First Signs Of Pregnancy: What Will I Feel And When?
Medically reviewed by Samara Laxineta, RN on July 23, 2019
- Most pregnant women begin feeling symptoms between weeks 5 and 6
- The most common symptoms are: nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, and changes in breasts
- The only way to know for sure if you’re pregnant is to take a pregnancy test
When you’re trying to conceive, it can be tempting to hunt for the smallest first signs of pregnancy. According to research, the most commonly felt early pregnancy symptoms following a missed period are nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, and breast changes. But the only way to know for sure if you’re pregnant at the very early stages is to take a home pregnancy test or get a blood test from your doctor.
(And once you are pregnant, tracking your pregnancy week by week can show you interesting insights.)
How early are the first signs of pregnancy?
Studies show that most women begin to feel early pregnancy symptoms between the fifth and sixth weeks of pregnancy, with 89% of women feeling symptoms by the end of the eighth week. (How many weeks pregnant are you? Since pregnancy is counted from the first day of your last period—five weeks pregnant means one week after your missed period). Here, we’ll take a closer look at:
- the first signs of pregnancy
- when you can expect to feel symptoms
- how to know for sure if you’re pregnant
Is a missed period one of the signs you are pregnant?
It’s easy to look obsessively for early signs that you’re pregnant. The most obvious sign is, of course, a missed period. But missing your period doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant—in fact, if you’re not pregnant, you never truly skip your period, it simply gets delayed. Your period can be delayed because of delayed ovulation (since ovulation is what determines when your period comes) or an anovulatory cycle (a cycle where you don’t ovulate at all).
What causes delayed ovulation or an anovulatory cycle? It could be due to illness, travel, stress, or for no discernible reason at all. Your body is not a machine, after all, and a perfectly healthy woman might experience delayed ovulation once or twice a year with no apparent cause.
That said: if your period didn’t come when you expected it to and you are trying to conceive, you should take extra good care of yourself. Treat yourself as though you are pregnant—until you confirm either way with a pregnancy test. Because if you did conceive, you may not feel the first signs of pregnancy for at least a few more weeks.
What are the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy?
Common first signs of pregnancy include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Increased sense of smell
- Breast and/or nipple tenderness
- Frequent urination
- Trouble sleeping
According to research, the most common symptoms from the list above are nausea, fatigue, frequent urination, and changes in breasts. But the reality is, each of these symptoms can arise from other causes and are not exclusive to pregnancy. Nausea or fatigue could be from a virus, the frequent urination could mean you’re overly hydrated, and breasts changes can occur throughout your cycle, whether you are pregnant or not.
So we’re back to our original advice: take a pregnancy test to find out for sure. If you’re pregnant enough to be having symptoms, you’re pregnant enough to get a positive pregnancy test. Otherwise, your symptoms are most likely a result of the hormone progesterone, which is elevated during your luteal phase whether or not you have conceived.
When do the first signs of pregnancy start?
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. Cycle length, the intensity of PMS symptoms, and ovulation dates vary from woman to woman. So it makes sense that women have variable experiences with early pregnancy symptoms, too.
If you are trying to conceive, you might be searching for a physical clue that you’re pregnant. It helps first to understand the pregnancy timeline, which can be a bit confusing. Medical professionals measure the beginning of your pregnancy from the first day of your last menstrual period (LMP). That’s the day your period started, so you obviously aren’t pregnant yet—and definitely won’t feel symptoms.
But once you are pregnant, that first day of your last menstrual period will mark the beginning of your pregnancy, retrospectively. Doctors track pregnancy this way because ovulation is tricky to pinpoint, but the first day of your last menstrual period is easy to mark.
The main point to know here is that the first signs of pregnancy don’t begin until the later stages of embryogenesis (when the embryo forms and develops), which happen during the fifth through eighth weeks of pregnancy, or about one to three weeks after your period was due.
Will I be able to feel pregnancy symptoms right after conception?
No. When a sperm fertilizes the egg and conception occurs, the now fertilized egg (also called a zygote) is so small that you can only see it with a microscope. This zygote will grow into a larger collection of cells, called a blastocyst, and will travel down the fallopian tube and implant into your uterine lining. Once the blastocyst implants in the uterine lining—which usually occurs eight – 10 days after ovulation—it rapidly begins producing the hormone hCG.
In a non-pregnancy cycle, progesterone levels would be falling at this point, but hCG sends a signal for progesterone production to continue, and to increase. The increase in progesterone levels is responsible for many early pregnancy symptoms, as opposed to the blastocyst itself, which, at about 0.1 – 0.2 mm is roughly the size of a poppy seed and not capable of producing any physical sensations you can feel.
What this means is that the absolute earliest that it’s possible to feel something is after implantation, which most often occurs eight – 10 days after ovulation (and no earlier than six days after ovulation).
When will I feel the first signs of pregnancy?
This is a tricky question to answer because the short answer is: every woman and every pregnancy are different. Pregnancy symptoms can vary in frequency and intensity. So, it’s nearly impossible to predict just exactly what you will feel and when.
But, in this study which examined 136 women for the onset of pregnancy symptoms, half of the women felt symptoms by the end of the fifth week and 89% did so by the end of the eighth week. The study also found that women who smoke tobacco or marijuana (which is obviously not recommended when you’re trying to conceive) tend to have a delay in the onset of symptoms.
According to this study:
- 59% began feeling symptoms between the beginning of the fifth week to the end of the sixth week
- A total of 71% reported symptoms by the end of the sixth week
- A total of 89% reported symptoms by the end of the eighth week
What about implantation bleeding?
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, no scientific evidence supports the existence of implantation bleeding. When pregnancy occurs, the fertilized egg burrows into the uterine lining around eight to 10 days after ovulation. (Ovulation is when the ovary releases a mature egg.) It’s been suggested that this implantation process can cause light bleeding or spotting, but there is no scientific data to support this theory.
One study found that while 9% of women in the study did experience light bleeding or spotting during early pregnancy, it was rarely on the day of implantation. (Also important to note: nearly all women with the bleeding went on to have successful pregnancies.) So to sum up: bleeding during early pregnancy is usually light, unrelated to implantation, and not likely anything to worry about.
What about cramping—Is it early pregnancy?
The phrase “implantation cramps” is a misnomer, since the process of implantation cannot be felt physically. Cramping can sometimes occur during early pregnancy, but unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell the difference between cramping that is caused by your upcoming period, or cramping that is caused by pregnancy. The reason is that the same hormone—progesterone—is responsible for both. Progesterone rises in the second half of your menstrual cycle, whether you are pregnant or not, and can cause bloating, nausea, and moodiness. So, unfortunately, cramping is not a reliable indicator of pregnancy.
Do sore breasts mean I’m pregnant?
Some women swear that tender breasts were their first pregnancy symptom. But the truth is: sore nipples and breast tenderness can happen during both conceptive and non-conceptive cycles. Hormone changes during your cycle can cause changes in breast tissue that makes your breasts feel tender. So, unfortunately, sore breasts don’t reliably mean you are pregnant.
Are pregnancy symptoms different when you’re carrying a male vs. a female?
A recent study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Centre found that the gender of the baby can affect pregnancy symptoms. The study examined the immune responses of pregnant women, to see if there was a variation in immune markers (cytokines) depending on the sex of their baby.
These findings (found in the Brain, Behaviour and Immunity Journal) revealed that immune cells of women carrying female fetuses developed a higher number of pro-inflammatory cytokines when exposed to bacteria, compared to those of women who were pregnant with a male fetus.
Although more research is required, the authors of the study believe that the heightened inflammation of those carrying female babies may have an impact on why some women experience worse symptoms during pregnancy. More research is needed, but it shows that the sex of the fetus may have implications for pregnancy symptoms.
Am I pregnant?
A pregnancy test will let you know for sure by measuring the level of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. This is the hormone that signals the corpus luteum to continue producing progesterone, which will maintain the uterine lining to support the developing embryo. (Normally, this lining sheds each cycle, which results in your period.)
But don’t take a pregnancy test too early, as your body won’t be producing hCG until 8 – 10 days after ovulation.
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 the first few months (week one, week two, week three, week four, week five, week six, week seven) and beyond.
When should I take a pregnancy test?
It’s recommended to wait two weeks past ovulation to take a pregnancy test. This is one of many reasons that it’s incredibly valuable to track your cycle and find out when you ovulate. Though the wait can be agonizing, it’s better to do so because you will get a more accurate result. (Here, we offer some helpful ways to survive the two-week wait.)
Aarthi Gobinath, PhD
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.