woman looking up early pregnancy symptoms on her phone

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: What to Look for and When

By Kerry Weiss
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
February 13, 2024

What’s happening with your body? Are you wondering whether you’ve conceived and want to know the earliest signs of pregnancy? Or maybe you already had a positive test and want to understand your early pregnancy symptoms. Either way, it helps to know what changes are common, and why.

Here are some things that can happen in the early weeks of pregnancy—and when you might expect them.

12 Common Early Pregnancy Symptoms

While every pregnancy is different, some very early signs of pregnancy include:

1. Missed Period

For people who have a regular cycle, a missed period is often the first sign of pregnancy. You can get a positive result on a home pregnancy test as early as a few days before your missed period.

Know that due dates are calculated starting with the first day of your last menstrual period. So someone with a 28-day cycle who misses their period and tests positive is already four weeks pregnant.

2. Implantation Symptoms

Implantation is when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterus. This typically occurs just before your period is due. Implantation can cause spotting or light bleeding for some people. This can seem like a light period—so some people may think they’re getting their period when they’re really pregnant.

Implantation may also cause light cramping. These are very early signs of pregnancy, about one week after conception, but many people don’t experience them or don’t notice them.

3. Cramping During Pregnancy

woman holding her belly, experiencing cramping during pregnancy

The uterus begins to expand in early pregnancy, stretching the ligaments and muscles around it and causing mild uterine cramps.

4. Pregnancy Discharge

If vaginal discharge increases or becomes more watery or mucous, even before your period is late, it could be an early sign of pregnancy.

In some cases, pregnancy discharge can contain drops of blood or be brownish in color, which may be a symptom of implantation.

5. Increased Urination

Taking extra bathroom breaks to empty your bladder? Frequent urination can be an early pregnancy symptom. During pregnancy, your blood supply increases, causing your kidneys to work overtime. This results in having to pee more often.

6. Breast Changes

Rising hormone levels in early pregnancy can contribute to breast changes like tenderness and swelling. Your bra may start to feel tighter than usual. You may notice your areolas, or the area around the nipples, begin to darken or become larger. The nipples themselves may also start to stick out more.

7. Fatigue

It’s very common to feel endlessly sleepy throughout the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Early pregnancy fatigue is likely due to the rapid increase in pregnancy hormones circulating throughout your body.

8. Constipation and Bloating

The initial surge of hormones in early pregnancy can also leave you feeling gassy and bloated. This is because progesterone causes your intestines to move slower, which in turn causes constipation and bloating. You might find you need to wear loose or stretchy clothing to be more comfortable. It can also help to avoid foods that tend to make you more gassy.

9. Headaches

woman in bed, rubbing her temple, experiencing a headache during early pregnancy

Rising levels of pregnancy hormones and an increasing volume of blood circulating in the body can contribute to headaches during pregnancy. You may also notice lightheadedness and dizziness. It’s also easy to become dehydrated in early pregnancy, which can make headaches worse.

10. Nausea and/or Vomiting

These early pregnancy symptoms are often referred to as morning sickness, even though they can occur at any time in the day. Morning sickness can come and go, or it can be constant.

Pregnancy nausea usually starts by week 9, if not sooner, and often gets better by week 14. If you’re vomiting regularly, it’s important to take steps to avoid dehydration and to talk to your provider about when you may need medication to help with this.

11. Food Cravings and Aversions

Some people crave specific foods. Others can’t stand the sight or smell of certain foods—a symptom called food aversions.

Pregnancy cravings and aversions may start toward the end of the first trimester, peak during the second trimester, and tend to disappear after delivery.

12. Mood Changes

As hormones start flooding your body in early pregnancy, it can make you extra emotional or contribute to mood swings. These changes in mood can persist throughout pregnancy as hormones continue to fluctuate.

Is It PMS or Early Pregnancy?

woman sitting on her bed and holding a pregnancy test

Many early pregnancy symptoms overlap with PMS or signs that your period is coming. These include sore breasts, bloating, mood swings, and cramps.

“There is absolutely no way to tell the difference, initially,” says Clayton Alfonso, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina.

“Some factors will increase odds that it is pregnancy and not PMS, such as imperfect use of contraception, delayed menses, and nausea with or without vomiting,” explains Jennifer Bhojwani, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Atrium Health Women’s Care Eastover University, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Ultimately, taking a pregnancy test is the best way to tell the difference between PMS and pregnancy.

Timeline of Early Pregnancy Symptoms

No two pregnancies are the same. “The timing and severity of symptoms can vary among women and even from one pregnancy to the next,” Bhojwani says. But here’s a general guide for when to expect the first signs of pregnancy to crop up.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Weeks 1–2

Pregnancy is calculated based on the first day of your last menstrual period. The first two weeks of pregnancy consist of your period through the start of ovulation, which typically occurs about 14 days into a 28-day cycle.

In these first two weeks, you’re not even pregnant yet. So, there’s no hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a pregnancy hormone, in your bloodstream, which means you won’t experience any pregnancy symptoms, explains Alfonso.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Week 3–4

Once you ovulate, the egg has about 24 hours where it can be successfully fertilized by the sperm. When that happens, it’s known as conception.

The fertilized egg then travels toward the uterus, where it must attach itself to the uterine lining to become a viable pregnancy. This is the process known as implantation.

Implantation typically occurs about six days after conception. At this point, you’re officially pregnant—but you likely won’t know it for at least another five to seven days

“If you haven’t missed your menstrual cycle yet, most people won’t have any pregnancy symptoms,” Alfonso says.

But if you suspect you’re pregnant, consider taking a home pregnancy test. “Typically, urine pregnancy tests are positive at the time of a missed menstrual cycle, but they’re becoming more sensitive to detect pregnancy earlier,” Bhojwani says.

If you get a negative result and still think you might be pregnant, give it a few days or a week and test again.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Weeks 5–7

Pregnancy symptoms start for many people about five to seven weeks in. “When you miss your menstrual cycle, your hCG level starts to rise,” Alfonso says. “Most people start to have some early pregnancy symptoms by that point.”

However, sometimes symptoms like nausea, breast tenderness, and fatigue don’t begin until later, notes Bhojwani.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Weeks 8–10

In early pregnancy, hCG levels continue to rise quickly and tend to peak around week 10. “As the hCG hormone is rising through the early part of the first trimester, those early pregnancy symptoms get worse and worse,” Alfonso says. Symptoms like nausea and fatigue generally are most severe around the 10-week mark, he adds.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms: Weeks 11–16

“By 16 weeks, as your pregnancy hormone level starts to decline, things start to get better,” says Alfonso. Common first-trimester symptoms like food aversions and morning sickness should start to subside at this point, he says. However, in some cases, these symptoms can persist for a few more weeks. Some people experience them throughout the entire pregnancy.

When to Call Your Doctor in Early Pregnancy

If you think you’re pregnant, give your doctor a call to confirm the pregnancy and establish early prenatal care to keep you and your growing baby healthy.

Certain warning signs and symptoms may also warrant a call to your doctor, such as any spotting, bleeding, or pain, particularly on one side or the other, notes Bhojwani. The doctor will want to rule out concerns like miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.

But even if you experience these symptoms, try not to panic, Alfonso says. In many cases, cramping, spotting, or bleeding during early pregnancy is normal, common, and not necessarily a cause for concern.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor anytime you have questions or concerns about early pregnancy symptoms and what they mean.

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