While blood tests and ultrasound are only reliable methods to confirm that you are pregnant, there are many early pregnancy symptoms that you can sense way before you visit a doctor. Other than a missed menstrual period, there are several other signs that can help you guess. The signs of pregnancy can be divided into presumptive, probable and confirmatory.
Your duration of pregnancy is calculated from your last menstrual period i-e your last menstrual period is considered first week of pregnancy even if you were not really pregnant at that time. Likewise, your date of delivery is calculated using the first day of your last menstrual period. It means that your first few weeks where you did not have any symptoms also contribute while calculating the due date.
Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting, more pronounced in the morning may start as early as the first month and persist throughout the pregnancy. They occur due to increased levels of HCG in the body. However, it is not a reliable sign as these symptoms can also occur due to a number of other conditions such as gastrointestinal disorders, infections etc.
- Cramping and spotting: From 1 to 4 weeks, everything is still happening at cellular level making it hard to notice any changes. About 10 to 14 days after fertilization, the fertilized egg now developed into a cluster of cells implants itself into the uterine wall which may cause implantation bleeding. Severe cramping can also be noticed especially if it is your first pregnancy.
- Increased heart rate: Palpitations and arrhythmias can occur during early pregnancy. Heart rate is also increased due to hormonal changes.
Mood swings: As you get pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone levels become high. This is the reason mood swings are common during early pregnancy. Feelings of depression, anxiety, irritability are common.
- Amenorrhea: Missing a menstrual period is among the earliest signs of pregnancy. But then again, it is only a presumptive sign. It is not uncommon for women to miss their period due to a number of causes such as chronic disease, hormonal imbalance, stress, excessive exercise etc.
- Changes in breasts: changes start to occur in breasts during early pregnancy. They become enlarged, firm and tender but these changes can also be noticed in some other conditions such as hormonal imbalances.
- Fatigue and lassitude: Many women complain of extreme fatigue and lack of energy during early pregnancy. It occurs due to hormonal changes but several other factors such as anemia, infections, stress etc. also contribute to fatigue.
- Frequent urination: hormonal changes can cause the blood to flow more rapidly through the kidneys, causing the bladder to fill more often which causes frequent urge to urinate. If you also feel a burning sensation and little or few drops of urine every time you pee, these may be the signs of a UTI. Other conditions such as diabetes, drinking, tension etc. may also increase urinary frequency.
The probable signs of pregnancy include enlargement of uterus, changes in the cervix, a positive pregnancy test etc.
Positive pregnancy test:
A positive pregnancy test is the only probable sign that you can easily observe for yourself. However, it is not always 100% accurate and there can be false positives and false negatives. The best time to take a urine pregnancy test is in the morning after you wake up.
Signs that confirm the pregnancy include:
- Fetal heartbeat: By using a Doppler, fetal heart beat can be observed as early as 10 weeks. Other methods such as using a fetoscope and stethoscope can take longer.
- Ultrasound: Pregnancy can be confirmed using a transvaginal scan as early as 5-6 weeks.
Red Flag Signs:
Here are a few symptoms that if you notice, you should never ignore.
- Bleeding: A little spotting can be normal but if it persists, you should immediately see your doctor.
- Abdominal pain: A little abdominal discomfort and cramping is normal. However, if the pain is severe and persistent and accompanied by other symptoms such as bleeding, there may be something to worry about.
- Swollen face, hands and feet: A little puffiness is normal but excessive swelling may be a sign of preeclampsia.
- Headache: Severe, persistent headaches may also be a sign of preeclampsia.
- Back pain: Excessive back pain that doesn’t go away can be a sign of kidney or bladder infection.
- Fever: Fever can be a sign of a viral or bacterial infection. It is important to get yourself diagnosed and treated.