How Do I Know If I'm Pregnant?

From the early signs of pregnancy to the best and most accurate tests, here's everything you need to know about pregnancy.

Rear View Cropped Shot Of Unrecognisable Woman Taking Pregnancy Test At Home
Photo: Getty

Whether you've waited for this moment or dreaded it, one thing is clear: If you're searching the term "How do I know if I'm pregnant?" you're looking for answers. You want to know if you're "with child." The good news is we've got you covered. From the early signs of pregnancy to the best and most accurate tests, here's everything you need to know about pregnancy.

What Is Pregnancy?

While most people understand what pregnancy is—it is the time during which one or more offspring develop in the womb—the process is still misunderstood. Pregnancy occurs when sperm fertilizes an egg, which then creates an embryo. This can occur spontaneously through vaginal intercourse or with ART (artificial reproductive technologies) such as intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF).

How Do I Know If I'm Pregnant, i.e. What Are the Early Signs?

The signs of pregnancy differ from person to person, and pregnancy to pregnancy. While some have telltale symptoms—such as nausea and breast tenderness—others don't know they're expecting until they receive a positive pregnancy test.

"If someone has more than one of the [following] symptoms, they should take a pregnancy test to be certain whether or not they are expecting," says Stephen Rechner, M.D., the Division Chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

But it's important to note that you could still be pregnant if you don't have any symptoms. "If you feel no signs, that's OK too," says Cristina Perez, M.D., OB-GYN at the Women's Specialists of Houston at Texas Children's Pavilion for Women. "You're just lucky."

So how do you know you're pregnant? Read on to learn the most common early pregnancy signs and symptoms.

Tender, swollen breasts: A person's breasts can become sore, sensitive, and heavy-feeling one or two weeks after conception. That's because an increase in estrogen and progesterone causes the glands to grow.

Implantation bleeding: Pregnancy occurs after a fertilized egg implants into the lining of the uterus—usually about six to 12 days after conception. When this happens, some people experience "implantation bleeding" that's lighter than a normal period, and it's usually pink or brown in color.

Mild cramping: Implantation might also come with mild cramping that feels like tingling or pulling. Many mistake this cramping for PMS.

Nausea: Feeling nauseous during early pregnancy is normal, although morning sickness won't strike in full for a few weeks. You can partially blame the hormones human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and progesterone, which slow down your digestive process. "Although we don't know the true cause of morning sickness, we do know that pregnancy hormones play a large role," says Dr. Rechner.

Fatigue: If you're pregnant, you might notice that you're completely exhausted. Chalk this one up to hormones too. "Many people feel tired because of the extra pregnancy hormone progesterone," says Dr. Rechner. "This symptom should go away during the second trimester, but might begin again in the third trimester."

Food aversions and cravings: Do you suddenly notice you can't stand a food you usually love, or you can't shake an intense craving? Many people realize they're pregnant when they have newfound craving for (or aversion to) certain foods. This is another byproduct of the hormone shift.

Mood swings: Pregnancy hormone hCG might also lead to mood swings—which could also, of course, be exaggerated by your other pregnancy symptoms.

What Are the Best Pregnancy Tests for Early Detection?

Whether you're experieincing some of the early signs of pregnancy or just missed your period, these tests will help you get the answer your looking for.

At-home pregnancy tests

The first (and easiest) way to determine if you're pregnant is to take an at-home pregnancy test. These over-the-counter products are quick, accurate, and readily accessible. Most single tests cost $15 or less. Howver, in order to get the most accurate reading, you'll likely have to wait until you miss your period, says Dr. Perez. That's because home pregnancy tests measure the level of pregnancy hormone hCG in your urine and, before your missed period, you may not have enough hCG for the test to pick up.

A negative home pregnancy test also doesn't guarantee you aren't pregnant. You could get a false negative by taking the test too early, using diluted urine, or not following the directions. If you still think you might be pregnant, "take another one the following week," recommends Dr. Perez.

Blood tests

For the most accurate way to know if you're pregnant, head to your doctor's office to get a blood test. Blood tests are more sensitive than urine tests, since less hCG needs to be present to get a positive result.

Most people don't undergo a blood test if their at-home test was positive, but Dr. Perez explains that it can help evaluate for a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy in the fallopian tubes). Therefore she recommends scheduling an appointment once you get a positive pregnancy test.

When Are Pregnancy Tests Most Accurate?

Are you wondering how soon you can get a positive result on a pregnancy test? While the signs of pregnancy can appear early, it will take a few days/weeks to receive a positive test. Most at-home products do not work until you miss your period, though some detect pregnancy sooner. Certain tests and brands, for example, may detect pregnancy as soon as 10 days after conception. Blood tests are more accurate, and they can detect pregnancy as early as six to eight days after ovulation. However, most doctors will not order one of these tests until you miss your period.

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