Am I pregnant? Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

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  • If you think you might be expecting, there are some very early signs and symptoms of pregnancy to look for because we all know how desperate the wait can be to find out!

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy differ from woman to woman and from pregnancy to pregnancy. Some women spot early signs and symptoms of pregnancy within just a week of conception but some women will get no pregnancy symptoms at all – we’ve all heard the stories about people giving birth without even knowing they were expecting!

    Dr Prudence Knight, online GP at Push Doctor, explained, “Pregnancy symptoms vary massively, from the occasional woman who is genuinely surprised when she goes into labour to those who swear they can tell they are pregnant at the moment of conception.

    “For most women the earliest sign of pregnancy is a missed period. Some women feel tired and a little sick before this. In fact nausea, vomiting and exhaustion are the most common symptoms of early pregnancy, they tend to show up around six weeks from your last period and improve from about 12 weeks onwards.

    “Some women have a tiny bit of spotting around the time their period is due-this is thought to be due to the embryo implanting in your womb.”

    But what else should you look out for? Here we’ve covered everything to do with early signs and symptoms of pregnancy, from morning sickness and first signs of pregnancy, to symptoms you might recognise when you’re later along.

    How soon can you get symptoms and signs of pregnancy?

    Most pregnancy symptoms will start to appear around five or six weeks after your last menstrual period. Usually symptoms won’t appear immediately, as it takes a few weeks to develop them. Having symptoms a few days after sex isn’t usually a sign of pregnancy, and can actually be due to something else such as PMS.

    It can be confusing but we’ve outlined the earliest symptoms and when they tend to appear in the next section. So whether you’re trying for a baby or hope you’re not pregnant, scroll down to find out what symptoms to look out for and when they usually arrive.

    You might be wondering what the most common early signs of pregnancy are. If you have a combination of a missed period, fatigue, and morning sickness, there’s a chance you might be pregnant.

    Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife said, “The most common early signs are missing a period and feeling out of sorts and not yourself- often feeling overwhelmingly tired and needing to sleep a lot. 

    “‘Morning sickness’ is also common and can take on several forms for different people, such as feeling nauseous at certain times of the day or all day, vomiting, dizziness or a combination of all these. The need to wee a lot can also be common and is caused by changing hormones in the early days, as are tender, swollen breasts which are sensitive when touched.”

    The most common eary signs of pregnancy

    Your body experiences a lot of changes during pregnancy, and you can end up developing a whole host of symptoms. But keep in mind that it doesn’t always mean you’re expecting, and there can be other reasons why you’re experiencing these changes.

    Here are some of the common signs and symptoms, and what else they could mean if you have them.

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

    Loss of appetite for favourite foods

    Pregnancy can really mess with your eating habits that’s for sure! As well as craving foods you may not have previously been interested in, you can actually lose a taste for some foods and drinks that are usually a big part of your normal diet. Women sometimes go off staples such as coffee, tea or fatty foods. “Changes in tastes and a heightened sense of smell are very common and can persist throughout pregnancy but do tend to be strongest early on”, Dr Knight explained.

    What else could it be?
    People often experience a loss in appetite when they’re feeling anxious or stressed. This is because anxiety triggers emotional and psychological changes in your body to help you deal with the pressure, they often affect the stomach and digestive tract and can make you lose your appetite. When you’re feeling more relaxed, your appetite should return back to normal.

    Tummy twinges, pinching and pulling

    Some women experience feelings inside their stomachs in the early stages of pregnancy that replicate the sensation of their muscles being pulled and stretched. Sometimes referred to as ‘abdominal twinges’, these tingles are nothing to worry about. 

    Layla Rumble, Midwife at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK said, “Abdominal twinges and mild pains are very common during pregnancy and usually nothing to worry about.  Twinges and abdominal pain is usually caused by constipation, ligament pain, or trapped wind – all of which are a normal part of pregnancy.

    “Twinges, and pains can be alleviated by regular light exercise, eating smaller, frequent meals, h aving plenty of fibre-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water to help empty your bladder regularly 

    “If you find that you experience intense and ongoing pains, or pain accompanied by bleeding, it is important to seek medical advice from your midwife or GP to rule out anything serious.”

    What else could it be?
    If you’ve been heavily exercising or straining your muscles, you could be experiencing some tension from that, especially if you’ve focused on ab workouts.  A tight stomach can also be due to other factors such as digestive issues, stress or hormonal changes, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant.

    Vulva change in colour

    One of the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy can be a change in colour of your vulva and vagina. Your vulva and vagina are usually pink, but this changes to dark purplish-red as your pregnancy progresses. This happens because more blood is needed in that area to build the tissue, a change which midwives refer to as Chadwick’s sign.

    What else could it be?
    All of the maintenance we perform on our vaginas can contribute to a change in colour. If you have been using razors or hair removal creams you could be suffering from reddening or a rash. Also, watch out for washing products that aren’t sensitive to the hormone balance as this can have an effect too. Look for gentle products to prevent irritation to your vagina.

    Peeing more often

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

    Credit: Getty

    It is possible that in the early stages of pregnancy you might feel an increased need to wee, feeling like you’re forever making trips to the toilet. You could notice this feeling especially at night time.

    What else could it be?
    It is normal to wee between six to eight times in a 24-hour period, if you’re urinating much more often than this it could be that you’re drinking too much fluid or caffeine. You could also have a bladder infection or be suffering from an over active bladder. If it’s painful or you have any concerns, speak to a GP about your symptoms.

    Metallic taste

    Many women notice a strange, sour, slightly metallic taste in their mouth when first becoming pregnant. This happens because of the pregnancy hormone progesterone and is known as dysgeusia, which is a taste disorder causing an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Experts have discovered that pregnancy hormones play a role in controlling our sense of taste, so it might fluctuate wildly throughout your pregnancy. However, dysgeusia usually disappears after the first trimester.

    What else could it be?
    According to the NHS, other reasons could be gum disease, colds or sinus infections, indigestion, and due to certain medications. There are also serious illnesses that are linked to tasting metal such as problems with your liver or kidneys, so it’s best to speak to a professional if you have any concerns.

    Bloating

    The pregnancy hormone progesterone can cause your tummy to feel full, rounded and bloated so if you’re feeling swollen in that area you could be pregnant!

    What else could it be?
    Lots of foods can bloat you, so if you’re experiencing this feeling after eating foods such as grains, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts or even artificial sweeteners it may just be wind. Bloating can also be a sign of food intolerances or conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)If you think it might be IBS, take a look at our IBS symptoms and remedies guide to see if any of these help to relieve the bloating you’ve been experiencing. A low FODMAP diet is also recommended to alleviate symptoms.

    Period pain

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

    Credit: Getty

    This is a rather contradictory symptom, but you may actually get pains that resemble your period around the same time that you are expecting your period. This one of the less common signs of pregnancy but shouldn’t be discounted. Many women experience this pain as the womb expands, stretching the ligaments as your bump grows to accommodate the baby.

    What else could it be?
    Period pains are commonly associated with muscle cramps in your tummy, back and thighs, but this kind of pain is normal for women. If it’s not your period, it could be a result of exercise or overexertion. 

    Tender breasts

    As early as 1-2 weeks after conception you might notice a difference in your breasts. Your nipples might be sensitive to the touch, they may be sore or they may change shape and become swollen – meaning your bra might not fit as well as normal. Dr Knight said: ‘Your breasts may become sore around the time your period is due and they usually increase in size during early pregnancy.’

    What else could it be?
    It could be your pill or you might be due on your period – many early signs and symptoms of pregnancy are similar to when you’re having a period or are due on. Some antidepressants and other medications can also cause breast pain, so it’s recommended to thoroughly read the enclosed leaflet to learn about side effects. 

    Bleeding or ‘spotting’

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    About a week after conception, the embryo pushes itself into the wall of the uterus (or womb). This causes some light bleeding or spots of blood to appear in your knickers. You may even get stomach cramps while the embryo is moving.

    What else could it be?
    Your period (although some women still get light periods throughout their pregnancy), changes with the Pill; such as forgetting to take it or taking it during your seven-day break, an infection, or bleeding from sex. It can also be a result of any hormonal changes.

    Missed period

    This is the most common pregnancy symptom and is usually the first one you might pick up on. It happens around 4-5 weeks after the embryo has attached itself to the wall of the uterus, the wall builds itself up so the embryo is well-cushioned – rather than break down and cause a period.

    What else could it be?
    Stress, changing your contraception or excessive weight gain or loss can all contribute to changes to your period, including a missed one. It doesn’t automatically mean you’re pregnant, but it’s best to take a test if you want peace of mind either way.

    Nausea/Morning Sickness

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

    Credit: Getty

    Some women complain of feeling nauseous throughout their whole pregnancy and others manage to escape it. This well-known symptom known as morning sickness will normally show up between 2-8 weeks into your pregnancy. One theory is that it is caused by an increase of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone apparently softens the muscles in the uterus ready for labour but it also softens the stomach muscles causing nausea and sickness.

    What else could it be?
    Food poisoning, stress, or other stomach upsets can also cause you to feel queasy. Try our tried and tested remedies.

    Fatigue and tiredness

    Many pregnant women complain that they find themselves falling asleep on buses, at work and even during sex! Feeling more tired is a pregnancy symptom that can also start as early as the first week and is because your body is working overtime to get ready for the baby.

    Layla Rumble adds, “Pregnancy is a tiring process and can take its toll on energy levels as your body changes.  Therefore, it is very common to feel tired and exhausted during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester when your hormones fluctuate the most. 

    The rapid increase in oestrogen levels in the first trimester, along with a constantly increased level of progesterone hormones throughout pregnancy, play a significant role in the onset of most pregnancy symptoms, including fatigue.”

    What else could it be?
    Stress, depression, common cold or flu, or other illnesses can also leave you feeling tired or sleepy, and it can sometimes occur if you woke in the middle of a sleep cycle or didn’t sleep well.

    Backaches

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

    Credit: Getty

    Having backache is a common symptom throughout your pregnancy due to the extra weight you’re carrying, but it can also be an early sign of pregnancy too. The ache will be similar to the stomach cramps and aches you get when you’re on your period. And it’s just because your body is getting ready for the baby.

    What else could it be?
    If you are due on your period you may get a backache or if your suffering from physical or mental stress and tension. It could also be another back problem.

    Leg cramps

    It’s quite common for women to suffer from leg cramps during pregnancy and you might notice it a lot more in the early stages. This has been linked to having less calcium in your blood because it’s being taken by the baby!

    What else could it be?
    Straining a muscle or being cold, especially at night, can cause the muscles in your legs to tense and spasm. It can also be a result of dehydration or simply sitting still for a long period of time and not moving your muscles enough.

    Headaches

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    The sudden rise of hormones in your body can cause you to have headaches early in pregnancy. If you’re tired too you might be more sensitive to light and noise.

    What else could it be?
    There are loads of reasons why people get headaches, from tension and dehydration to eye strain. Headaches are normal and can be triggered by too much screen time, stress, alcohol, changes to routine, and more. However, if you’re concerned about the amount of headaches you’re getting, speak to a GP. 

    Food cravings

    Having random food cravings is another one of the most common early signs and symptoms of pregnancy. It’s caused by your body craving what it needs. Some women say they crave mud when they’re pregnant, and this may be due to a lack of iron in their blood. Others want combinations like fish and ice cream! This could be because of a lack of protein and sugar.

    It doesn’t necessarily mean your cravings will be weird and wonderful though, just a craving for cheese could mean you need more calcium, especially if it’s linked with your cramps. This can start early on and last throughout your pregnancy. You should give into these cravings if you can, but within reason!

    What else could it be?
    Poor diet, lack of a certain nutrient, stress, depression. Craving sugar could also be a sign of diabetes, and any concerns about strange cravings should be discussed with your GP.

    Feeling hot

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    You might not even notice the difference yourself, but if you’re trying for a baby you may have been charting your basal body temperature. This is the temperature of your body at rest. Throughout your cycle, your body temperature fluctuates and if it has been high for 18 days or more, it’s likely that you’re pregnant. Normal temperature is 96-98°F and when you are ovulating or pregnant, it may be around 97-99°F.

    What else could it be?
    Your temperature is likely to rise if you’re feeling unwell with a cold or the flu. It will also rise slightly at different stages of your cycle.

    ‘Feeling’ pregnant

    Many women will notice that they feel uterine cramping as an early sign and symptom pregnancy. You could even feel period like cramps or even pain on one side. The most common reason for this kind of cramp is that your uterus is growing. This is normal pain and should be expected in a healthy pregnancy. You may also feel ‘full’ or ‘heavy’ around your uterus, and actually it’s not uncommon to hear that in early pregnancy some women describe feeling like they were about to start their period any minute.

    What else could it be?
    If you are due on your period you may get pre-menstrual cramps.

    Larger breasts

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    You might already know that one of the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy many women experience is changes to their breast tissue. Towards the end of the first trimester or the beginning of the second trimester you may notice that your breasts begin to grow. This is because the tissues inside the breast are preparing for nursing.

    What else could it be?
    Breast tenderness and swelling can be another sign that you’re expecting your period.

    Changes in nipples

    Your nipples may become larger and darker as your pregnancy progresses. You may also notice small, goose bump or pimple like white areas on your areola, but don’t panic, these are totally normal. They’re called Montgomery’s tubercules.

    What else could it be?
    Changes in nipples should be examined as part of your regular check against breast cancer, follow our 5 easy steps to checking your breasts for peace of mind.

    Low libido

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    It’s common to suffer from a low libido during the early stages of pregnancy. Your breasts may be sensitive, causing you a bit of pain, plus feeling nauseous and tired could reduce your sexual appetite. Your partner might also be scared of hurting the baby, or of the baby ‘knowing’ what is going on during sex, which of course is not true!

    What else could it be?
    There are lots of other reasons why you could have gone off sex, from exhaustion to stress. We’ve outlined 10 reasons why you might have a low libido.

    Tingling nipples

    Some women get a tingling feeling in their nipples as one of the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy. The surge in hormones in your body causes an increased blood supply to your breasts, which causes the tingling sensation.

    What else could it be?
    It could just be related to your menstrual cycle, or there’s a small chance a tingling feeling can be caused by an infection.

    Shortness of breath

    Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
    In early stages of pregnancy, an increase of progesterone in your body causes you to breathe more often, which can feel like shortness of breath. You’ll also increase the amount of air you take in with each breath. The feeling might be a bit unusual, but it’s usually harmless.

    What else could it be?
    Chest infections, common colds, allergies and anxiety disorders can also contribute to a shortness of breath. However, if it’s impacting your daily life you should speak to a professional about your symptoms.

    How can you tell if you’re pregnant?

    The most effective way to confirm you’re pregnant is via a pregnancy test. These can be bought for at-home use, or you can take a test at your GP’s office. Pregnancy tests check for the presence of the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), in your urine, which the body produces after you conceive. 

    GP’s can also test for pregnancy via a blood test, as they can check for the hormone in your blood as well as urine. Blood tests can tell if you are pregnant about six to eight days after you ovulate.

    How reliable are home pregnancy tests?

    According to the NHS, home pregnancy tests are reliable as long as you follow the instructions correctly. It may not be reliable if you didn’t follow instructions or you’ve taken the test too early. 

    Most pregnancy tests can be taken after the first missed period, with any tests taken before this time running the risk of being inaccurate. Professionals also recommend avoiding drinking too much fluid ahead of doing a test, as it can dilute the level of HGC.

    Negative tests may not be reliable if you’ve taken it too early, as the level of HGC might not be enough at the time of taking it. Tests can also vary in their sensitivity and so it’s recommended you read instructions thoroughly before using one, as there’s no guarantee each one will be the same.

    Alternative ways to check for pregnancy

    If you don’t want to buy a test yet, there are other ways you can find out whether it’s likely you’re pregnant or not. But keep in mind that this is in no way accurate, and pregnancy tests are the best way to confirm your pregnancy.

    All of the symptoms listed above can be early signs of pregnancy, but don’t always mean that you are. If you’re experiencing several of them at once, it could be a sign that it’s time to take a test.

    Clearblue has a free online quiz which asks you about any symptoms, as well as what contraceptives you’ve been using, if applicable. It takes minutes and they can give you advice on whether or not to use one of their tests.

    You also know your own body better than anyone, so you might identify significant changes to your mood, physical changes to your body especially around the stomach. If you have regular periods, any changes to that routine could indicate you’re expecting too.

    Which pregnancy books to buy?

    If you are expecting, you might want to buy some pregnancy books to help you prepare for motherhood. Whether it’s your first baby or you’re already a mum, there’s plenty of options out there to help you navigate this time.

    We’ve put together 10 recommendations below, along with descriptions to help you decide whether or not these books are suitable for you or not. Let us know if you try any!