Mother and Baby

Early pregnancy symptoms: The early signs of pregnancy to know

Woman holding stomach

Medically reviewed by Dr Helena Watson, M.D. on 17th July 2019

Want to know if you're in the early stages of pregnancy without taking a pregnancy test? Though you won't know for sure without one, look out for these very early signs you could be pregnant.

Even if it's too soon to take a pregnancy test, the NHS suggests waiting at least 3 weeks, after you think you may have conceived before taking a pregnancy test, however, your body can start showing early signs and symptoms that it's growing a baby as early as 2 weeks after conception

After conception, fertilisation and implantation, your body goes into overdrive and the hormones of pregnancy help kickstart the process you are about to follow for the next nine months. You might recognise the more obvious signs like a missed period, breast tenderness or nausea/morning sickness but there are subtle changes in your body and mind which might surprise you.

Early pregnancy signs

According to the NHS, there are six main signs of early pregnancy

Tiredness

As your body gears up to start supporting your baby, tiredness can even start within two weeks of conceiving.

'It's common to feel tired, or even exhausted, during pregnancy, especially in the first 12 weeks' say the NHS. If you're feeling extra exhausted and can't work out why, this could be a sign your body is getting ready to grow a baby. 

Nausea

Morning sickness is caused by an increase in the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). For many, this is the first sign of pregnancy. Don’t be misled by its name - 'It can affect you at any time of the day or night, and some women feel sick all day long' according to the NHS.

Mum Lauren Whalley swore by some unusual foods to cure her morning sickness: "I felt like I was on a roller coaster from waking till bed until I was around 27 weeks," she said. "The only things I could eat were spaghetti hoops and fizzy Haribo."

Breast changes

Another extremely common early pregnancy sign is changes in your breasts. For some women, their boobs increase a full cup size within the first six weeks and can often feel quite tender too. Your nipples may also change as pregnancy hormones cause your body's melanin production to increase temporarily - you might notice this has caused your nipples and the area around them (the areolas) to turn a darker colour.

These breast changes are caused by increased levels of the hormone progesterone and the development of the milk ducts according to the NHS.

breast changes

Cravings

As fast as you'll go off certain foods, you'll start to crave others. A strong desire for something as simple as a fizzy drink, or as unusual as a lump of coal, could be an indicator that you're pregnant. Mum Hannah Gnanaseharam says she craved chicken and sweetcorn soup ravenously: "My poor husband often had to do late night trips to the Chinese takeaway just for the soup."

Start4Life claim, 'if you do start having cravings, it'll probably be in your first trimester (it could be as early as 5 weeks into pregnancy). They'll get stronger in your second trimester, and then eventually stop in your third trimester.'

Increased sense of smell or taste

If you suddenly can't bear the perfume you've worn for years, or your colleague's choice of tuna sandwich, it could be another early pregnancy sign. The NHS say this is down to the hormone oestrogen which is heightening your responses to things that might be harmful to your growing baby. 

Frequent urination

Although your baby won't be pressing on your bladder just yet (a common side effect you'll experience later in your pregnancy), the hormone changes, plus a greater blood volume and your kidneys working harder could mean you find yourself rushing to the toilet more often right now. The NHS say this could affect you more at night. 

Spotting or bleeding

This might sound strange and is another one that can be confused with a period, but around a third of women experience some sort of implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding is when the foetus implants into the lining of your uterus and causes a small amount of blood. This usually happens 6 to 12 days after you've conceived.  According to the NHS, 'this type of bleeding often happens around the time your period would have been due.'

Spotting in early pregnancy can also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, so it's important to talk to a healthcare professional if you're experiencing unforeseen bleeding. 

Metallic taste in mouth

Another common early sign of pregnancy, this one even has its own name: 'dysgeusia'. 'The taste is usually temporary and clears up by itself' say the NHS.

Other signs of pregnancy

Although these symptoms could be down to other things, it may be worth taking a pregnancy test to put your mind at ease if you have any of these symptoms and think you could be pregnant.

Early pregnancy

Missed period

Another common indicator and one of the most concrete signs you're expecting is a missed period and according to the NHS, is one of the main reasons your period might stop. That said, if you have irregular or light periods, this can be an easy one to miss. What's more, some women still have periods after they conceive.  

Period-like cramps

It's the right time of the month and you have the normal period cramps. But wait, these stomach aches could be a sign you've conceived and the egg has implanted into the uterine wall, causing that familiar cramping sensation.

The NHS advise, 'they're usually nothing to worry about, but they can sometimes be a sign of something more serious that needs to be checked.'

Feeling lightheaded or fainting

It's thought that the pregnancy hormone progesterone makes your blood vessels relax and widen to increase blood flow around the body, causing low blood pressure. The NHS advise that you might want to check with your GP if you're not sure why you fainted.

Increased vaginal discharge

You may notice your body is producing more milky white vaginal discharge - The NHS say, 'almost all women have more vaginal discharge in pregnancy. This is normal, and helps prevent any infections travelling up from the vagina to the womb.'

Temperature changes

Pregnancy causes an increase in blood volume as your body starts to work harder to support your growing baby. Feeling extra hot? It could be an early sign of pregnancy. Some women also feel excessively cold, too. 

More emotional

Have you found yourself weeping on the underground or sobbing at a TV advert you've seen hundreds of times before? Emotions tend to be all over the place during pregnancy (one word - hormones), so if you're on an emotional rollercoaster, it might be time to go and buy a pregnancy test. It's also common to feel extremely grumpy and short tempered. A combination of pregnancy symptoms can wreak havoc with your moods.

According to the NCT, as your hormones and hormone levels change, any mood swings and emotions should wear off. 

Bloating

If that pre-period puffiness hasn't disappeared, it could actually be the pregnancy hormone progesterone at play. Feeling bloated? It might be worth taking a test. According to the NHS, bloating usually affects mums at the 4-week pregnant mark. 

Constipation and wind 

It might be an embarrassing symptom you'd rather not talk about, but wind could actually mean your digestive system is adapting to those baby hormones. The NHS advise a number of ways mums can help constipation in pregnancy including, eating foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses such as beans and lentils, exercising regularly to keep your muscles toned, drinking plenty of water and avoiding iron supplements, which can make you constipated. 

Headaches

Many women experience headaches around the time of their menstrual period, due to a surge in the hormone oestrogen. After conception, your oestrogen levels also rise, which could be what's causing that pounding head. According to the NHS, 'headaches are most common in early pregnancy and usually improve or stop completely during the last 6 months.'

Bleeding gums

If you've noticed blood when brushing your teeth, it could be that progesterone is to blame. This pregnancy hormone increases the flow of blood to gums, increasing sensitivity and causing them to bleed more easily. 

Bleeding gums can be an indicator of gum disease, which has been associated with risk of preterm birth, so always see your healthcare professional if symptoms persist. 

According to the NHS, 'hormonal changes during pregnancy can make your gums more vulnerable to plaque, leading to inflammation and bleeding. This is also called pregnancy gingivitis or gum disease.'

Back pain

If you're already suffering from backache, it could be caused by the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which makes your ligaments and joints relax and become looser, so your body is ready to give birth. The NHS say, 'during pregnancy, the ligaments in your body naturally become softer and stretch to prepare you for labour. This can put a strain on the joints of your lower back and pelvis, which can cause back pain.'

back pain in early pregnancy

Excessive saliva

Medically referred to as ptyalism, this is another one caused by those early hormonal changes. The NCT say, 'ptyalism is common during the first trimester of pregnancy. You might need to spit out some saliva into a tissue quite often, and the bitter taste of the saliva can cause nausea and vomiting. The good news for most women is that it should ease after the first trimester.'

Sex drive 

According to the NCT, your sex drive can decrease in early pregnancy. 'Studies have shown a 20% decrease in pregnant women having sex because of their sex drive decreasing.'

This is down to a number of the above symptoms you might be experiencing. 

Whether you’ve got one, a few, or lots of these signs of pregnancy, the best way to find out for sure is a simple pregnancy test.

They’re so advanced these days that you can take an early pregnancy test 6 days before your period is due and expect a result that’s around 99% accurate.

Pregnancy test

What kind of pregnancy test should I take?

Pregnancy tests are the most accurate way to tell if you're having a baby. You might be wondering, how exactly does a pregnancy test work? Pregnancy tests work by detecting a hormone in a woman's blood or urine: hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) is produced when an egg is implanted in the uterus. 

There are two kinds of pregnancy tests, blood and urine tests, and home tests that use urine.  A blood test (one you'd have at the doctors or in the hospital) detects hCG earlier than a qualitative blood or urine test.

Home tests vary in accuracy. Some are accurate on the first day of your missed period, but most detect pregnancy a week after this point. 

Most home pregnancy tests detect hCG in a urine stream when, after a few minutes, a line or symbol appears if the test is positive (indicating pregnancy); most urine pregnancy test instructions urge a second test in a few days no matter what the first results were.

It might be possible to be pregnant and get a "false negative", so always take a second test around a week later to be sure.

No early pregnancy symptoms?

Above are the main tell-tale signs of pregnancy, (plus science-backed theories to make sense of it all!). Or if you'd prefer, you can take our pregnancy quiz to find out if you're likely to be pregnant.

However, it's worth bearing in mind that Dr. Helena Watson reminds us that you may indeed be pregnant with no symptoms at all. "It's important to emphasise that most women have no symptoms whatsoever in early pregnancy," says Dr Helena Watson, Clinical Researcher at King's College London.

"A lot of pregnancy symptoms are possible but are also possible in non-pregnant women. Some (bloating, constipation, libido change, shortness of breath) are much more common later in pregnancy when the progesterone levels are higher and are less likely to be present in the first few weeks."

I'm pregnant, what next?

Congratulations! If you want to proceed with the pregnancy, it's time to start planning! Work out when your baby should arrive by using our due date calculator and learn more about what to expect by reading through our pregnancy week by week guides.

For this piece we worked with Dr Helena Watson, an obstetrics and gynaecology registrar in South London, working on the labour ward, at antenatal clinics and within gynaecology services to discuss the early pregnancy symptoms. She is also currently undertaking a PhD in Women’s Health Research at King’s College London. She is involved in projects such as Cotfinder and QUiPP.


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  • Author: Louella Berryman Louella Berryman
  • Job Title: Audience Development Executive

After training as a journalist at Cardiff University and winning the BBC Best New Brand of the Year Award for her plastic-free magazine, Louella now works in Audience Development across Bauer’s lifestyle brands.
She has also written for The Sunday Times Travel, Grazia, heatworld, Closer Online and her food blog, Louella’s Kitchen. She's interested in writing about food, culture and women's health.

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