There are several early signs of pregnancy that, considered individually, may be attributed to other conditions, but taken together can be pretty clear indicators that a woman is expecting. A missed period, fatigue, nausea, and food cravings or food aversions can all be early signs. Generally, a woman may be pregnant if she suspects she is and exhibits three or more of these symptoms. To be certain, a woman should take a home pregnancy test or see a doctor.
A common assumption is that a missed menstrual cycle is the biggest of the early signs of pregnancy; however, this isn't a foolproof indicator. Since many women do not have regular periods, it can be difficult to judge if a cycle is truly late. Others may experience light bleeding, called implantation bleeding, after becoming pregnant; this commonly occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself in the womb. In fact, some estimates indicate that as many as one in five pregnant women experience some light bleeding in the first trimester.
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Among the early signs of pregnancy, fatigue is a symptom experienced by a large percentage of women. This tiredness can make engaging in normal activities difficult and cause a woman to suddenly require more sleep that she usually needs to get through her daily routine. Fatigue occurs because a woman's stamina decreases as her body uses much of its energy to make the physical changes required for pregnancy.
Hormonal changes also take place, which can create a feeling similar to that experienced when coming down with the flu. Nausea, with dry heaves or actual vomiting, is common during the first six to 14 weeks of pregnancy. Though this is often referred to as "morning sickness," it can happen at any time of the day or night.
Changes in the Breasts
Another of the early signs of pregnancy are breast changes. The areolas, the colored skin around the nipples, may darken and enlarge. The breasts themselves usually become tender and full, as the body begins the biological process to allow for milk production. These changes can be similar to breast changes common among women who experience monthly premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Food Cravings and Food Aversions
Cravings for specific foods may accompany a pregnancy. Sometimes these can be uncharacteristic, such as a vegetarian who craves meat or a person who doesn't normally like sweets suddenly wanting a lot of sugary treats. Some women actually get urges to eat unusual things, like soil or chalk, which can indicate a vitamin deficiency. Expectant mothers and women who are not pregnant should see a doctor if experiencing cravings for non-food items.
Much like unexplained cravings, food aversions are another common symptom of early pregnancy. Sudden sensitivities to foods or smells may make a woman feel sick or light-headed. This is caused by surging hormones. Common triggers for queasiness or even headache are generally strong odors or flavors, such as smoke, cologne, garlic, and eggs.
Cramping and Bloating
A general feeling of cramping or bloating in the pelvic area can also be another of the signs of pregnancy. This may be accompanied by constipation. Again, such changes can mimic PMS or another illness, and many women may not know for sure that they are pregnant based solely on this one symptom.
Frequent urination, or frequent urges to urinate, can also be an indicator that a women is pregnant. This early symptom often subsides during the second trimester and then reoccurs at the end of the pregnancy. If a woman notices that she is having to use the bathroom more often than usual, is experiencing other signs of pregnancy, and suspects she may be expecting, she should take steps to find out for sure.
Typically, the fastest and easiest way to determine if a woman is pregnant — without visiting a doctor's office — is to take a home pregnancy test. These simple tests measure a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced during pregnancy. The test usually consists of a chemically-treated paper or plastic strip. When dipped in a woman's urine, these chemicals react and change. The exact changes vary depending on the type of test used, but the strip typically indicates whether the result is negative, meaning not pregnant, or positive.
Though some home pregnancy tests report that they can provide a result on the first day of a missed period, it may actually take up to 10 days or more before sufficient, detectable quantities of hCG are present. Therefore, a negative result on an early test may be inaccurate, and the woman may actually be pregnant. A home test is often more reliable if it is used when a menstrual period is closer to two weeks or more late, or if it was much lighter than usual. If the test is negative but a woman still suspects pregnancy, she can wait a few more days and re-test.
Confirming a Pregnancy
A medical professional can perform a blood test that will detect much lower levels of hCG than a home pregnancy test. This type of screening is accurate even in the first days of pregnancy. If the early signs of pregnancy are present, and especially if pregnancy has been indicated with a home pregnancy test, a woman should make an appointment with a medical professional to confirm it. Proper prenatal care is vital for the health and safety of a mother as well as her baby.
Though there are many common early signs of pregnancy, it is important to note that not everyone will experience all of these symptoms. If a woman suspects she may be pregnant, she should not be misled by a lack of changes. She should instead use a home pregnancy test or see a doctor to get a definitive answer.