Your menstrual cycle is your body’s way of preparing a nourishing environment for pregnancy by building up a uterine lining. So you will not have your period (you lose your endometrium) if you are pregnant. This is true even if youthat stop ovulation and mimic the natural menstrual cycle with monthly bleeding.
But while a missed period is the first sign that they’re pregnant for many people, it’s often not the first clue your body gives you.
In the early weeks of pregnancy (which technically starts the week of your last menstrual cycle, before you ovulate and before conception), the body starts producing a lot of hormones that can affect you physically and mentally. In addition to increasing regular production of progesterone and estrogen, your body begins to produce new hormones, including human placental lactogen (also known as hPL) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG – the hormone that home pregnancy tests detect).
While your body is in hormonal overdrive during early pregnancy, you may feel some (often not so nice) side effects. But if hormones are to blame, how do you know if it’s PMS, ovulation symptoms, or something else? Below we outline some of the signs to notice from your body during early pregnancy, even before taking a pregnancy test.
Early Signs You’re Pregnant
Rising levels of hormones early in pregnancy can cause your breasts to feel heavy or sore, and this can happen as early as a week or two after you become pregnant, or during weeks three and four of pregnancy, according to Healthline. For many people, this is one of the first pregnancy symptoms you will experience.
If you have breasts, you’re probably no stranger to the random aches and pains that sometimes come with having them, especially the pain associated with premenstrual syndrome, which can also cause breast tenderness when hormone levels change. However, some people report breast pain during pregnancy as a more “full” feeling or more tenderness in their nipples.
Unexpected or unexplained bouts of anger, sadness, irritation, paranoia, guilt, cheerfulness, and other emotions are a common symptom of early pregnancy: mood swings.
“Estrogen and progesterone skyrocket at the start of your pregnancy,” Dr. Lucy Puryear, psychiatrist and author of Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting, told parents. “The changes have a big impact on your mood. You can be in tears one minute and happy the next.”
While there are several factors that can affect your mood, sudden changes can be a clue if you think there’s a chance of pregnancy.
Some people experience some light pink or dark brown spots about 10-14 days after conception during what is called ‘implantation bleeding’. This light bleeding (almost not enough to fill a tampon or sanitary pad) usually lasts only a few hours or up to two days, and is believed to happen as the embryo attaches to the uterine wall. (Not all researchers agree that this is what causes this early pregnancy bleeding, though.)
Implantation bleeding stops on its own and requires no treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic, but because it happens around the time you should expect your period, some people may mistake it for a very light period.
Discharge is normal, but you may notice it a lot more when you’re pregnant, even early on. This increase in healthy discharge or “leucorrhea” helps prevent bacteria or infections from spreading from your vagina to your uterus. However, pregnancy should not change the color or smell of your discharge, so watch out for infections.
Another symptom of the fun “am I pregnant or is it PMS?” game is cramped. During early pregnancy, increased blood flow to the uterus can cause pelvic pressure as your body prepares for the long journey of pregnancy and delivery. Your uterus, while not yet “showing”, also begins to stretch and expand to accommodate the increase in blood and the growing pregnancy. This can cause a “pulling” sensation on your abdomen, according to Healthline, and can mimic the cramping you experience before or during your period.
However, if your cramps are particularly painful or are on one side of your body, it could indicate an ectopic pregnancy (when an embryo attaches outside the womb, usually to a fallopian tube), which is a life-threatening condition for the pregnant person. and requires emergency treatment, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Feeling extremely tired is common during pregnancy, but you may notice it for a missed period because of high levels of progesterone, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You may feel more energized during the second trimester or feel like your symptoms have eased altogether as your hormones begin to balance during what some people call the “golden period.”
Many of us have seen a movie or some sort of GIF where a heavily pregnant person runs to the bathroom with the heavy weight of their growing bellies pressing on their bladders. But frequent urination is also a symptom of early pregnancy, because increased blood flow creates more work and waste for your kidneys, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
This waste leaves the body as urine, so if you haven’t missed your period yet but find yourself making more unexplained trips to the bathroom, it’s a sign that you may be†
Headache and Dizziness
Your growing blood supply or rising hormone levels could be the culprit for another unpleasant pregnancy sign, dizziness and headache. Expanding blood vessels can also trigger migraines in some pregnant people, according to Stanford Children’s Health.
Additionally, hunger and low blood sugar levels can trigger headaches, and some pregnant people may experience sinus pressure due to increased congestion, which is the next early pregnancy symptom on this list.
Post-nasal drip during pregnancy, or a buildup of mucus in the back of your throat, is called gestational rhinitis. In addition to producing more hormones, more blood, and more vaginal discharge during the early stages of pregnancy, your body also produces more mucus that can cause sinus pressure, congestion, or other ear, nose, and throat symptoms. Your body is now a powerhouse of bodily fluids.
Great sense of smell
You can thank your hormones again for giving you an acute sense of smell, or an aversion to some smells, including food. According to research reported by Medical News Today, the majority of pregnant people experience an increased sense of smell during the first trimester. You may notice this change in your nose before you notice a missed period.
“Morning sickness,” or all-day sickness for some people, usually starts around week 6 to week 8 of pregnancy, which is when most people will have noticed their periods are missing. But some may experience nausea even earlier, according to parents.
Again, according to the Mayo Clinic, hormonal changes are believed to be the cause of morning sickness. Sometimes morning sickness and vomiting can be so severe that it causes dehydration or requires medical treatment; this condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum.
When should I test?
Home pregnancy tests can be very accurate (and they usually aren’t expensive), especially if you wait to test until after your period is officially late. Some tests claim that they can accurately detect a pregnancy up to a week before your missed period, so if you’re experiencing some pregnancy symptoms and are about to struggle, go for it.
According to the Mayo Clinic, you are more likely to get an accurate test result if you wait until your period is late. That’s because the hormone detected in home pregnancy tests, hCG, doubles every two to three days after an embryo attaches to your uterus, meaning there’s more to detect in your urine if you wait a few days.
Because this hormone sometimes takes some time to build up, false negative results are not uncommon in early pregnancy. It is much rarer to get a false positive. If you get a positive test result, you are most likely pregnant or have recently had a pregnancy loss and you can confirm the pregnancy with a blood test or ultrasound.
We know you’re wondering: is it possible to be pregnant and still get your period?
No, say experts. Some people may experience bleeding or spotting, but those are different bleeding patterns from the cyclic menstruation that your body experiences when there is no pregnancy.
dr. Michele Hakakha, an OB-GYN and author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, told parents that people can certainly experience vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, but that “when they bleed, they don’t have a period..” That’s because your body has to reserve the endometrium as nourishment for the growing pregnancy.
While bleeding during pregnancy isn’t always a cause for concern, it could indicate something more serious, such as a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic. (If you have already confirmed your pregnancy and you are bleeding or in pain, get medical attention.)
The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.