If you’re trying to conceive, then you’ll want to know about the early signs of pregnancy. Pregnancy can be an equally exciting and daunting time, especially if you’ve been trying for a long time, had fertility issues and/or suffered a miscarriage.
So how soon do early pregnancy symptoms start? “The first sign is the most obvious – a missed period, which is when you can take a pregnancy test,” says Kate Taylor, lead midwife for online women’s clinic Naytal.
A pregnancy test measures the amount of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in a woman’s urine or blood. Known as the ‘pregnancy hormone’, it’s released when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus.
“Most women do a test after a missed period but some tests can detect a positive pregnancy around 10 days after conception,” says Taylor. “Blood tests, on the other hand, usually done at the doctor's, can detect a pregnancy about seven to 10 days after conception.”
You don’t necessarily need to see your doctor to confirm your pregnancy, says Taylor. “A positive pregnancy test can be enough...or two if you really want to be sure, but these things are expensive and usually pretty accurate.” However, once you have a positive test, be sure to schedule a visit with your obstetrician to get started right away with prenatal care.Some of the early signs of pregnancy include breast tenderness, nausea, vomiting (called ‘morning sickness’, although it can happen at any time of day or night), headaches, hot flashes, bloating, reduced appetite and fatigue, says Taylor. “Every woman is different so not everyone will have the same symptoms or experience them to the same extent,” she says.
“And all early pregnancy symptoms can be put down to hormones going crazy in the first trimester. There is an incredible amount of growth and hormonal changes going on. This period can be very taxing both physically and mentally, but usually after that many mothers-to-be start to feel better.”
In this article we speak to the experts about the 12 early signs of pregnancy.
Yasmine S. Ali is an award-winning physician writer who has published across multiple genres and media. She is President of LastSky Writing, LLC, and has 25 years of experience in medical writing, editing, and reviewing, across a broad range of health topics and medical conditions.
Dr. Ali is board certified in general internal medicine and the subspecialty of cardiovascular disease. She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology (FACC) and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians (FACP).
1. Missed period
Not surprisingly, one of the most obvious early signs of pregnancy is missing your period.
Taylor says: “After conception, your embryo will embed into the uterine lining and the rise in hCG, progesterone and estrogen will stop you from menstruating.”
“Once you’ve taken a test and have a positive result, contact your doctor and let them know you're pregnant and they will tell you the course of action for your particular area,” Taylor tells Live Science.
Kate Taylor is a registered midwife with over 17 years experience in midwifery working for the UK’s National Health Service, and is co-founder of The PEP Midwives, a holistic platform that offers prenatal and postnatal courses and services for mums-to-be.
Soaring levels of the hormone progesterone can make you feel like all you want to do is sleep during early pregnancy.
“Apart from growing a whole new human, throw into the equation changes to your metabolism, as well as to your blood volume and circulation, among many other ‘adjustments’, and it’s no surprise you’re left feeling rather worn out and low in mood,” says Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife.
But despite this fatigue, a 2020 study published in the journal BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth found that sleep problems were also common in early pregnancy.
“Ensure you remain well hydrated and keep your blood sugars stable by grazing on healthy and nutritious foods. Get help with older children and house chores wherever possible,” says Gilchrist.
“And, last but not least, do some gentle exercise, ideally in nature – a brisk walk, gentle jog or a yoga class can help lift your mood and, also, improve your sleep. If low mood continues or you have a history of prenatal depression or depression then contact your doctor for advice.”
- Related: Is insomnia a sign of pregnancy?
Lesley Gilchrist is a registered midwife who began her career as a staff nurse in intensive care before studying midwifery in 2001 in Newcastle, U.K. Throughout her career, Lesley has worked in large teaching hospitals both on delivery suites and within the community.
Due to rises in progesterone, your muscles may relax a little during early pregnancy, causing some issues with your digestive system.
“Bloating or excessive gas or trapped wind can occur at this time especially towards the end of the day or after eating,” says Taylor.
4. Bleeding / spotting
Bleeding in the first trimester, before 12 weeks of pregnancy, can be quite common, Gilchrist says. “A baby is still an embryo and is developing and changing at a rapid rate. The placenta is also starting to embed and grow into the blood-rich wall of the uterus,” she says.
This embedding process is known as an ‘implantation bleed’ and usually happens at around six to eight weeks, where the embryo embeds into the uterine lining,” says Taylor. “This is sometimes perceived as an unusually really light period and some people don't question it and assume at this point that they're not pregnant.
“Some women also continue to have very small light false periods — a small amount of loss at the time when their periods are due. This is again hormonal and usually not detrimental to the pregnancy, however any bleeding should be checked out straight away.”
Bleeding could also be a sign of a miscarriage, or another health condition.
Midwife Pip Davies told Live Science: “Many women may experience a miscarriage before even knowing they were pregnant and they then might have a later than normal period with heavier bleeding than usual. Some women may also have accompanying symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, pelvic pain, or back pain.”
- Read more: 6 myths about miscarriage
5. Breast tenderness
Sensitive and tender breasts are one of the first symptoms of pregnancy for many women. “Many changes take place inside and outside of your breasts, as they prepare to produce milk and feed your baby,” explains Gilchrist.
“Using supportive vests or non-wired bras made of soft, natural fibers can help reduce discomfort.”
Up to 80% of women experience some nausea or vomiting during their pregnancy and, although some can suffer until their babies are born, most women’s symptoms disappear by week 12-16, says Gilchrist.
“Symptoms can range from mild nausea that comes and goes, to a constant and debilitating feeling of sickness. We know that about 30% of pregnant women need to take time off work due to sickness.
“Occasionally, some women may be so ill that they become severely dehydrated and need hospitalization – this extreme form of sickness in pregnancy is known as hyperemesis gravidarum and requires medical assessment and medication.”
Taylor says the term ‘morning sickness’ is misleading because nausea and vomiting can happen at any time, not just in the morning. A 2020 study involving 256 women, published in the British Journal of General Practice, also found the term "inaccurate, simplistic, and therefore unhelpful."
While women involved in the study were more likely to actually vomit in the morning, there was a lower but strong chance that they would experience sustained nausea throughout the day.
Women may begin to feel the worst nausea symptoms between the sixth and twelfth weeks of pregnancy, and some women may start to feel relief by week 14, Taylor says.
7. Mood changes
Davies says: “In early pregnancy your body really does go through a hormonal roller coaster and changes to mood are all very common in the early weeks.
“Estrogen, progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) are all surging hormones working hard to protect your pregnancy and to allow your baby to develop, but are also the likely culprits for many of the first trimester symptoms.
“It is important to note that mood changes could also indicate something more serious or that you may be experiencing depression or prenatal depression, so be sure to speak with your midwife or doctor for support.”
Taylor adds: “Always ask for help — there's plenty out there and most maternity departments have a specific perinatal mental health team you can talk to.
“If you're taking antidepressants before pregnancy, discuss this with your healthcare professional as soon as you find out you're pregnant, or before you start trying to get pregnant. We advise that you don't try to come off the medication cold turkey as this can be seriously detrimental to mental health.”
8. Changes in urination and bowel movements
From about six weeks into the first trimester and throughout her pregnancy, a woman may need to pee more frequently.
Gilchrist says: “This is because increased blood flow to your pelvic organs results in your kidneys producing more urine. This, coupled with the fact that, although still small, your womb is very close to your bladder, means that you will need the toilet a lot more. Thankfully, this tends to settle in your second trimester.”
Constipation may be caused by extra progesterone, which can slow down the digestive system so that more nutrients can reach the fetus. Pregnancy hormones can also relax muscles that push waste products through the intestines.
Headaches are a common symptom during the first trimester, says Taylor. This could be a sign of hunger, dehydration or may even be caused by caffeine withdrawal. What’s more, the many hormonal changes that take place in the body during the early stages of pregnancy can cause headaches, according to Cleveland Clinic.
As a pregnant woman's blood volume increases during the first trimester, blood vessels can swell and contact surrounding nerves in the brain.
Some women may feel dizzy or lightheaded during the early months of pregnancy. Wooziness can be related to low blood sugar or dehydration, says Taylor, and it can also result from blood shifts in the body, especially when a woman changes position, for example from sitting to standing, or when she gets out of bed.
If you feel faint, contact your clinician, Taylor advises.
11. Hot flashes
Hot flashes and night sweats, typically considered a symptom of peri-menopause and menopause, could also be an early sign of pregnancy.
“If unsure whether your symptoms are that of pregnancy or a sign of the menopause you should do a pregnancy test and speak with your doctor if this is not conclusive,” says Davies.
A study published in Fertility and Sterility found that a third of women reported having either a hot flash or night sweats during pregnancy. Doctors think that rapid changes in hormones, including estrogen, could be behind these symptoms, the study found.
12. Running hot
Pregnancy leads to an increased metabolic rate, which can make women feel hotter, especially when they sleep, found Kathy Lee, a professor of nursing at the University of California San Francisco, who has studied how pregnancy affects sleep.
Women who track their basal body temperature, or their temperature when they first wake up in the morning, might notice that it stays elevated in the first weeks of pregnancy.
A study published in the journal Acta Physiologica found that a pregnant woman's temperature peaks in the first trimester at 98.8 degrees Fahrenheit (37.1 degrees Celsius), dropping to 97.5 F (36.4 C) 12 weeks after giving birth.
That's because of rising progesterone levels, which raise basal body temperature, according to a 2017 study in the journal Bioengineering and Translational Medicine.
“The first trimester of your pregnancy can be a tricky time. Most women have few or no outward physical signs of pregnancy until they reach their second trimester yet, it’s during your first trimester that your body is working the hardest,” says Gilchrist.
“During early pregnancy, your baby undergoes incredible changes and developments, going from being a little ball of cells to becoming formed with body parts and internal organs by week 12. This means that you can feel out of sorts with the symptoms previously mentioned as well as feeling possible body temperature fluctuations.”
- What pregnancy symptoms are normal?: Watch a video from NHS UK.
- Read this week-to-week pregnancy guide, written by an expert: Your Pregnancy Week By Week
- 10 tips to help calm morning sickness: Cleveland Clinic
This article was updated with additional information by Maddy Bidulph. Also, this article is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.
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Cari Nierenberg has been writing about health and wellness topics for online news outlets and print publications for more than two decades. Her work has been published by Live Science, The Washington Post, WebMD, Scientific American, among others. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition from Cornell University and a Master of Science degree in Nutrition and Communication from Boston University.