By Karisa Ding
Medically reviewed by Layan Alrahmani, M.D., ob-gyn
March 25, 2022
Are you pregnant? Some early signs of pregnancy may show up around the time you've missed a period – or a week or two before or after. The most common early pregnancy symptoms are nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, and breast tenderness. Other first signs and symptoms of pregnancy include mood swings, light spotting and cramping, bloating, and constipation. Not every woman has early pregnancy symptoms, but many do.
Pregnancy symptoms are different for every woman, and can even be different from one pregnancy to the next. Symptoms start at different times, too: Some women immediately feel like they're pregnant, while other women may go months with no pregnancy symptoms.
That said, there are some first signs and symptoms of pregnancy that are common very early on. They're likely caused by a surge in the pregnancy hormone human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), as well as rises in estrogen and progesterone.
Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy
Early pregnancy symptoms can be subtle. You may notice your breasts feel different when you put on your bra, you feel more tired than normal, or your usual breakfast is unappealing.
If you start to feel some of the early pregnancy symptoms below, you may very well be pregnant. Here are some of the first signs and symptoms of pregnancy.
If you're usually pretty regular and your period is late, this may be the first and most obvious sign that you're pregnant. But if you're not regular or you're not keeping track of your cycle, other symptoms may be your first clues about a possible pregnancy. And some women feel early pregnancy symptoms before they miss a period.
Shortly after you become pregnant, hormonal changes prompt a chain of events that raise the rate of blood flow through your kidneys. This causes your bladder to fill more quickly, so you need to pee more often.
Frequent urination will continue – or intensify – as your pregnancy progresses. Your blood volume rises dramatically during pregnancy, which leads to extra fluid being processed and ending up in your bladder.
Feeling tired all of a sudden? No, make that exhausted. No one knows for sure what causes early pregnancy fatigue, but it's possible that rapidly increasing levels of progesterone are to blame. Of course, morning sickness and having to pee constantly during the night can add to your tiredness, too.
You should start to feel more energetic once you hit your second trimester, although fatigue usually returns late in pregnancy when you're carrying more weight and some of the common discomforts of pregnancy make it more difficult to get a good night's sleep.
One common early pregnancy symptom is sensitive, swollen breasts caused by rising levels of hormones. The soreness and swelling may feel like an exaggerated version of how your breasts feel before your period. Your discomfort should diminish significantly after the first trimester, as your body adjusts to the hormonal changes.
Morning sickness can start as early as two weeks after conception – so it may be the first pregnancy symptom you notice. And it's not just in the morning, either: Pregnancy-related nausea (with or without vomiting) can be a problem morning, noon, or night.
Pregnancy nausea may be accompanied by indigestion, food aversions, a heightened sense of smell, a metallic taste in your mouth, and excess saliva.
Implantation bleeding or spotting
If you're pregnant, the last thing you'd expect to see is any spotting or vaginal bleeding. But if you notice light spotting around the time your period is due, it could be implantation bleeding. This might be caused by the fertilized egg settling into the lining of your uterus.
Note: About 1 in 4 women experience spotting or light bleeding during the first trimester. It's often nothing, but sometimes it's a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. If your bleeding is severe or accompanied by pain or lightheadedness, or if you're at all concerned, call your doctor or midwife.
Like spotting or bleeding, cramping is a confusing early pregnancy symptom – because it can make you feel like your period's starting. But you may actually be having implantation cramps, which occur when the fertilized egg implants in your uterus. You'll be able to tell it's implantation cramping and bleeding (and not your period) because it will be less than a normal period, and last just a day or two.
If you're newly pregnant, constipation can be an early symptom. It's caused by an increase in progesterone, which relaxes smooth muscles throughout the body, including the digestive tract. This means that food passes through the intestines more slowly.
It's common to have mood swings during pregnancy, partly because of hormonal changes that affect neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain). Everyone responds differently to these changes. Some moms-to-be experience heightened emotions, both good and bad, while others feel more depressed or anxious.
Hormonal changes in early pregnancy may leave you feeling bloated, similar to the feeling some women have just before their period. That's why your clothes may feel more snug than usual at the waistline, even early on when your uterus is still quite small.
When do pregnancy symptoms start?
Pregnancy symptoms are different for every woman (and even every pregnancy). Some women feel the first twinges of pregnancy a week or two after conceiving, while others don't feel any different for a few months.
In the best study on this question to date, 136 women who were trying to get pregnant kept daily records of their symptoms from the time they stopped using birth control until they were 8 weeks pregnant. (That's counting eight weeks from the first day of their last menstrual period.) The results:
50 percent had some pregnancy symptoms by 5 weeks pregnant
70 percent had pregnancy symptoms by 6 weeks pregnant
90 percent had pregnancy symptoms by 8 weeks pregnant
The first sign of pregnancy was usually a missed period. The most common symptoms to follow were nausea and vomiting, fatigue, frequent urination, and breast tenderness and swelling.
By 8 weeks pregnant, women reported some additional pregnancy symptoms:
Shortness of breath
Areas of darker skin (on the face, abdomen, or areolas)
Other symptoms that pop up throughout pregnancy include:
Lower back pain
Hair and nail changes
Pubic symphysis dysfunction
Increased vaginal discharge
When should I take a pregnancy test?
Some home pregnancy tests claim they're sensitive enough to give a positive result as early as five days before you would expect your period. But you're more likely to get an accurate result if you wait to test until after the first day of your missed period. If you test too early, you may get a false negative pregnancy test or an unclear result like a faint line.
If you test and get a negative result, but still have pregnancy symptoms and/or no period, try again in a few days. Test first thing in the morning, when your urine is more concentrated. Home pregnancy tests measure the amount of human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. During early pregnancy, hCG levels typically double every two to three days.
Remember that your baby begins to develop before you can tell you're pregnant, so take care of your health while you're waiting to find out. If you haven't already, start taking a daily prenatal vitamin with at least 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid.
Once you've gotten a positive pregnancy test result, make your first prenatal appointment. Good prenatal care is essential for you and your baby. If you don't have a doctor or a midwife to care for you during pregnancy, start asking for recommendations and see who's covered by your insurance. There are options if you don't have health insurance or need low-cost prenatal care.