The primary sign of pregnancy is missing a menstrual period or two or more consecutive periods, but many women experience other symptoms of pregnancy before they notice a missed period.
Missing a period does not always mean a woman is pregnant. Menstrual irregularities are common and can have a variety of causes, including taking birth control pills, conditions such as diabetes and polycystic ovary syndrome, eating disorders, excessive exercise, and certain medications. Women who miss a period should see their health care provider to find out whether they are pregnant or whether they have a specific health problem.
Pregnancy symptoms vary from woman to woman. A woman may experience every common symptom, just a few, or none at all. Some signs of early pregnancy include1:
- Slight bleeding. One study shows as many as 25% of pregnant women experience slight bleeding or spotting that is lighter in color than normal menstrual blood.2 This typically occurs at the time of implantation of the fertilized egg (about 6 to 12 days after conception) but is common in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.3
- Tender, swollen breasts or nipples. Women may notice this symptom as early as 1 to 2 weeks after conception. Hormonal changes can make the breasts sore or even tingly. The breasts feel fuller or heavier as well.
- Fatigue. Many women feel more tired early in pregnancy because their bodies are producing more of a hormone called progesterone, which helps maintain the pregnancy and encourages the growth of milk-producing glands in the breasts. In addition, during pregnancy the body pumps more blood to carry nutrients to the fetus. Pregnant women may notice fatigue as early as 1 week after conception.4
- Headaches. The sudden rise of hormones may trigger headaches early in pregnancy.
- Nausea or vomiting. This symptom can start anywhere from 2 to 8 weeks after conception and can continue throughout pregnancy. Commonly referred to as "morning sickness," it can actually occur at any time during the day.
- Food cravings or aversions. Sudden cravings or developing a dislike of favorite foods are both common throughout pregnancy. A food craving or aversion can last the entire pregnancy or vary throughout this period.
- Mood swings. Hormonal changes during pregnancy often cause sharp mood swings. These can occur as early as a few weeks after conception.
- Frequent urination. The need to empty the bladder more often is common throughout pregnancy. In the first few weeks of pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, which increases blood flow to the pelvic region, causing women to have to urinate more often. 4
Many of these symptoms can also be a sign of another condition, the result of changing birth control pills, or stress, and thus they do not always mean that a woman is pregnant. Women should see their health care provider if they suspect they are pregnant.
- American Pregnancy Association. (2012). Pregnancy symptoms—Early signs of pregnancy. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/earlypregnancysymptoms.html [top]
- Deutchman, M., Tubay, A. T., & Turok, D. (2009). First trimester bleeding. American Family Physician, 79, 985–994.[top]
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (2010, August). FAQs: Bleeding during pregnancy. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq038.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20120731T1022269025 (PDF - 213 KB) [top]
- March of Dimes. (2009). Your pregnant body. Retrieved July 31, 2012, from http://www.marchofdimes.com/pregnancy/yourbody_fatigue.html [top]