A missed period is the most common early sign of pregnancy for most women. However, there are other less noticeable signs that may indicate that conception has occurred; these indications may be present even before an over-the-counter test can detect pregnancy. While nothing can replace the advice of a medical doctor, knowledge of the early symptoms of pregnancy can provide advance notice of the major changes ahead for the expectant mother and allow her to begin a regimen designed to protect the health of her unborn baby.
Despite its name, the nausea and stomach upset associated with morning sickness can occur at any time of day. Triggers include strong smells including cooking odors, unfamiliar foods, chemicals and perfume. Morning sickness is caused by hormonal changes in the body and can occur as early as two weeks after conception, making it one of the first signs of early pregnancy.
Some women experience major shifts in their taste buds during pregnancy; this can affect the woman’s food preferences and may even cause tried-and-true favorites to be taken off the menu for the duration of the pregnancy.
Hormonal shifts can also cause fatigue and excessive tiredness in some women. This may manifest itself in several forms including an increased need for sleep or sudden waves of exhaustion without accompanying physical exertion to justify this physical reaction. Fatigue can begin as soon as one week after conception and may last throughout the pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins, light exercise and proper diet can often relieve this symptom.
Heartburn, constipation and other digestive tract ailments can sometimes be symptomatic of pregnancy, especially if a few weeks have passed since conception. Changes in the uterus can put pressure on stomach muscles and internal organs and cause indigestion, heartburn, and other minor abdominal ailments as a result.
Shifts in hormone levels and increased demand on the body’s reserves can cause headaches during the first few weeks of pregnancy. These headaches may be mild or intense and sometimes respond well to a light snack of fresh fruit; this is especially true for headaches caused by blood sugar fluctuations.
Spotting or unusual menstrual flow
At the time of implantation, some women experience light spotting or what amounts to a mini-period. This is a normal side effect of the fertilized egg attaching itself to the uterine wall. While not all women will experience this symptom, it is one of the most common early indicators of pregnancy.
Tender, sensitive breasts typically result from hormonal fluctuations; some women experience swelling as well during the first few weeks of pregnancy. A sudden increase in breast size without corresponding overall weight gain typically is a good indication that pregnancy may be a possibility.
Lower back pain reminiscent of menstrual cramps is sometimes experienced in early pregnancy due to reactions within the uterus at the time of implantation. These cramps typically happen during the first three weeks of pregnancy and fade soon after this time period has passed.
Unusual food cravings
Ice cream and pickles are the usual culprits, but some newly pregnant women may find themselves craving dirt, laundry starch, or other unusual non-food items. Women should resist these urges in most cases. While old wives’ tales typically argue that these substances contain some special nutrient that the unborn baby needs, some of these items can be hazardous to both mother and growing baby and should not be ingested during pregnancy or at any other time.
Increased bathroom breaks
Newly pregnant women can blame their overactive hormones for frequent runs to the bathroom; hormonal changes can play havoc with normally sedate bladders and necessitate emergency pit stops at odd moments throughout the day.
Rapid changes in blood sugar and increased demands on the body’s energy levels can sometimes result in dizzy spells or even fainting during the first few weeks after conception. While some episodes of dizziness are attributable to gestational diabetes, most are directly related to the physical demands placed on the body during the early stages of pregnancy.
Some women experience bouts of moodiness, unexplained giddiness or depression during the initial weeks of pregnancy. These mood swings are the result of hormone levels changing rapidly inside the expectant mother’s body.
Higher-than-normal body temperature
While body temperature typically fluctuates during the course of each day, prolonged above-average temperatures for two weeks or more can be indicative of pregnancy.
Water retention and weight gain
Again, those pesky hormones are the culprit in causing water retention and bloating. This can result in slight weight gain, swollen ankles and difficulty in buttoning up jeans or trousers.
While these symptoms may provide early evidence of pregnancy, the most compelling indication that conception has occurred is a positive pregnancy test. Over-the-counter testing kits can provide highly accurate results as soon as two weeks after conception. Women are advised to consult their gynecologist or obstetrician in order to confirm their condition and establish a prenatal care plan as soon as they determine that pregnancy is likely. This can ensure the health and well-being of the baby and safeguard the mother’s health from the critical early stages of pregnancy right through delivery.