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Understanding the Early Signs of Pregnancy and Pregnancy Testing

From puberty to menopause, pregnancy is a huge part of the life experience shared by all women. Whether you’re actively trying not to get pregnant, taking drastic steps to get pregnant, or you’re somewhere in between, it’s the possibility of pregnancy that’s often in the forefront of your mind.

And while women around the world are sharing this exact same life experience as you each and every day, it still feels unique and personal to you in a way that no one else could ever understand.

Since you’re reading this article right now, it’s likely that you’re thinking about getting pregnant very soon or you think that you may already be pregnant at this very moment. You’re probably experiencing a variety of different emotions. And you’re looking for answers to the many pregnancy-related questions that are flooding into your mind.

We get it! Pregnancy can be a beautiful, complicated, mysterious, and even terrifying experience from one moment to the next.

That’s why we’re here to help. Keep reading and discover everything you need to know about the early signs of pregnancy and pregnancy testing so that you can put all of those uncertainties behind you.

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Early Signs of Pregnancy 

The early stages of pregnancy—or even the possibility of being pregnant—can feel like a huge guessing game for most women. 

Oftentimes, women who’ve had pregnancies in the past still have a hard time telling whether or not they’re pregnant again, especially during those first few weeks. So, it’s no wonder that women experiencing a possible pregnancy for the first time are left feeling so unsure.

And just like how the early signs of pregnancy can be completely different from one pregnancy to the next, they can also be completely different from one woman to the next. So, having conversations about early pregnancy with other women around you can actually leave you feeling even more confused than you ever did before.

Fortunately, learning more about the early signs of pregnancy can help you eliminate your sense of hopelessness and doubt once and for all. 

Here are 9 early signs of pregnancy that you should look out for:

  1. Bloating
  2. Cramping
  3. Congestion
  4. Constipation
  5. Fatigue
  6. Moodiness
  7. Nausea
  8. Spotting
  9. Vomiting

Additionally, you may notice that you’re urinating with more frequency, that your breasts are swollen and tender to the touch, that your period is late or that you skipped it altogether, or that certain smells leave you feeling sick all of a sudden.

If that were not enough, you might also experience these early signs of pregnancy: food cravings or food aversions, backaches, headaches, and darkening of your areolas.

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Just keep in mind that while all of the symptoms listed above can certainly indicate pregnancy, it’s not an exhaustive list of symptoms that you may experience during early pregnancy nor are any of them proof that you are, in fact, pregnant.

Remember, each pregnancy is different. So while it’s important to make note of any changes in your body if you think you may be pregnant, the only real way to know if you are pregnant for sure is to have a positive pregnancy test and confirmation by your doctor.

When Can I Take a Pregnancy Test

One of the most popular questions women ask when it comes to a possible pregnancy is, “When can I take a pregnancy test?” 

If you take one too early, you can easily get a false negative reading even though you’re actually pregnant. And that can be really frustrating or confusing, especially if you’re experiencing a lot of the early pregnancy signs mentioned above.

Most women who think they may be pregnant test at least once at home—sometimes several times—before they make a call to their doctor. 

So, for the most accurate at-home pregnancy test results, you want to wait until the week after your missed period. Of course, that can be easier said than done. In general, you won’t have a good chance of getting an accurate positive test result until 7 to 12 days have passed since your fertilized egg was implanted in your uterus.

There are at-home pregnancy tests that claim to give you accurate test results as early as 6 days before your missed period but, when you look at the fine print on the box, you’ll discover that accurate test results are not guaranteed until the actual day of your missed period.

No matter when you decide to start testing, the best way to increase your chances of getting a positive test result at home is to test first thing in the morning when your urine is the most concentrated. Doing so gives you a far better chance of receiving a positive test result if you are, in fact, pregnant.

Your other option is to contact your doctor’s office and request a pregnancy test from them. A pregnancy test administered by your doctor can provide accurate results as early as 6 to 8 days after ovulation.  

When you think you may be pregnant, it can feel impossible to wait that long for answers. But, learning how a pregnancy test actually works will help you understand why you have to wait for accurate results in the first place.

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Types of Pregnancy Tests

There are several different types of pregnancy tests that can be used to confirm a pregnancy. And while they all work slightly differently, each of them is testing for the same chemical in your body.

This chemical is called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, or hCG for short. Often referred to as the pregnancy hormone, hCG is made from tissue that is part of the early embryo but later becomes part of the placenta itself. 

hCG is created right after the embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus, and it increases rapidly as each week of pregnancy takes place. 

By testing your hCG levels, pregnancy tests can confirm or disprove that you are pregnant. Likewise, your doctor can test your hCG level at any time during your pregnancy if they have any concerns.

When it comes to taking either an at-home or in-office urine test, what’s basically happening is that the test strip or test stick has reactive paper attached to it that can detect the presence of hCG in your urine. 

At the early stages of pregnancy, your hCG levels are quite low—typically 5 to 426 mlU/ml around 4 weeks since your last period. But they can jump up as high as 7,340 mlU/ml at week 5 and 56,500 mlU/ml at week 6.

This explains why receiving an accurate positive test result is far more likely the longer you wait after implantation. And to increase your chances of receiving a positive test result after pregnancy has taken place even further, doctors recommend:

  • Testing urine that has been in your bladder for at least 4 hours 
  • Not diluting your urine by drinking too much water before testing
  • Following the directions on the test carefully

So, whether you choose to use an at-home or in-office urine test, waiting until the day of your missed period and testing concentrated urine are your best bet. When you do so, they are 99% accurate.

As far as pregnancy blood tests go, they’re also looking for the presence of hCG in your body.

On the plus side, they can detect the pregnancy hormone slightly earlier than a urine test can, and they can determine the level of pregnancy hormone you currently have in your body. But, the downside is that they’re more expensive than a urine test, and they have to be sent to a lab to be analyzed, so the results take much longer. Just like urine tests, blood tests for pregnancy are 99% accurate. 

Because of this, most doctors use urine tests to confirm pregnancy in their patients.

Feelings You May Experience During a Pregnancy Test

Of course, the actual pregnancy test itself is not the only thing on your mind when you think you may be pregnant. Pregnancy is a life-changing experience, so it’s only natural to have all kinds of different thoughts and feelings running through your mind before, during, and after taking a pregnancy test.

For some women, the idea of being pregnant right now at this stage of life is terrifying. You may be worried about raising a child with the partner you currently have, unsure of who may have fathered your child, or even concerned about other factors like your finances, living arrangements, and childcare options. Additionally, you may feel disappointed about having to give up your freedom, anxious about how your whole life is about to change, or stressed out about having to tell your family about your unexpected pregnancy.

For other women, the thought of a possible pregnancy is numbing. You may be in complete denial or you may busy yourself to the point of overdoing it, just to keep your mind focused on something else. Every time you feel a little off or realize you should have gotten your period by now, your mind finds a way to help you escape your current situation. And you keep putting off taking a pregnancy test because you really don’t need one. Right?

On the other hand, some women look at the possibility of being pregnant as one more step in a very long journey toward becoming a mother. You may have been in this same situation many times before only to be left disappointed. Whether you’ve struggled to become pregnant or to keep a pregnancy to full term, you may feel a lot of anxiety and desperation this time around as you hope for a different result than the time before and the time before that. This may even be your last chance at pregnancy and the weight of that will certainly be felt.

Lastly, there are just as many other women who are elated that they might be pregnant. You may feel excited and hopeful—ready to know now so you can share your happy news with everyone you know. Before the news is even confirmed, you’re picking out baby gear, thinking about the best schools in your area, and shopping for maternity clothes. You were born a mother and you couldn’t be happier if the test comes back positive.

No matter which of these scenarios ring most true for you, just know that your feelings matter, and there is no right or wrong way to feel when faced with a possible pregnancy. In fact, your thoughts may very well change over the course of that day, week, or even month.

So, when you take the actual test and receive the results, try to take a deep breath and know that whatever happens, you will be okay.     

What to Do After a Positive Pregnancy Test

You did it! You took a pregnancy test, and it came back positive. You now know that your life is going to change forever. While the amazement of your situation is still sinking in, just remember that there are plenty of things you can do now to make the most of your pregnancy—even during the earliest stages.

Here are 10 things you can do after a receiving positive pregnancy test:

Call Your Healthcare Provider

Medical care is always important, but it’s especially important now that you have a baby growing inside of you. Call your healthcare provider within a few days of receiving a positive test result, and schedule your first appointment. Typically, you’ll start being seen by your doctor at regular intervals once you’re around 8 weeks along. During these appointments, be sure to ask lots of questions and take notes.  

Your healthcare provider is a big part of your pregnancy journey. And they can provide both medical and emotional support to you during your pregnancy as needed. It’s important that you feel comfortable with them as well, so look for a different healthcare provider if you feel that your unique needs aren’t being met.

Take Prenatal Vitamins Regularly

Prenatal vitamins are an important part of maintaining a healthy pregnancy. They significantly lower the risk of birth defects and pregnancy complications. Plus, they promote the healthy development of your baby. They’re also easily accessible and affordable. And, in many cases, you can even get them for free through your local pharmacy.

Taking your prenatal vitamins every day is highly recommended by medical professionals. So be sure to put them in a spot in your home that will remind you to take them daily or set a digital reminder on your phone.

Confirm Your Results

Getting a positive test at home is one thing, but getting confirmation at the doctor’s office makes your pregnancy feel even more real. It’s a big milestone early on in your pregnancy and an important step toward being a mother.

Typically, your results will be confirmed with a urine test—or a blood test in some cases—and as your pregnancy progresses along, subsequent appointments will allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat for the first time and see your baby on an ultrasound.

Take Care of Yourself

It is vital that you take good care of yourself when you’re pregnant—both for you and for your baby. Be sure to eat healthy, get plenty of rest, and stay hydrated. Self-care can go a long way toward helping you feel better and enjoying your pregnancy more too, especially during those first few months when you may not feel so good. 

Now is not the time to take on extra responsibilities at home or at work. Put your needs and your baby’s needs first.

Stay Active

Exercise is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. With the help of your doctor, you can decide which types of exercise are best for you during each stage of your pregnancy. Staying active also helps you maintain a healthy amount of pregnancy weight gain.

Banish Your Unhealthy Habits

Pregnancy is also the perfect opportunity to banish your unhealthy habits for good. Smoking and drinking alcohol during pregnancy are definitely not recommended, but other unhealthy habits like drinking too much caffeine or eating too many processed foods aren’t great for you or your baby either.

Get Informed

So many questions will pop into your head during your pregnancy. You’ll wonder things like what size your baby is this week, is your belly button supposed to look that way, and what to do about your horrible bouts of acid reflux. 

To get answers to all of these questions and many more, reading pregnancy books and high-quality articles in between your doctor’s visits will really help.

Start Planning Ahead

While your pregnancy may feel like it’s taking forever, your precious baby will be here soon enough. To help you get prepared, you’ll want to start planning ahead for their arrival as soon as possible. From considering possible childcare arrangements to finding the perfect crib, planning ahead will eliminate a lot of the anxiety that comes with having a new baby on the way.

Share Your Big News

Deciding when to share your big news and who to tell first are also big considerations to make once you confirm your pregnancy. There are so many creative ways to share the news of your pregnancy with friends and family so try to have some fun with it.  

Talk to Someone

There may be times during your pregnancy when anxiety or depression start to take hold. You are not alone in this as many women feel these same things during and after pregnancy. What matters most is that you reach out and talk to someone about it. Your healthcare provider is a great resource and talking with them or a mental health professional will help you get the assistance you need.

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