Knowing the first signs of pregnancy is worthwhile even if you’re not sure whether you want children. Perhaps you’re trying to conceive or perhaps you’re actively trying to avoid pregnancy - either way, being aware of the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy can help you to make safe and informed choices about what to do next.
What are the first signs of pregnancy?
At the start of pregnancy, symptoms can be subtle and you might not even notice them at all. They can even be mistaken for symptoms of something else or simply shrugged off as ‘feeling a bit off’. We’re not saying that any of these signs on their own are a surefire guarantee that you’re pregnant, but if you experience several of these symptoms in a short period of time and there’s a chance you may be pregnant, it’s best to take a pregnancy test or speak to your GP.
Keep reading to learn about the early signs of pregnancy and other things they could signify.
The first and most common sign of pregnancy is a missed period, which can indicate that a fertilised egg has implanted into the lining of your womb. This successful implantation prevents the shedding of the womb lining, therefore causing you to miss your menstrual period.
However, it can be difficult to tell if you have missed a period if you don’t have a regular cycle. There are also other things which can cause your period to be late, including:
- Sudden weight loss or being overweight
- Use of hormonal contraception
- Excessive exercise
- Some medical conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or an overactive thyroid
Additionally, some women experience very light bleeding in the first few weeks of pregnancy called ‘implantation bleeding’. If you usually have light periods, you might mistake implantation bleeding for your usual cycle, so it’s important to be aware of other pregnancy symptoms as well.
Feeling sick or fatigued
Pregnancy comes with hormonal changes as your body prepares itself to grow a baby. These changes are normal, but they can have unpleasant effects such as nausea and vomiting (also known as morning sickness) or fatigue.
However, nausea and fatigue are also common symptoms of a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, with causes including:
- Food poisoning
- Too much or not enough exercise
There are many more things which can cause nausea or fatigue or both, so if you’re concerned about feeling tired or sick all the time it can be helpful to consult your pharmacist or GP. They may be able to help you identify the cause of your symptoms and find a solution.
Another potential early sign of pregnancy is excessive peeing, whether that’s in the daytime or at night. You might find yourself feeling the urge to go to the toilet more often than usual, or perhaps need to get up several times in the night to pee. This can be a sign of pregnancy caused by the growing womb pressing on the bladder.
Alternatively, needing to pee more often can be caused by any number of things, such as:
- Damage to the bladder or surrounding areas during surgery or childbirth
- Drinking too much caffeine or alcohol
- Being dehydrated
- Bladder stones
- Certain medications including some HRT treatments and ACE inhibitors
It’s best to consult your GP if you’re worried about peeing excessively, particularly if it’s a problem that’s become worse suddenly. Lots of things can cause bladder problems, and accurately treating the condition can be easier when the cause is known.
Changes in taste, smell and appetite
Often paired with nausea, these symptoms are common signs of pregnancy. As well as getting cravings for certain foods and drinks, you may also experience sudden aversions - for example, a food you usually like tasting unpleasant. You might have a similar reaction to smells as well, with some women having a heightened sense of smell while pregnant.
Other things which can affect your taste, smell and appetite include:
- Common illnesses such as cold and flu
- Nasal polyps
There are also other symptoms which could be signs of pregnancy, including sore breasts, constipation and changes to libido amongst others. If you’re concerned about any symptoms you have, it’s best to speak to a doctor or pharmacist about them to find out about causes and treatment options.
How early do pregnancy symptoms start?
Every pregnancy is different, and some women may experience all or none of the above symptoms or anything in between. There can also be variation in when you experience them, if you do at all. For example, morning sickness often starts at around four to six weeks of pregnancy and lasts through to around 20 weeks. Fatigue, on the other hand, is common at any time in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
For more information about when you can expect certain symptoms to start or ease, it’s best to speak to your doctor or midwife, if you have one. They can give you advice tailored to your pregnancy as well as suggesting ways to ease any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Can pregnancy symptoms come and go?
As we’ve said, every pregnancy is different, and there’s no way to predict which symptoms you’ll experience and when. You can even have different symptoms in subsequent pregnancies compared to what you had in your first, because symptoms are dependent on a range of factors.
This can also mean that pregnancy symptoms come and go alongside other changes in your body, such as hormonal fluctuations. Additionally, you might find you notice symptoms more when you’re tired or hungry, for example. As always, the best thing to do if you’re concerned about your or your baby’s wellbeing during pregnancy is to speak with your midwife or doctor.
In the end, the above symptoms are only examples of common experiences women have during pregnancy. If you experience these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant, but it’s worth being aware that pregnancy could be a factor. Whether you’re ready to have a baby or not, these signs and symptoms may help you to spot a pregnancy sooner rather than later.