The very first symptoms of pregnancy may appear before you even suspect that you have conceived. Most women only notice these symptoms if they are actively trying to get pregnant or if they are using the basal temperature method for birth control. There are some women who are just hyper-aware of their bodies and can spot the signs.

In the early days of a pregnancy, the symptoms are usually very subtle and go largely unnoticed. If you do happen to spot that something is different, you may actually just confuse what you’re feeling for your usual PMS symptoms. They are very similar.

The most common symptoms you can notice

The main event that sparks off these symptoms is the moment of implantation. This is when the fertilized embryo implants into the endometrium in the uterus. This process can result in minor bleeding that comes out with your discharge. Only around 10% of women experience this, and those who do may well confuse the bleeding for early spotting from their menstrual period.

At this stage in a pregnancy, more sensitive women may notice that their sense of taste and smell are different. They can also feel like their breasts are a lot more tender than normal. The nipples can also change, and become more pointed in shape. This is from hormonal increases.

Many women also experience an increase in overall body temperature. So if you’re using the basal method of tracking your cycle, you’ll definitely spot this symptom. Women usually feel this change as flushes on their faces, as well as in the hands and feet. In some cases, women can feel feverish as a result of the high levels of progesterone that their bodies are releasing.

Other symptoms of early pregnancy

The high levels of hormones in your body can result in a wide range of symptoms, many of them being similar to what you experience in PMS. This is because it is largely the same hormones involved in a pregnancy. Cramps and bloating in the lower abdomen and an increase in pimples on your skin all come from the increase in progesterone.

You can also experience rapid mood swings, as well as a sense of dizziness. This is also thanks to the high levels of progesterone. Some women can get very emotional at this time and find that even the smallest thing can start them crying – like a song that reminds them of a happy event or a smell that brings back a memory.

Some women also experience an increase in the urge urinate. This is because their uterus is starting to expand already and putting pressure on their bladder. Unfortunately, this symptom will only get worse as your pregnancy progresses and your baby gets bigger.

IMPORTANT: Every woman and each pregnancy is different. This means that the symptoms you feel for one pregnancy may not be the same next time and are very unlikely to be the same as your friend’s symptoms. This makes it quite difficult to notice the signs of early pregnancy.

Headaches and stomach pains may also appear in the first few days of pregnancy. Some women have a greater sensitivity to the significant increase of progesterone and will experience these pains before their menstruation is even late.

This leads us to the last and most obvious symptom of early pregnancy: delayed menstruation. This is the sign that most women will use as a clue that they might be pregnant and thinking they should take a pregnancy test. However, it’s best to wait until you are at least five days late before you do. This will give your body enough time to build up hCG, the pregnancy hormone, if you are pregnant or for your menstruation to start if you aren’t.

If your test comes back negative, wait another week before you try taking one again. You need to give your body plenty of time to build up hCG in order to get the best chance of seeing a true positive result. Remember, it can take the embryo up to 15 days to implant into the uterus after it has been fertilized. Things can be further delayed if you ovulated later than anticipated in your cycle.

If your cycle is irregular, it may be tricky to work out exactly when your menstruation should start. This means that you are really stabbing in the dark as to when you should take a pregnancy test. A general rule is to count 20 days from the last time you had sexual intercourse and try a test then. Again, if it comes back negative, then wait another week and try a second test.

When should you go for your first ultrasound?

At this very early stage of your pregnancy, you are highly unlikely to see anything on an ultrasound. Yes, you can have a positive pregnancy test (even a beta-hCG blood test done in a laboratory) but still not see anything in an ultrasound.

Only from week five or six will you start to see the gestational sac. By week eight you are guaranteed to see the embryo. This is because it is finally big enough to actually be seen and easily identified on an ultrasound. Most doctors won’t even do an ultrasound before they think you have reached week eight.

The problem with going for an ultrasound too early is that you may get a fright if you can’t see anything. You can start to worry that you’re having an anembryonic pregnancy or have even had a miscarriage. Listen to your gynecologist, and don’t start to worry or stress if they aren’t.

The early signs of pregnancy – a study

Due to the wide range of symptoms and how women feel them differently with each pregnancy, a study was done to try and work out what the most common actually are. An online survey was conducted and over 10 000 women responded with their experiences.

The following questions were asked

  • Which of the pregnancy symptoms did you notice? (Increased blackheads and pimples / Colic / Abdominal pain / Nausea / Delayed menstruation / High temperature / Dizziness / Urge to vomit)
  • Did you have vaginal discharge? (Brown / Pink / Transparent and elastic)
  • Did you notice any differences in your breasts? (Painful nipples / Sensitive nipples / Darker areola)
  • Did you notice behavioral changes? (Cravings for specific foods / Aversion to strong odors / Increased need to urinate / Exhaustion / Mood variation)

The results

After the cut off time, the responses were studied and compiled to form averages. This showed which symptoms were more common than others. The results show:

  • Pregnant women experience, on average, seven to eight symptoms with menstruation delay being the most common to alert them that they might be pregnant
  • 28% of pregnant women don’t realize that their menstruation is late to begin with
  • Behavioral changes are noticed more than the physical symptoms
  • Almost every pregnant woman notices some changes in her breasts

Readers’ questions:

What will my belly look like in the first days of pregnancy?

It’s quite common to experience a slight swelling in the lower abdomen in the first days of a pregnancy. This is nothing to do with the size of your baby, but rather swelling produced by the higher levels of progesterone in your body. The uterus can also start to increase in size, which can cause a slight expansion.

How do I recognize the first symptoms?

This is quite tricky to say because not all women feel all or any of the symptoms of early pregnancy. The most common to look out for though include: tenderness in your breasts, nausea, dizziness, constant need to urinate, exhaustion and aversion to strong odors. In order to recognize these symptoms, you just need to know your body well and be aware of any changes.

What happens to my uterus in the first days of pregnancy?

Your body is now full of progesterone and this can have a big impact on your uterus. The womb will start to expand as it prepares for the growing embryo. You can sometimes actually see this change as a slight bloating in your abdomen. Often, women will see this swelling at night because this is when their progesterone levels peak.