts recommend trying some physical exercise, drinking lots of water, getting enough sleep, eating regularly, and practicing some relaxation techniques.
If you have a stuffy or runny nose, that could be because of a rise in hormone levels and blood production. This happens in pregnancy and can cause the mucous membranes in your nose to swell. Known as ‘rhinitis,’ around 39% of women experience it, and the main symptoms are sneezing, nasal congestion, and a runny nose. It can start at any point but should stop after you give birth. Keep that in mind when you’re buying your 150th multipack of pocket tissues at the grocery store.
When is the right time to take a pregnancy test?
We know the wait between ovulation and taking a pregnancy test can feel long, and it can be tempting to take one straight away. If you’re worried about the idea of a possible pregnancy, waiting can undoubtedly be hard to do. However, a very early pregnancy can be difficult to detect with a home pregnancy test, and experts recommend you wait until the day after a missed period to make sure it’s more accurate.
Once you realize that you’ve missed your period, Dr. Celestine recommends taking a pregnancy test. She advises doing it first thing in the morning. “The urine pregnancy test needs a certain amount of the pregnancy hormone in order to register as positive,” she explains. The pregnancy hormone is called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), and it only develops in a woman’s body during pregnancy. Around 10 days after the egg is fertilized, this hormone starts to build up in the body.
“It comes out in your urine, so the first pee in the morning usually has the highest concentration of that pregnancy hormone because it builds up in your system all night,” explains Dr. Celestine. She explains that during the day, as you eat, drink, and urinate, your urine may be diluted. “So the morning is the best time to do it, especially if you’re testing early on in the pregnancy,” she says.
Is it possible to have early pregnancy symptoms and not be pregnant?
If you have symptoms that seem like the early signs of pregnancy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are pregnant. Dr. Celestine says that there’s a lot of overlap with your period, for example. “A lot of times, PMS has similar symptoms – bloating, nausea, breast tenderness,” she explains.
Cramping or spotting could be symptoms of many things. “If you’re looking at cramping or spotting, it can even be an STI, an ovarian cyst, polyps [an overgrowth of tissue that’s usually benign] in the uterus, or fibroids on the uterus. Any other type of vaginal infection can also lead to spotting sometimes,” explains Dr. Celestine. “There are so many other things it could be. So if you’re ever concerned that it’s a pregnancy or you miss your period, I would take a pregnancy test and see a doctor.”
When is the right time to see the doctor about your early pregnancy?
If you take a pregnancy test at home and it’s positive, give your doctor a call (or find a doctor if you don’t have one) and book an appointment to discuss prenatal care. Your first visit will usually be between six to 12 weeks pregnant, although the exact timing will depend on both your health needs and history, as well as your doctor’s care plan.
And what can you expect during this first visit? One of the most important things is to confirm that your growing baby has a healthy heartbeat, which will be done by either an ultrasound or by listening with a handheld doppler. But keep in mind that even an ultrasound can’t visualize a baby until around six to eight weeks, so don’t panic if this doesn’t happen before then.
If, however, you have a missed period, but a pregnancy test is negative, Dr. Celestine recommends waiting a week and doing another one. After that, if you haven’t had your period and a pregnancy test is still negative, she advises seeing a doctor to find out what’s going on. “That’s as long as you’re feeling fine,” she says, adding that you should see a doctor if you’re in severe pain or have concerns.
If you’d been hoping for a positive pregnancy test, try not to be too disheartened. It’s totally natural to feel disappointed, but remember that around 85% of people will conceive within the first year of trying, so try to focus on your next cycle. If you feel like you’ve had a lucky escape with a negative pregnancy test, it might be a sign it’s worth rethinking your contraceptive method.
Early pregnancy signs: The takeaway
As we’ve seen, there are lots of different early pregnancy signs and symptoms, and of course, it can vary a lot between different people. That said, a missed period is often the first sign, followed by symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, and breast tenderness.
If you’re concerned about a missed period or any other symptoms that could potentially be an early sign of pregnancy, it’s a good idea to take a pregnancy test and speak to a health care professional.
Written by Isabelle Aron