Early Pregnancy Symptoms—Do You Know What to Look For?

“Is it early pregnancy symptoms or PMS?” can be a persistent question during the two-week wait. The temptation to scrutinize every twinge, urge, and cramp leaves you wondering if this is IT.

So, while you’re waiting to take that pregnancy test and know for sure, this post and infographic below will cover the most common early pregnancy signs. We’ll clear up whether they are fact (true signs of pregnancy) or fiction (simply a myth).

Could spotting before my period be implantation bleeding?

In a cycle where pregnancy occurs, the fertilized egg implants itself into the uterine lining between eight and 10 days after ovulation. It’s often suggested that this process can cause spotting or light bleeding, but despite popular belief, there is no medical evidence to support the existence of implantation bleeding.

Spotting before your period can happen because of a sharp drop in the hormone progesterone. In the event of implantation, steadily rising hCG actually keeps progesterone levels elevated, so you wouldn’t experience any bleeding or spotting in relation to implantation.

Bottom line? While it’s not uncommon to experience bleeding or spotting during early pregnancy, this is more likely to happen in non-conceptive cycles than conceptive ones.

Can cramping during the two-week wait be one of the early pregnancy symptoms?

No, cramping isn’t an early sign of pregnancy. Think about it this way: When implantation happens, usually around eight to 10 days after ovulation, it occurs at a microscopic, imperceptible level. To give you a better idea of what this looks like, think of the embryo as half the size of a dust mite. You would need 10x magnification to even see a dust mite, let alone feel its bite, so the chances you’d feel any physical symptoms of implantation are very low.

It’s not uncommon to experience mild cramping in early pregnancy, but before you get a positive pregnancy test, it’s impossible to tell if cramping is a pregnancy sign or PMS. Why? Because the same hormone is responsible for both premenstrual symptoms and early pregnancy symptoms. At the end of your menstrual cycle, progesterone is always elevated, whether you are pregnant or not. It relaxes your digestive muscles, which can lead to gas and bloating.

Is white vaginal discharge an early pregnancy symptom?

Well … no. Vaginal discharge is a normal part of a woman’s cycle. White discharge, also known as leukorrhea, is commonly associated with pregnancy, but it’s not a definitive sign of pregnancy. Whenever there are major changes in estrogen, you can expect some of this vaginal discharge. This can happen during early pregnancy, but it can also happen in the days leading up to ovulation.

Even if you are pregnant, leukorrhea usually isn’t noticeable until late in the first trimester or early second trimester, well after you’ve taken a pregnancy test. So, while it’s tempting to examine any recent changes in your discharge after ovulation, it isn’t the best barometer to help identify an early pregnancy.

Is feeling more tired than usual a sign of early pregnancy?

This one is tricky. Exhaustion can be due to a variety of factors like stress or poor sleep so it’s difficult to know whether fatigue is an early pregnancy symptom or simply related to other changes in your day-to-day life. While no one really knows what causes pregnancy fatigue, it’s likely related to an increase of progesterone.

Can breast soreness and tenderness be early pregnancy symptoms?

Sore breasts can occur during a normal menstrual cycle and during early pregnancy. There is no definitive way to distinguish sore breasts as an early pregnancy sign from PMS because breast tissue changes in response to fluctuations in hormones.

Is frequent urination a sign of early pregnancy?

If you’re using the restroom more frequently than usual, true, this could mean you’re pregnant … or it could simply mean that you’re well-hydrated. For most pregnant women, frequent urination does not start until late in the first trimester, meaning it’s not a very useful tip-off to early pregnancy, since you would likely get a positive pregnancy test weeks before you noticed any change in your urination frequency.

Are nausea and sensitivity to smells early pregnancy symptoms?

Nausea and sensitivity to smell are common signs of morning sickness and could be an early sign of pregnancy. It’s typically more common to experience morning sickness after the fifth week of pregnancy, but for some women it can begin before they even miss a period.

Are late periods a sign of pregnancy?

Your period always comes about two weeks after you ovulate, unless you are pregnant. So, while a late period could be a sign of pregnancy, it could also simply mean that you ovulated later than usual. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including stress, illness, or jet-lag—and you might occasionally ovulate late for no discernible reason at all!

This is one reason why it’s a good idea to track ovulation so that you know when you ovulate: if you happen to ovulate late one cycle, you won’t be surprised when your period comes later, too. If it’s been more than 16 days since you think you ovulated and your period still hasn’t come, it may be time to take a pregnancy test and know for sure!

What are the symptoms in the first few weeks of pregnancy?

 We’ve put together some week-by-week pregnancy content to let you know what to expect in those early weeks. Check out our posts on early pregnancy symptoms, where you can find out what’s going on in week one, week two, week three—and beyond.

Aarthi Gobinath, PhD

Aarthi Gobinath earned her PhD in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. Her research covers the ways that stress affects the male and female brain differently.

She tackled the issue of sex bias in research by looking at why standard treatments for depression don't always work in the case of postpartum depression. Her work has been covered by Vice and Massive Science.

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