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Photo by Clár McWeeney

Early signs and symptoms of pregnancy

What you should look out for from the earliest weeks of pregnancy

Top things to know about early signs of pregnancy

  • Common early pregnancy symptoms include increased frequency of urination, fatigue, poor sleep, and back pain

  • It’s always best to take a pregnancy test to determine if you’re pregnant.

  • Understanding your cycle length helps to determine whether or not your period is late

You’ve recently had unprotected sex and now your period is later than usual.

Wondering if you’re pregnant? The tricky thing about figuring out if you have pregnancy symptoms is that many signs are similar to PMS symptoms.

It can also be difficult to know if your period is really late if you don’t know your average cycle length, or if your cycle length varies a lot.


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Download Clue to learn about your cycle length.

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Categories of pregnancy symptoms

Indicators or early signs of pregnancy can be broken down as follows:

  • Presumptive signs possibility of pregnancy

  • Probable signs most likelihood of indicating pregnancy

  • Positive signs confirmation of pregnancy (1)

Occasionally a person with an immense desire for, or fear of, pregnancy can develop presumptive, even probable, signs of pregnancy. This is known as a false pregnancy (pseudocyesis) and truly shows how the brain can influence physiology (1).

Side note: sympathetic pregnancy (also known as couvade syndrome) is when a non-pregnant partner experiences similar symptoms to the pregnant partner (2).

Most people notice the symptoms of pregnancy start about two weeks after conception, a couple of days after a missed period, or when there is a positive pregnancy test (1).

The most common early pregnancy symptoms are increased urinary frequency, tiredness, poor sleep, and back pain (3).

Presumptive signs of pregnancy

Possibility of pregnancy

  • Amenorrhea (no period)

  • Nausea — with or without vomiting

  • Breast enlargement and tenderness

  • Fatigue

  • Poor sleep

  • Back pain

  • Constipation

  • Food cravings and aversions

  • Mood changes or "mood swings"

  • Heartburn

  • Nasal congestion

  • Shortness of breath

  • Lightheadedness

  • Elevated basal body temperature (BBT)

  • Spider veins

  • Reddening of the palms

Probable signs of pregnancy

Most likelihood of indicating pregnancy

  • Increased frequency of urination

  • Soft cervix

  • Abdominal bloating/enlargement

  • Mild uterine cramping/discomfort without bleeding

  • Increased skin pigmentation in the face, stomach, and/or areola

Positive signs of pregnancy

Confirmation of pregnancy

  • Fetal heartbeat

  • Visualization of fetus (ultrasound)

  • Positive hCG urine or blood

Common symptoms of early pregnancy explained

Vaginal bleeding

Vaginal bleeding occurs in 20 to 40% of pregnant people during their first trimester and can sometimes be confused with a light period (4,5). More info on bleeding during early pregnancy you can read here.


Nausea during the beginning of pregnancy is commonly referred to as morning sickness due to a change in stomach function at this time — it usually, but not always, goes away in a few weeks (1). Even though it’s called “morning sickness,” nausea isn’t just confined to the morning.

Increase in urination

Increase in urination in early pregnancy can be due to hormonal changes influencing bladder function and urinary output (6). Additionally, the cervix becomes softer by the sixth week of pregnancy — known as Hegar’s sign—and can be detected by a physician during a pelvic exam (1).

Pregnancy tests detect the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is present in the blood and urine of a pregnant person. hCG is secreted by the placenta shortly after pregnancy begins (1). It’s best to take a pregnancy test to determine if you’re pregnant.

Article was originally published Nov. 27, 2017

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