Signs & Symptoms | The Signs of Pregnancy
I was driving home from a horseback riding lesson when I noticed how sore my chest was – despite my supportive exercise bra. A quick glimpse in the rearview mirror showed a scattering of breakouts along my chin. “Yeah,” I thought, “I’ve been a tad emotional lately, too.” Three of the signs I was to start my period were firmly in place. But one (OK, OK, four) pregnancy tests later made it abundantly clear my cycle wouldn’t be starting anytime soon.
How could I have missed it? How could I not distinguish the subtle symptoms that signified a little one was on the way? Well, mainly because the signs of pregnancy can closely mirror the signs of a pending menstrual cycle. So how can you tell the difference?
The Signs of Pregnancy
Often symptoms of early pregnancy can mimic some premenstrual symptoms, though they’re usually more pronounced.
“In my experience, many women experience breast tenderness that tends to be more than the usual premenstrual tenderness,” says Margaret Buxton, a certified nurse-midwife at the West End Women’s Health Center in Nashville, Tenn. “Nausea doesn’t typically crop up until five to six weeks after the missed period. But there are many women who have irregular periods and don’t find it unusual to go six to eight weeks between cycles – or they may be breastfeeding and not having cycles at all. For these women, the nausea can alert their suspicion to pregnancy.”
A few other, usually subtle, signs can include pelvic cramping, acid reflux, increase in vaginal secretions or even increase in salivation, says Dr. Alice Shen from the Small Miracles Family Center at Caritas Norwood Hospital in Norwood, Mass. “Often symptoms of early pregnancy can mimic some premenstrual symptoms, though they’re usually more pronounced.”
“There is no absolute way to distinguish between the symptoms of early pregnancy and premenstrual symptoms reliably except by taking a pregnancy test or waiting for a missed period,” Dr. Shen says.
But when can you take a pregnancy test and be confident that what the little stick is telling you is correct?
“In general, most tests will be able to detect a positive no earlier than 10 days from ovulation,” Buxton says. “If the test is negative, you can try again in five to seven days. It takes 10 days for your pregnancy hormones (HCG) to increase in your system to a detectable level in your urine.”
“The best time is when a woman is late for a period,” Dr. Morehead says. “Some sensitive assays are positive a few days before the period is due, but home pregnancy tests are more reliable after the time a regular period would have started – the pregnancy hormone HCG detected by pregnancy tests climbs higher and higher as the early pregnancy develops, and is more easily detected.”
Dr. Shen says that home pregnancy tests are very accurate and determine a positive result very early these days, which is welcome news to many a hopeful-mom-to-be. “But once the test is positive, the woman should call her OB’s office to make an appointment for an OB consultation,” she says.
Possible Signs You’re Pregnant
- Missed period
- Breast tenderness
- Pelvic cramping
- Acid reflux
- Vaginal secretions