You are usually pretty careful, but lately you and your partner have been throwing caution to the wind. All you keep hearing about is how much trouble your friends have trying to conceive, so really what are the odds? Still, you have been so tired lately, get up from your desk 20 times a day to use the ladies’ room, and your bra feels like it has a stranglehold on your chest. It’s too early to know if you’ve missed your period, but are these the early signs of pregnancy?
They just may be. Fatigue, frequent urination, and breast tenderness are some of more subtle first signs of pregnancy and may occur even if it is still too early to take an at-home pregnancy test.
“Always suspect that you could be pregnant, even if you are using contraception — as nothing except abstinence is 100 percent,” says Xavier Pombar, MD, an obstetrician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “The earlier you know, the better prenatal care you can get. So it’s always important to watch out for the early signs of pregnancy.”
If you are pregnant, it’s never too early (or too late) to start making important lifestyle changes, such as cutting out caffeine, nicotine, sushi, and alcohol. And if you are not already doing so, you’ll need to take prenatal vitamins. “You may also be taking medications to treat other conditions that will need to be stopped or adjusted if you are pregnant,” he says.
So what are the early signs of pregnancy that you should be on the lookout for?
“Extreme, unexplainable fatigue is probably the most common sign of early pregnancy,” says high-risk obstetrician Gil Gross, MD, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“Don’t treat fatigue with excessive caffeine if there is a chance you may be pregnant.” Instead, “listen to your body, take it easy, and try to keep well-rested,” says Donnica Moore, MD, a women’s health expert in Far Hills, N.J.
2. Food aversions.
The thought of chicken makes you wince, and you can’t even walk past the local Chinese restaurant without gagging. Sound familiar? If it does, you could be pregnant. Many women report that such intense food aversions are one of the first signs of early pregnancy. These can be caused by rising levels of beta-hCG hormone, Moore says. There isn’t all that much to do except steer clear of triggers.
3. Sensitivity to smells.
Scents that were never pleasant (like cigarette smoke) and even ones that were agreeable (like your partner’s cologne) can also make you gag during the beginning of pregnancy. “For some women, this can be a tip-off that they are expecting,” Moore says. This is likely a result of rising hormone levels. Unfortunately, “there is really nothing you can do except avoid them where you can,” she says, “especially cigarette smoke, which is not good for you or the baby.”
4. Nausea and vomiting.
Blame it on rising levels of hormones in early pregnancy — nausea and vomiting can be signs that you are with child. “One of the things that help expectant moms get through first trimester is the reassurance that the nausea and vomiting will likely pass by 12 weeks,” Moore says. “It also helps to know that morning sickness can be a good thing” because rising levels of the beta-HCG hormone, which may cause morning sickness, indicate a growing pregnancy. Beat back morning (or all-day sickness, as the case can be) by eating offensively as opposed to defensively. “The key is not to let your stomach get too empty,” she says. “Keep crackers by your bedside and have them before you get out of bed in the morning,” she says. Prenatal vitamins can also trigger nausea for some expectant moms. “Don’t take your vitamins on an empty stomach,” Moore says. “A lot of people feel better if they take them at nighttime or with dinner.”
5. Breast swelling and tenderness.
Other early signs of pregnancy may include breast changes. “The best thing to do about breast tenderness is to get a better bra,” says Washington University’s Gross.
6. Frequent urination.
“In early pregnancy, the uterus grows and pushes on the bladder, triggering the urge to urinate more often,” Pombar says. This sensation usually goes away by the second trimester, but not for long. “In your third trimester, it recurs again because of your enlarged uterus and the pressure of the fetus’s head on your bladder,” he says. There is no way to avoid this, but going to the bathroom right before bed may allow you to get a little more sleep. “You will probably still have to get up at least once in the night to use the bathroom,” he says.
7. Shortness of breath.
Some women feel short of breath when they first become pregnant. “This is because you need extra oxygen due to the growing fetus,” Pombar says. “The further along you are, the worse this gets. Tell your doctor if there is a sudden onset of shortness of breath that is not associated with exercise, you also have pain, or it is worse when you are lying down, as these can be signs of something more serious.”
8. Physical changes.
If you think that you may be pregnant because you have been sexually active without contraception, make an appointment with your doctor because there are changes in the color of the vagina and the softness of the cervix that a good clinician can pick up on during a pelvic exam, Pombar says.
Although all of these may be among the first signs of pregnancy, they are by no means definitive.
“Remember that while these are early signs of pregnancy, these are also the symptoms of other things, including premenstrual syndrome (PMS),” Moore says. “The most reliable early sign of pregnancy is your first missed period if you have regular periods.”
The bottom line? If you think you might be pregnant, take an at-home test or make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.