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The most common early signs of pregnancy

The early signs of pregnancy can vary from person to person and some people have no symptoms at all. But if you’re trying to get pregnant or think you may be pregnant, these are the early signs to watch for, says Tia Guster, M.D., a Piedmont gynecologist.

  • Missed or lighter period. “Some people will notice that their menstrual cycle is late,” says Dr. Guster. “Others may get what they think is a period, but it only lasts for a day or the bleeding is very light.”

  • Mild nausea. Most pregnancy-related nausea doesn’t show up until about the six-week mark, she says. But sometimes it can start earlier.

  • Aversions to certain foods or smells. “I have some patients who suddenly can’t stand the smell of coffee or meat,” says Dr. Guster. “Others want to eat only carbs.”

  • Breast tenderness or changes. “Sometimes the touch of a bra or shirt makes their breasts feel extremely tender,” she says. “Also, your breasts may get bigger and your nipple or areola becomes darker.”

Dr. Guster says pregnancy symptoms generally start about five to six weeks after conception. They tend to get stronger at seven to eight weeks. By weeks 12 to 14, symptoms usually get better.

Less common early signs of pregnancy

Spotting, fatigue and mood changes are three possible early signs of pregnancy, though they’re less common than the symptoms mentioned above.

“It can be normal to have some spotting during pregnancy, but it’s generally not super common,” says Dr. Guster. “And some people don’t realize they’re tired from being pregnant. They may think their fatigue is related to stress or not even notice it.”

Additionally, some people experience mood changes during early pregnancy.

“It’s normal to cry when you’re overwhelmed or stressed out,” she says. “But if you’re acting outside your normal emotionality—such as crying over dog food commercials—that could be a sign.”

Are pregnancy symptoms ever mistaken for other conditions?

Dr. Guster says it’s common for pregnancy symptoms to be mistaken for:

Early pregnancy symptoms can also be a sign of other health conditions, particularly related to your thyroid if you have fatigue and irritability.

Food poisoning and gastrointestinal illnesses can cause nausea. And breast tenderness can be caused by too much caffeine or wearing the wrong bra, especially when doing high-impact exercises like running.

What to do if you think you may be pregnant

“Home pregnancy tests are very reliable and you can use them approximately two weeks after your missed period,” says Dr. Guster. “Grab at least three. The first result no one believes. The second result they still don’t believe. By the third positive result, it’s time to call your primary care provider’s office. You can drop off a urine sample or go in for blood work.”

She emphasizes that it’s important to determine if you’re pregnant as soon as possible. If you get a positive pregnancy test, Dr. Guster recommends:

  • Scheduling a prenatal visit with your primary care provider or obstetrician/gynecologist.

  • Starting prenatal vitamins and folic acid supplements if you don’t already take them.

“It’s very important to seek prenatal care,” she says. “If you don’t have health insurance, your provider’s office can help you do the paperwork to help cover your care. Getting the right care can avert having a health crisis or miscarriage if you seek care early. We can help diagnose and treat pregnancy complications like high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid issues. You’ll give yourself your best shot at having a successful pregnancy if you’re well taken care of. Everybody deserves that.”

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