"Home pregnancy tests have come a long way over the years," says Stephen Rechner, M.D., the Division Chief of General Obstetrics and Gynecology at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. "They can now detect pregnancy earlier and are accurate most any time of day." But, he explains, you can up your chances of getting the most accurate result possible by getting the timing right.
When is the best time to take a pregnancy test?
Waiting to find out whether or not you're pregnant can be nerve-racking, but even though you're dying to know, you're not as likely to get a reading you can trust before you miss your period. That's because home pregnancy tests read the amount of the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), in your urine.
In general, "a urine test needs 50 units of hCG to test positive," explains Daniel Roshan, M.D., an ob-gyn at Rosh Maternal-Fetal Medicine in New York City. Every woman and every pregnancy is different—you might have 50 even before your missed period. Or it might take your body a little longer to produce that amount.
How early can you take a pregnancy test? What if I'm taking one that says it shows an early result?
Some pregnancy tests' packaging says they can pick up hCG before your missed period, and the real answer is that they might. The amount of hCG in a woman's urine can vary up until the time she misses her period—some women may see a positive test before a missed period and some might not. Check your pregnancy test's packaging to find out how accurate it is before a missed period.
If I'm taking a pregnancy test earlier than my missed period, how can I increase my chances of getting an accurate reading?
Take the test first thing in the morning, since your urine has a higher concentration of hCG early in the day. And, no matter when you're taking the test, follow the package instructions closely, and don't take a test that has expired.
What if I get a negative test—could I still be pregnant?
Yes! Home pregnancy tests can give false negative results. As Dr. Roshan explains, a woman's hCG level doubles every 48 to 72 hours, so if you really are pregnant, it won't be negative for long. Take another test in a few days—or around a week after your missed period—and you can trust the results.
Can I take a pregnancy test too late?
You'll get an accurate result later in your cycle, but it's important to call your doctor as soon as possible once you find out you're pregnant. That way, you can get the prenatal care and counseling you need to have a healthy pregnancy.