If you’ve missed your period or had sex without a condom, you may be starting to wonder if it’s possible you might be pregnant. Maybe it’s just stress or paranoia? Maybe you’ve miscalculated your period due date? Maybe your cycle has changed due to medication or weight fluctuation?
The only way to know for sure is to take a pregnancy test. But for many women, taking a test can be inconvenient, cost-prohibitive or even unacceptable due to family, cultural or societal expectations.
Eventually, though, you’ll have to decide if and when to finally take a pregnancy test. Here’s everything you need to know to help you figure out whether now is the time to go for it.
How does a home pregnancy test work?
Over the counter home pregnancy tests work by testing your urine for a hormone called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, or HCG. This hormone is only present when a fertilized egg attaches itself to your uterine lining (pregnancy) or outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy).
To use a home pregnancy test, you will need to collect your urine in one of a few different ways, according to the instructions that come with your test. These may include:
- collecting your urine in a cup and dipping the test stick into the liquid
- collecting your urine in a cup and then using a small dropper to drop a small amount of the liquid onto the test stick
- placing the testing stick directly into your urine stream for a few seconds
Once a recommended amount of time passes, your test result will display according to the instructions. This may include:
- a line
- a symbol, ie – a plus or minus
- a change in color
- the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant”
These tests work best if taken after a missed period, however many advertise effectiveness even before your period is due, owing to the high sensitivity to even trace amounts of HCG.
The benefit of a home test is the amount of privacy it affords you, as you are able to do it without anyone knowing about it. The downsides are false negatives and positives, user error and “the ick factor.”
How soon can you take a pregnancy test?
The best time to get the most accurate result in a home pregnancy test is one week after a missed period. However most women can’t or won’t wait that long. The general advice is that you’ll need to wait long enough for enough HCG to build up in your urine. This usually takes 7-12 days after implantation, or about two weeks after you’ve had unprotected sex.
If you are taking a blood test in a doctor’s office, you may be able to find out sooner, but for home tests, they just are not sensitive enough to detect the tiny amounts of HCG your body is producing.
Currently the First Response Early Pregnancy Test seems to be the best early pregnancy test you can buy, detecting HCG at concentrations as low as 6.5 mIU/ml (thousandths of an International Unit per milliliter), which could mean some women could see a positive result up to a week before their period is due.
How can you check pregnancy naturally?
While there are many DIY Pregnancy Tests that people swear by, most are anecdotal and have no real science behind them. There are, however, some other ways you can get a good indication of whether you are pregnant or not.
Larger, darker areolas are often seen in early pregnancy. Creamy cervical mucus that sticks around and doesn’t really change along with your cycle is another good sign. Fatigue and nausea along with a missed period can help you figure out that it’s probably time to test.
How soon can I get pregnancy symptoms before I miss my period?
The trouble with early pregnancy symptoms is that they are often extremely difficult to differentiate from PMS symptoms. Both come about due to changes in hormones and are very similar in intensity.
Many women swear they knew they were pregnant within days or even hours of conception because they knew their bodies so well. Others insist their first sign of pregnancy came before their period was due, despite their symptom being nonspecific to pregnancy or PMS.
Basically, the answer varies between women and is more anecdotal than anything.
What’s the difference between pregnancy symptoms and PMS?
The only real difference between pregnancy symptoms and PMS symptoms is that pregnancy symptoms won’t go away for a long time. Symptoms such as sore breasts or sensitivity to smells won’t will be gone quickly once your period arrives and your hormones go back to normal.
But if you are pregnant, your hormone levels only rise, making these symptoms stronger.
Do I have to miss my period to be pregnant, or is it possible to be pregnant and get my period?
Technically speaking, it is not possible to have your period and be pregnant, barring some very specific circumstances. However, it is very possible to have a period-like situation while pregnant, ie – bleeding or spotting that can make you think you’re having a period.
In early pregnancy, usually before you even realize you are pregnant, you may have some mild bleeding caused by your fertilized egg implanting in your uterus. This is called implantation bleeding, and it can be confusing for some women who think their period has come early and was particularly short and mild.
Also in early pregnancy, some women have what is called a subchorionic hemorrhage, which is essentially a bruise between the uterus and the fetal sac. It is generally pretty harmless, but it can cause some bleeding that can be scary if you know you’re pregnant.
If you don’t know you’re pregnant, however, it can easily be mistaken for a period, further confusing your situation.
Some women have shared stories about bleeding throughout their entire pregnancies, many due to sensitive cervixes, which cause them to have mild bleeds. If you were to be a woman who didn’t put on much weight and had these types of bleeds, it could be possible you didn’t realize you were pregnant for quite a long while.
Is it possible to miss a period and not be pregnant?
It is absolutely possible to miss your period and not be pregnant. If a person does not menstruate for three months in a row, this is a condition called amenorrhea. It affects 3-4% of women.
This usually happens when the ovaries stop making enough estrogen.
What are some causes of period delay?
There can be many reasons for a delay in your period. Simple things like higher than normal stress levels or a change in your weight (especially if you have done any excessive exercise or have any sort of disordered eating) could easily cause you to miss your period.
Or, you may have an undiagnosed medical condition such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, each of which can affect the frequency of your period.
If you are experiencing feelings of fatigue, unexplained weight gain or loss, feeling extra cold or extra warm all the time or even hair loss, you may want to ask your doctor for a blood test to rule out thyroid issues.
Another common cause of period delays is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or PCOS. Women with PCOS have a hormonal imbalance along with enlarged ovaries containing clusters of small, benign cysts. The condition can affect their overall health, as well as their appearance, and it is thought to affect up to 10% of women of childbearing age.
Common signs of PCOS include:
- irregular periods or amenorrhea
- unpredictable bleeding during periods
- being overweight or obese
- skin irregularities such as acne, dark patches or skin tags
- sleep apnea
- excess body and facial hair
Finally, another possibility if you are slightly older is perimenopause, ie – those who are beginning the transition into menopause. This transition can begin many years before actual menopause and can include symptoms such as:
- irregular periods
- mood swings
- vaginal dryness
- heavier or lighter periods
- hot flashes
- sleeping problems
So while it’s easy to equate a delay in your period with pregnancy, be aware there are many other reasons to consider before jumping to conclusions.
Of course, if you are trying to conceive or have reason to believe you might be pregnant, then taking a pregnancy test if a more logical idea than looking for other medical possibilities.
What does early pregnancy feel like?
Early pregnancy can feel different for everyone. Generally women report early pregnancy as being the hardest part of the journey, as it is the time they are most tired, most worried, and have the most unpleasant symptoms.
If you have ever dealt with PMS, you probably have an idea of what early pregnancy feels like, as it has a lot in common with this time. The difference is mostly in how you feel about it.
How do you confirm a pregnancy?
If you have taken a home pregnancy test and had a positive result, congratulations! More than likely your result is accurate. False positives are very rare, for sure much rarer than false negatives.
But once you’ve had your Big Fat Positive, you’re going to want to have it confirmed by a doctor. To do this, you will want to find an OB/GYN or Midwife or whatever chosen medical practitioner you choose to see you through your pregnancy journey.
They will be able to give you a blood test to confirm your pregnancy, and they can book you in for an ultrasound to figure out how far along you are and make sure everything is as it should be. It is important to rule out an ectopic pregnancy or any other problems that may rise up early on.
So… should I take a test or what?
Okay, let’s break it all down into a simple little quiz.
- Have you had unprotected vaginal sex recently?
- Do you use any kind of birth control?
- Are you peeing more?
- Do you feel nauseous at all?
- Do your boobs hurt?
- Are you super tired and just want to sleep?
- Have you had any light bleeding?
- Is your period late?
- Do you feel pregnant?
- Do you suspect you may be pregnant?
- Are you able to buy a test without too much trouble?
- Are you ready for the answer, whatever it may be?
Answering yes to more than five of these means you should probably get a test. But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you think is best. The fact that you’re here means you already are worried. Trust yourself. It’s better to know for sure either way.