16 Early Signs of Pregnancy: What to Expect in the First Few Weeks
Trying to get pregnant is one of the most exciting, yet nerve-wracking times in a woman’s life. You may find yourself trying countless methods to get pregnant like obsessively tracking your ovulation, cutting caffeine out of your diet, or hitting the gym more frequently. You’ll also probably find yourself on a constant lookout for any potential signs of early pregnancy.
Many people recognize a missed period as the first sign of pregnancy, but there can be many other signs of pregnancy. Lots of these signs occur prior to a missed period, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for when it comes to whether or not you could be pregnant.
It seems surreal to notice symptoms as soon as the first few weeks of pregnancy, but it’s more common than you may realize. Some pregnant women experience very early signs of pregnancy just 1 to 2 weeks after conception and this post will explore 16 of them in detail.
Understanding the Pregnancy Timeline
Before we can talk about early pregnancy symptoms, you’ll need to understand the basics of the pregnancy timeline.
Pregnancy is measured using “gestational age,” which is calculated from the first day of your last missed period (LMP). Tracking your cycle in the Mira App can help you figure out the date of your LMP.
Most people think of pregnancy as being 9 months long, but because the day of your LMP occurs three to four weeks before you’re actually considered “pregnant,” a full-term pregnancy (i.e. one where you don’t give birth early or late) usually lasts about 40 weeks.
Because your body does not produce enough pregnancy hormones to be detected by a home pregnancy test until the first day of your LMP, you need to wait at least two weeks after ovulation to take a test. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t necessarily have signs of pregnancy prior to that day!
When an egg is fertilized, it travels down the fallopian tubes to the uterus. This usually occurs around the third or fourth day past ovulation (DPO). The process of implantation follows, beginning at about 6 DPO and taking around 3 to 4 days to complete. After implantation, the developing embryo begins to release the pregnancy hormone hCG, which causes those stereotypical pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness and breast tenderness.
Even though you aren’t considered pregnant until after your LMP, you might experience symptoms of implantation as soon as 6 DPO, or symptoms of rising hCG as early as 10 to 12 DPO. This means that you might feel pregnant, even though a pregnancy test would probably come back negative during this time.
Early Signs of Pregnancy
Do your breasts feel sore and tender? Are you going to the bathroom more frequently than usual? These are some of the early symptoms of pregnancy that can occur before your LMP.
When it comes to fertility, science has taught us that the body is an instrument that communicates with us in interesting ways. Below, we discuss 16 early signs of pregnancy you might notice, even before receiving a positive pregnancy test.
1. Frequent Urination
If you notice yourself needing to urinate more often, that’s a good sign.
There are several reasons for urinating more frequently after conception, but the main cause is increased blood flow to the kidneys. Your kidneys can produce as much as 25% more urine right after conceiving.
The amount of urine your body produces usually peaks from the end of your first trimester to the first few weeks of your second trimester. Fortunately, frequent urination tends to settle down after the first month of pregnancy.
Another reason for urinating frequently is related to your uterus. After conception, your uterus, also known as the womb, will expand in order to hold a developing fetus. As the womb grows larger, it applies pressure to your bladder, which can make you feel the need to urinate more frequently.
2. Breasts Feel Tender, Sore, and Heavy
There are many symptoms of pregnancy that lay in the breast area. You may find that your breasts become extremely sensitive. Some women’s breasts may be irritated by clothing fabrics.
Your breasts may increase in size and also feel heavier as well. Walking and running may feel uncomfortable because of the increase in breast weight.
Your nipples and areolas may begin to darken, and nipples can harden. Your nipples can feel itchy, tingly, or prickly at this stage as well.
Embrace these uncomfortable symptoms — they happen when your breasts are preparing themselves to produce milk to nurse your newborn and might be a sign that you have a baby on the way!
3. Feeling Tired and Sleepy
Feeling tired throughout the day, even after getting a decent amount of sleep, is an early symptom of pregnancy. Just getting out of bed in the morning and putting on a decent outfit can seem like a chore when you are pregnant.
Changes in hormone levels during pregnancy are to blame. The hormone progesterone increases when you get pregnant, leading you to feel sleepier throughout the day.
In addition, your body will need to use extra energy to produce more blood to support the developing fetus, which can make you even more exhausted. Simultaneously, changes in blood pressure or blood sugar can contribute to pregnancy fatigue.
Tiredness due to pregnancy can be countered with a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and fluids.
4. Nausea and Vomiting
Feeling nauseous is a common pregnancy symptom, also known as morning sickness, and is a well-known sign of pregnancy.
Nausea usually sets in about 4-6 weeks after conceiving. The exact cause of morning sickness is not exactly known, but it is thought that hormonal changes play a role. In particular, as the pregnancy hormone hCG rises, women may experience more symptoms related to nausea.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 4 out of 5 women will experience pregnancy-related nausea during the first few weeks of pregnancy, before a missed period.
Tips for Combating Morning Sickness
Morning sickness can be one of the most unpleasant symptoms of early pregnancy. Here’s how you can manage nausea and vomiting throughout the first few weeks of pregnancy:
- Snack often: Eating multiple meals in smaller portions is better for nausea, compared to filling your stomach with three full meals per day.
- Avoid nausea triggers: As you get to know your body’s changes during pregnancy, you may realize that certain smell or food aversions can be so strong that they can trigger vomiting. Common nausea triggers include spicy foods, caffeine, and perfume.
- Rinse your mouth after vomiting: The acidic bile contained in vomit can damage the enamel in your teeth and cause other oral hygiene issues. After vomiting, rinse your with water, then use a fluoride-based mouthwash to keep your mouth happy and healthy.
5. Cramping and Light Bleeding
Uterine cramping and light bleeding can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, also known as implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding usually occurs a few days before your expected period (more on spotting before your period here) as the result of the fertilized egg attaching itself to the wall of your uterus.
Women with a regular, 28-day menstrual cycle usually experience implantation bleeding about a week or so before their missed period. Implantation bleeding results in trace amounts of blood coming from the vagina, which is usually lighter in color and flow than a typical period. These symptoms may last from a few hours to several days
Watch out for heavier bleeding, as this could be a sign of your period (rather than pregnancy) or early miscarriage.
6. Weird Food Cravings
Do you suddenly have a strong urge to eat a chunky gooey chocolate bar at 1:00 in the morning? There’s a chance you could be pregnant.
Weird food cravings are a common symptom that starts from the early stages of pregnancy. Similar to other early signs of pregnancy, food cravings are the result of changes in hormone levels that remain elevated after conception.
In the United States, some of the most common cravings experienced during pregnancy are sweet foods such as chocolates, ice cream, and juices. Some of the less common cravings include salty foods like pickles and chips.
The bloating from pregnancy can be described as feeling like there’s a huge water balloon in your stomach. You may also feel pinching and pulling feelings in your stomach as well.
The increase in progesterone hormone levels after you get pregnant causes bloating because progesterone causes water retention. Because the increased progesterone levels slow down digestion, gas gets trapped inside the intestines, leading to bloating.
This can also cause you to pass gas more frequently (farting or burping) or experience constipation. Eating in smaller portions, enjoying a high-fiber diet, and drinking plenty of water can help to combat the discomfort.
8. You Missed Your Birth Control Pill
If you use oral contraceptives, it’s crucial to take your pill at the same time each day. One missed pill doesn’t seem like a major issue, and it’s a fairly common occurrence. However, the failure rate of birth control pills is 5% per year when pills aren’t taken exactly as directed.
If you forgot to take a pill and experience any of the signs on this list, it’s possible that you’re experiencing early signs of pregnancy. Schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN if you have any concerns.
9. Cervical Mucus Changes
Changes in vaginal discharge, also known as cervical mucus, are one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. When the fertilized egg is implanted in your uterus, your vaginal discharge may change.
During implantation, you may experience a light brown or pink discharge (implantation bleeding). After implantation, the cervical mucus becomes thick and creamy, yet clear in color. This can occur as early as one week after conception.
10. Missed Period
Many of the earliest signs of pregnancy occur before you even miss a period. However, if you become pregnant unexpectedly, a missed period may be the first symptom that clues you into your pregnancy.
Every pregnancy is different in terms of the timeline and symptoms experienced. You might not notice any early symptoms of pregnancy — or you may notice that you feel slightly different, but not realize that you are pregnant until your missed period.
For most women, a missed period is the first sign of pregnancy. While there are other reasons why you might miss your period besides pregnancy, you should always rule out pregnancy if you are sexually active, even if you are using contraceptives.
Most home pregnancy tests will be positive by the first day of your missed period, so taking a pregnancy test can help you find out for sure.
We already mentioned that pregnancy can cause changes in your cervical mucus, a.k.a. vaginal discharge. One of the most characteristic types of vaginal discharge you might notice in early pregnancy is called leukorrhea.
Many women experience a thin, whitish discharge between menstrual periods. Leukorrhea is similar in consistency but tends to be heavier. It can also sometimes come with a mild odor; the scent may be a bit off-putting, but rest assured that it is harmless!
Leukorrhea occurs because the increase in estrogen levels during pregnancy causes increased blood flow to the pelvis, stimulating the vagina’s mucus membranes to produce more discharge than usual. It also helps protect the vaginal canal from bacteria and infection during pregnancy.
While leukorrhea might seem unusual at first, it’s completely normal to experience leukorrhea, both in early pregnancy and throughout the entire course of your pregnancy. However, if your vaginal discharge becomes lumpy like cottage cheese, grayish in color, or takes on a fishy odor, visit your OB/GYN, as this may be a sign of infection.
Headaches or even migraines are extremely common in the first trimester of pregnancy. Doctors believe that changing hormone levels and blood volume play a role. However, there are many reasons why you might experience a headache or migraine during early pregnancy.
Nasal congestion and runny nose are common during early pregnancy, which can lead to sinus headaches. Low blood sugar, hunger, and dehydration, often accompanied by morning sickness, may also cause a headache. You might also experience withdrawal headaches when you cut down on the amount of caffeine you’re consuming during pregnancy.
Migraines are a severe form of headache that may or may not be accompanied by aura, which includes visual disruptions and tingling in the limbs. Migraines are common during pregnancy, but you should still see your doctor if you experience them. While strokes are rare in pregnancy, having migraines during pregnancy may slightly increase your risk.
13. Sensitivity to Smell
Do you suddenly find yourself noticing the smallest smells that others do not? Hyperosmia, or a heightened sense of smell, is a common symptom in early pregnancy. Even scents that previously smelled good to you, like fish or garlic, can trigger a wave of nausea during early pregnancy.
Doctors aren’t completely sure why pregnant women sometimes experience hyperosmia, but they believe it has to do with the same hormonal changes that are associated with morning sickness. As hCG levels rise, they can trigger nausea or vomiting — and there’s a chance that strong smells could worsen these symptoms.
Pregnancy can cause changes in your bowel movements, including constipation. Constipation is defined as passing fewer than three stools per week, passing lumpy or hard stools, or straining to have a bowel movement. It is common in early pregnancy due to the hormonal changes that occur while your body is preparing to have a baby.
As progesterone levels rise during pregnancy, this hormone causes your bowels to become more relaxed. This can lead to a sluggish digestive system, and therefore constipation. Constipation also serves a purpose for nourishing your baby: it gives the body more time to absorb nutrients into the bloodstream and pass them onto the developing fetus.
Unfortunately, constipation is uncomfortable and can lead to even worse symptoms, such as hemorrhoids, if left untreated. Thankfully, eating a diet high in fiber and drinking plenty of water can help you stay regular during early pregnancy. Sometimes, you may be tempted to use laxatives or stool softeners to get relief — but make sure you talk to your doctor first, as some of these medications aren’t safe for use during pregnancy.
15. Heartburn and/or Indigestion
Indigestion, also called heartburn or acid reflux, happens frequently in early pregnancy. You may be experiencing indigestion if you develop a burning sensation in the chest, feelings of fullness or heaviness, or burping soon after eating or drinking.
Indigestion can occur at any time during pregnancy, but it is most common after 27 weeks and may worsen as your pregnancy goes on. This is because the growing baby presses against your stomach, causing stomach acid to slosh against your esophageal sphincter.
Changing your diet and eating more slowly may help you combat indigestion in pregnancy. Avoiding rich, spicy, fatty, or acidic foods can decrease stomach acid production and improve symptoms of reflux. Over-the-counter antacids are also safe for pregnancy, but make sure to consult your doctor before taking any medication.
16. Metallic Taste in Your Mouth
If you suddenly find yourself disgusted by the foods you used to love, pregnancy hormones may be to blame.
Pregnancy can lead to dysgeusia, a change in your sense of taste. This can lead to a sour or metallic taste in the mouth when you consume certain foods, or even when you aren’t eating or drinking at all!
Dysgeusia is most common in early pregnancy, during the first trimester, and often disappears as pregnancy hormones settle during the second trimester. If not, don’t worry: your taste buds will return to normal after giving birth!
You can manage dysgeusia by brushing your tongue when you brush your teeth and rinsing with a mild solution of saltwater or baking soda and water.
Common Questions About Signs of Early Pregnancy
The signs of early pregnancy can be confusing, so it’s not unusual to have lots of questions — especially because so many of the symptoms of early pregnancy are so similar to the symptoms of your menstrual period.
Below, we answer some of the most common questions women have about the early signs of pregnancy.
When should you take a pregnancy test?
Trying to conceive is such an exciting process. It’s normal to be so eager that you want to take a pregnancy test right after doing the deed. However, testing too soon will result in a false-negative, which means you’re actually pregnant but your pregnancy hormone levels aren’t high enough to be detected yet.
If you get a false-negative, it’s best to put the cigarettes and wine away until your period comes, since there’s a chance you could still be pregnant. You should also wait until the first day of your expected period before taking another pregnancy test.
False-negatives are common, especially if you test too early, but false-positives are extremely rare. This means that once you get a positive pregnancy test, there’s no need to test again. Instead, make an appointment with your OB/GYN — and celebrate with some non-alcoholic sparkling cider!
Can you miss a period and not be pregnant?
A missed period doesn’t always point to pregnancy. Hormonal changes, stress, and birth control are all reasons people may miss their period or get their period later than expected. Without a pregnancy test confirming your conception, a missed period cannot be assumed to mean you are pregnant. We know the two-week wait is hard, but you can do it!
✔️ Medically Reviewed by Banafsheh Kashani, MD, FACOG
Banafsheh Kashani, M.D., FACOG is a board-certified OB/GYN and specialist in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Eden Fertility Centers, and has been treatingcouples and individuals with infertility since 2014.
Dr. Kashani has conducted extensive research in female reproduction, with a specific focus on the endometrium and implantation.
Additionally, Dr. Kashani has authored papers in the areas of fertility preservation, and fertility in women with PCOS and Turners syndrome. She also was part of a large SART-CORS study evaluating the trend in frozen embryo transfers and success rates.