Pregnancy

Early Signs and Symptoms

There are many changes in a woman's body during pregnancy which can be used to determine if you are pregnant. Some of these changes will give you more definite signs than others, but usually these are not the earliest signs.

Very Early Signs

The increases of progesterone and estrogen begin a chain of events that help support your baby. You may begin to notice some of these pregnancy symptoms before you miss a period or have a positive pregnancy test.

Breast Changes

The increased estrogen and progesterone levels cause your breasts to prepare for breastfeeding. Within only a few weeks (2-4) of gestation your breasts will begin to feel heavier due to the increased amount of blood flow to them. For some women, this feels like tingling and sensitivity. For other women this feels painful. By the second month, your areola will become darker and the nodules around the nipple (Montgomery's tubercles) will become more pronounced.

Fatigue

Most women are more tired than usual during early pregnancy. Your body is producing more blood, your heart is working harder and the way you process the foods you eat changes. All this results in your being more tired with the same amount of sleep and wake times. Some women feel an increased stress when they are trying to determine if they are pregnant or when they find out they are pregnant. This anxiety can affect how you body feels during early pregnancy.

Non-pregnancy related issues can also increase your fatigue, such as increased amounts of work, decreased rest times, poor nutrition, illness and stress. Having less energy than normal may help to confirm your suspicions of pregnancy, but can be caused by too many other variables to be definitive on its own.

Bloating

Your uterus will be small enough to fit inside your pelvis until about the 12th week of pregnancy, so an increased abdomen size is not normal in early pregnancy. However, some women do experience bloating which may be caused by progesterone slowing down the digestive system.

Cervical Softening

One of the signs caregivers look for to confirm pregnancy is a softened cervix. Your cervix is the opening of the uterus which drops into the vaginal canal. You can find it by feeling deep inside on the upper wall of the vagina, however if you have not been doing cervical mucus checks as part of natural family planning, you will not be able to recognize a change in your cervix.

Increase in Body Temperature

For women who are using natural family planning, pregnancy can be noticed before the first missed period. The natural rise in body temperature which remains after ovulation is a pretty good indication you are pregnant, provided you have not mistaken a slight fever or illness for a natural rise in body temperature.

Other Signs

No Period (amenorrhoea)

Generally during pregnancy you should not have a menstrual flow. Your regular monthly bleeding is the shedding of the lining intended to support a baby should an egg be fertilized. Because an egg is fertilized, it will produce progesterone which prevents the uterus from contracting so the lining is not shed. Some women do experience a yellowish vaginal discharge, spotting or a small flow around the time they would expect their period. This is normal bleeding caused by the fertilized egg implanting in the uterine lining.

Most women get their first hint they may be pregnant when they notice they are "late." Pregnancy is the most common reason women miss a period, but it is important to determine if this period is actually missed. To do this you would need to know when your period should start - which means you know when the last period started, you have a standard amount of time between periods and you know what that amount of time is.

There are reasons other than a pregnancy which may cause you to miss a period or to be late. Just beginning a hormonal contraceptive, or irregular use of oral contraceptives may cause the timing of your period to alter. Some women report a late period after a moderate illness such as a flu that lasts three or more days.

A very small percentage of women will continue to bleed in early pregnancy around the time of expected menstruation. The term for this is decidual bleeding and it usually ends after the first trimester.

Morning Sickness

About 4 weeks after conception (6 weeks pregnancy), some women begin to feel uncomfortable in their stomach. About 50% of women experience nausea and vomiting with pregnancy, and a small percentage struggle with it to the extent it becomes a danger to their and their baby's health (Hyperemesis gravidarum). No one is certain what causes morning sickness, however we do know some of the pregnancy hormones relax the digestive system which probably contributes. Other contributors may be stress, fatigue, changes in blood sugar levels, poor nutrition and low blood pressure.

There is a wide variety of experiences with morning sickness. Not every woman experiences morning sickness, and it doesn't always happen in the morning. Some women only feel slightly ill while others vomit at least once a day. Generally, nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy occurs without you feeling ill in other ways and goes away after you have vomited. Some women find they feel sick to their stomach if they get hungry, and it goes away when they eat.

Because there is no definite answer for what the experience of morning sickness with pregnancy should be, its presence or absence is a very poor indicator of pregnancy for most women.

Pregnancy Test

There are two types of pregnancy tests, one type can be done at home measuring hormone levels in your urine. The other type is done by a health care provider and measures hormone levels in your blood. Of the two, the blood test is most accurate, however home tests have a very good accuracy rate. Either test will detect pregnancy at 14 days after conception (approximately when you would expect your next period).

Because the tests measure the amount of HcG (human chorionic gonadotrophin produced by the new baby), you can increase the probability of having an accurate home test reading by using the first urine of the day, and waiting to do the test until you are sure you are at least 14 days after conception.

If you have a shorter than average menstrual cycle, you may have missed two or more days of your period before the hormone levels are high enough to indicate pregnancy on a home test.

Urinary Frequency

In the second month of pregnancy (around 5 weeks pregnancy/3 weeks from conception) increased pressure on the bladder and an increased metabolism causes an increased frequency of urination. This generally decreases during the second trimester and returns again near the end of pregnancy when the pressure from the growing uterus again descends into the pelvis and affects the bladder.

Because something as simple as how much fluid you intake changes your urinary frequency, it should only be used to further support other signs of pregnancy.