How can you tell if you are pregnant? Some people “just know” when they’re pregnant without needing to wait for any of the signs of pregnancy. They can feel the changes in their bodies, and the symptoms only confirm what they already know.
But for most people, it’s not until the first signs begin to show up that you begin to suspect that something isn’t quite normal. As the symptoms increase, you start to question, “Am I pregnant?” All it takes is one test (or a half-dozen, just to be sure) to confirm that the odd sensations you’ve been experiencing are really the early signs of pregnancy.
So what are the symptoms? How can you tell pregnancy apart from indigestion, bad period cramps, or imbalanced hormones? Below, we’ll take a look at the most common symptoms —starting from the very first signs all the way to the symptoms you can expect later along in the pregnancy.
The First Sign of Pregnancy: Missed Period
For most people, a missed period is the most reliable of the early signs.
The average woman’s menstrual cycle should be 28 days long—counting from the first day of one period until the first day of the next–but the truth is that the “average” is just that. The cycle can be longer or shorter depending on your age. For example, women in their 20s and 30s may notice their cycle ranges from 21 to 35 days, while young teens can have a cycle as long as 45 days.
The best way to be sure that you’ve actually missed a period is to track your previous periods. Keep a note on your phone or Google Calendar for every new period. If you’ve tracked your cycles, you’ll know what your personal average is.
Now, just because you’ve been fairly regular previously, that doesn’t mean you should freak out on your first day of missed period. Give your body a few days—there’s always a first time for irregular menstruation, and it can be caused by a wide range of things aside from pregnancy.
For women who are very regular, a missed period is one of the most accurate early symptoms. If you’ve missed your period, it may be time to break out the pregnancy test to be 100% certain.
The Most Common Early Symptoms of Pregnancy
While missing your period is the most common of the signs that you are pregnant, it’s not the only one. There are a few more common symptoms you need to keep an eye out for:
Bleeding and Cramping – It may sound counterintuitive to think that bleeding is one of the earliest symptoms. After all, bleeding only occurs when you FAIL to get pregnant, right?
Implantation bleeding, one of the first symptoms of pregnancy, is a bit different from regular menstrual bleeding. When you conceive, the fertilized egg latches onto the uterine wall. This attachment process is one of the causes of bleeding during pregnancy, especially the very early stages. Implantation bleeding can occur up to 12 days after the fertilization of the egg. Thankfully, the bleeding is pretty light, more like “spotting” than regular menstrual bleeding.
In many cases, cramps often accompany the bleeding. These cramps are hard to differentiate from regular menstrual cramps. This may be misleading and, together with the bleeding, make you believe your period is starting. This is not the case. The slight bleeding and cramps are the result of the egg attaching to the uterine wall.
Vaginal Discharge – This is one of the symptoms that often accompany bleeding and spotting. During the very early stages, it’s not uncommon for there to be a white, milky discharge from your vagina. This is caused by the vaginal wall thickening process, which occurs immediately upon conception. Your body is increasing the number of cells in the vaginal lining, and this increased cellular growth can lead to the discharge.
Don’t worry: it’s completely harmless! However, it may increase the risk of bacterial or yeast infection. If you notice any smell, discomfort, or burning, visit your gynecologist just in case.
Morning SicknessYep, this is another classic, one that everyone hates to deal with but is a pretty normal part of the first trimester.
The average woman will begin to experience nausea within 30 to 60 days of conception, but some women will experience it within TWO WEEKS! By the time you’ve missed your first period, you will likely feel the first hints of the nausea. Given the name “morning sickness”, it’s no surprise that the nausea usually hits pretty hard in the morning. However, it’s not limited to the morning—you may find yourself dealing with this side effect all throughout the day. Many pregnant women suffer nausea and feel the urge the vomit morning, noon, and night.
The good news is that this is one of the symptoms of being pregnant that tends to disappear quickly. By the time you begin to experience severe morning sickness, you’re usually well into your first trimester. The nausea will usually begin to fade by the beginning of your second trimester. Few women experience morning sickness into their fifth or sixth months of pregnancy. For a very lucky few, there is no morning sickness at all.
Tender and Swollen Breasts – Your breasts are made up of two types of tissue:
- Non-dense tissue. This is fatty breast tissue that makes up the majority of your breast mass.
- Dense tissue. This is the milk glands, milk ducts, and supportive tissue.
One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is changes in the dense breast tissue. In response to the hormonal changes your body is undergoing during the initial stage of pregnancy, your dense breast tissue grows in anticipation of the need to produce milk. This growth can lead to tenderness, soreness, and growth in your breasts. Your breasts may become swollen, sore, heavier, fuller to the touch, or darker around the areolas.
The hormonal changes that are among the symptoms of being pregnant can lead to discomfort in your breasts. The good news is that the discomfort will usually pass within a few weeks, once your body begins to adapt to the hormonal changes.
FatigueFeeling sleepy all the time? Have a hard time waking up even after a solid 7 to 9 hours of sleep? Getting the urge to take naps at random times throughout the day?
Fatigue is one of the signs of being pregnant, and it’s all thanks to a little hormone called progesterone. Progesterone is a precursor hormone, meaning it’s a hormone your body uses to produce other hormones. In your case, progesterone is going to be turned into the estrogen that stimulates the cellular growth that will help your body adapt to the internal changes of pregnancy.
One of the common side effects of higher progesterone is excessive sleepiness. However, some of the symptoms include low blood pressure, low blood sugar, and even low red blood cell production. All of these things can make you sleepy and cause fatigue.
The key to your survival: rest, eat right, and get plenty of nutrients. The fatigue should decrease as your body uses the progesterone to produce estrogen, but prepare to feel sleepy and fatigued for the rest of your childbearing—not to mention the first year or two of being a mother!
Increased Urination – This is one of the more common symptoms of the later stages of pregnancy, once the baby has grown enough to start placing pressure on your uterus. However, many women experienced increased urination during the earlier days of pregnancy as well, this is due to the increase of blood in your body. The higher blood volume leads to an increase in fluid processing in the kidneys, which in turn ends up in your bladder for elimination.
Headaches are a common side effect of pregnancy thanks to two factors:
- Increased blood volume
- Surge in hormones
Your body is creating more blood in anticipation of the demands that will be placed on it by your baby, and an increase in hormones can also lead to higher blood pressure, especially in your brain. Pressure headaches may occur early into the first trimester, but can persist throughout the entire pregnancy.
Headaches may also be the result of hydration, caffeine withdrawal (now that you’ve quit coffee), lack of sleep, low blood sugar, and stress. Add to that the pregnancy symptoms, and you’ve got the recipe for a vicious headache!
Metallic Taste in Mouth – Also known as dysgeusia, this is a sharp or bitter metallic taste or a tingling in your mouth that occurs when you’re eating. It usually happens during the first trimester, experts believe it’s tied to the higher estrogen levels. Estrogen may alter your sensation of taste, so you may get that weird taste or tingling in your mouth thanks to the higher hormone levels. Even sweet food may start to taste bitter. Thankfully, it will typically pass within the first trimester.
CravingsCravings are one of the more weird side effects. Doctors aren’t certain why you get cravings or why you crave the strange foods you crave, but some believe it’s the body’s way of telling the mother to eat more food to get the nutrients they need for the baby.
For example, a craving for processed cheese may be your body’s way of asking for more sodium, or a craving for chocolate is your body’s way of saying you need more fat or calcium.
The high hormone levels can affect your sense of taste and smell, making certain foods more enticing and others revolting.
Dizziness and Fainting – Your cardiovascular system will be undergoing some drastic changes during pregnancy. Your heart rate increases, your blood volume rises, and your heart pumps more blood every minute. These changes can lead to dizziness and an increased risk of fainting.
Basically, your blood vessels dilate to accommodate the drastic increase in heart rate, volume, and pressure, which leads to a rapid drop in pressure. An ever-growing uterus can also slow circulation to the lower half of your body. If your body can’t adapt to these changes properly, you may feel light-heated or faint.
Flu-like SymptomsThis is one of the stranger side effects of being pregnant. Pregnancy can cause a rise in temperature, along with nausea, fatigue, headaches, congestion, and a runny nose. All of these things are caused by the hormonal changes your body is undergoing as it prepares to play host to a living organism. The symptoms should clear up within a few days as your body adapts.
High Basal Temperature – Your basal body temperature is going to rise when you’re pregnant, and it’s just your body’s way of adapting to the higher hormone levels. It won’t be significantly higher (like it is during the first days after conception), but it will be higher than it normally is during your menstrual cycle.
Bleeding & Sore Gums – This is yet another symptom caused by hormonal changes in your body. Hormonal changes during pregnancy can leave your gums vulnerable to a build-up of plaque, which in turn can cause soreness, inflammation, and bleeding. This is known as pregnancy gum disease or gingivitis. Thankfully, the problem will dissipate during the later trimesters or after childbirth.
BackacheMost people think of pregnancy back-aches as being caused by the weight gain, but did you know that hormones can cause back aches too? Your body releases a hormone called relaxin, which helps to loosen the pelvic girdle to make room for your baby to grow. But it can also loosen all of your joints, including your back, which can lead to painful instabilities and back pains.
Increased/Decreased Saliva – Some women notice excessive saliva production, also known as ptyalism or sialorrhea. Thanks to the hormonal changes in your body, your salivary glands will produce more than the usual 1 ½ quarts per day. You also tend to swallow less, so you’ll feel more saliva in your mouth.
On the other hand, some women find that their hormone fluctuations lead to a decrease in saliva output, so their mouths feel very dry all the time. It could also be related to dehydration, medications, and gestational diabetes, but thankfully it’s as easy to fix as drinking more water, coconut water, and avoiding any caffeine and stimulants.
MoodinessThey say “don’t piss off a pregnant woman”, but it’s not the woman’s fault. Pregnancy is accompanied by VERY strong fluctuations of hormones. You may find yourself laughing, crying, and shouting all in the space of a few minutes. Thanks, pregnancy!
Your body produces more estrogen in order to prepare for the pregnancy and delivery. The fluctuation in your hormones can lead to an imbalance of neurochemicals, which will affect your mood. Mood swings are a very common side effect.
Bloating – Bloating is another one of those annoying side effects, especially during the early stages. The hormonal changes brought about by the pregnancy may lead to water retention. Add to that the 50% increase in blood volume (your body’s preparation for the pregnancy), and there’s a lot more fluid in your body. It’s very normal to feel bloating.
Constipation – Constipation isn’t only caused by improper digestion. Hormonal changes in your body can also affect your digestive system.
When you get pregnant, your hormones are thrown way out of whack. It’s common for the hormonal changes to slow down your digestive system. This means that food remains in your intestinal tract for longer, so your body absorbs more water than normal. Constipation is caused by fecal matter that has had too much water removed. You’ll have to take extra care to eat right (lots of fiber) during your childbearing, as constipation is a very common side effect throughout the entire process.
Food AversionsSensitivity to flavors and odors is another very common symptom.
Food aversions usually develop later on in the pregnancy, but they can set in during the first trimester.
If you find yourself nauseated by the smell or taste of your favorite food, it’s just your body going a little haywire. Hormones are flooding your body and disrupting the “normal” balances, including appetite and food sensitivities. Your sense of taste or smell may change, and you may come to hate foods you used to love. Don’t worry: things will usually go back to normal once the surging hormone levels subside.
Nasal Congestion – This is a very unusual side effect! The increase in blood production and the changes in your hormone levels tends to cause the nasal mucus membranes to swell up and dry out. Dry mucus membranes are more susceptible to bleeding, which can lead to further inflammation (your body’s defense against damage) and congestion.
Some pregnant women experience congestion during the early stages of their childbearing. You may notice a runny nose or stuffed-up sinuses. The good news is that the side effects should pass as your body adapts to the hormonal changes.
If you notice these signs, it’s probably a good idea to take the next step: get a pregnancy test. You may have already taken one when you missed your period, but it may have led to an inconclusive result. But once you see these symptoms, it’s a pretty clear sign of what’s going on. You’ll want to take a test to confirm it so you can take the right actions, including scheduling a visit to a doctor to help you begin the journey through pregnancy to childbirth.
Later Signs of Pregnancy
Some symptoms are more common in the second and third trimester than in the first, and they tend to accompany the most common sign of pregnancy: a growing belly. As you advance farther into your pregnancy, you may begin to notice:
Heartburn – Heartburn is one of the most common later-trimester symptoms, and it’s caused by a combination of things:
- More pressure placed on the stomach by the growing baby. This pushes the stomach acid and contents back up toward the esophageal sphincter.
- Relaxes muscles of the esophageal sphincter. The relaxin hormone relaxes the sphincter muscles, allowing acid to flow back up the esophagus.
Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is common as the baby grows larger, but typically disappears once the baby is born.
Edema – Everyone’s heard the complaints about pregnant women’s ankles, wrists, and feet swelling, a problem known as edema. Pregnancy edema is incredibly common, and it’s the result of the 50% increase in body fluid production. The body retains water in order to soften and expand as the baby grows, as well as preparing the pelvic tissues and joints for delivery. Roughly 25% of the weight gained is fluid, and a lot of it is stored in the joints of the arms and legs.
AcneAcne outbreaks are commonly triggered by hormonal fluctuations, and many women find that they suffer from regular pimple outbreaks during pregnancy. The acne can range from mild to severe, and can occur at any point. Thankfully, it usually disappears after childbirth.
Increased Heart Rate – During child-bearing, the female body has to work extra hard to pump the increased blood volume, as well as send more blood to the uterus and growing fetus. Many women experience an increased heart rate during pregnancy, with cardiac output increasing by 30-50% and BPMs speeding up as high as 90 beats per minute. It typically returns to pre-pregnancy normal by 6 weeks after childbirth.
Urine Leakage (Incontinence) – Incontinence is definitely one of the more embarrassing symptoms. Simply put, it’s what happens when the baby’s growing body places more pressure on your bladder, and the relaxin in your body relaxes your urethra. This combination leads to a higher risk of urine leakage. According to one doctor, “virtually all pregnant women experience some type of incontinence.”
Higher Blood PressureHypertension during pregnancy is usually anything above 140/90 mm/Hg. Obesity, lack of activity, smoking, drinking, a family history of hypertension, and age (over 40) can all be risk factors in high blood pressure, and many mothers experience hypertension during their first pregnancy. Women carrying multiples are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
Basically, the heart is trying to adapt to the hormonal changes and the increase in blood volume. Gestational hypertension develops after the 20th week of pregnancy, and usually resolves after delivery. It may, however, lead to complications like induced labor or preeclampsia.
Skin Itching – Mild itching is fairly common, especially around your belly and breasts. The itching is caused by the stretching in your skin as your body accommodates your growing size. Hormonal changes and dry skin may also be responsible for the itching sensation.
Pregnancy can worsen some existing conditions, such as eczema. However, women with psoriasis will often find that their skin condition actually improves.
Pregnancy Glow – This is one of the “good” side effects, one most pregnant women look forward to.
The pregnancy glow is very likely caused by the increase in skin oil production caused by the hormonal changes. When the hormones increase sebum production, it makes your skin look richer, healthier, and shinier. The 50% increase in blood volume can also lead to an increase in blood flow to the skin of your face, and an increase in circulation can brighten your skin and make it look fuller.
Weight GainA certain amount of weight gain is to be expected during child-bearing. According to the experts:
- Overweight women should gain 15-25 pounds
- Average weight women should gain 25-35 pounds
- Underweight women should gain 28-40 pounds
How will you gain the weight?
During the first trimester, you should gain between 2 and 4 pounds. Then, for every week after the first trimester, you should end up gaining around 1 pound per week. Twins and multiples can lead to upwards of 35 pounds of weight gained over the course of the pregnancy.
Skin Changes – Also known as melasma or chloasma, skin darkening is the result of hormonal changes increasing the amount of melanin your skin produces. The increase in melanin will create the “linea negra”, the dark skin line that runs from your belly button to your pubic bone. You will also notice the skin around your nipples darkening, and you may develop “the mask of pregnancy”, the name given to splotches that form on your forehead, upper lip, cheekbones, and nose.