Have a hunch you're pregnant, but aren't positive? Don't worry -- you're not alone in this uncertainty. Many early pregnancy symptoms are similar to those associated with premenstrual symptoms, so it's common to wonder what's really going on inside your body. If, by chance, you are pregnant, a chain reaction of physiological events began to unfold within the first 24-hours following fertilization. During that timeframe, the fertilized egg starts dividing into many cells and continues to do so as it travels though the fallopian tube and into the uterus [source: WebMD]. Once there, it will nestle for the next 35 or so weeks as it morphs from a bundle of cells into your bundle of joy.
While it's good to remember that every pregnancy is different -- and women experience a range of symptoms -- there are still some common warning signals for pregnancy. These differ in frequency, length and strength from woman to woman and pregnancy to pregnancy. Some women notice many of the early signs of pregnancy within the first week of conception. Others may notice them developing more slowly over the next month. And others may not experience any.
Keep reading to learn the 10 most common early signs of pregnancy.
More About Conception:
A Missed or Abnormal Period
Some women's periods are like clockwork -- they arrive every 28 days, rain or shine. If you happen to be one of these lucky ladies, you may find it easier to notice if your monthly miracle doesn't arrive, which can be one of the first predictors of pregnancy. However, many women during early pregnancy experience spotting or light vaginal bleeding that lasts a couple of days and may be confused with a period.
This occurs when the fertilized egg nestles into the wall of the uterus approximately one to two weeks after fertilization [source: Dyne et al.]. Still, a delayed or missed period isn't always a perfect predictor of pregnancy since stress, travel or health complications can also stall or stop the tick-tock of the menstrual clock.
Morning Sickness or Nausea
Is your morning routine suddenly accompanied by a nauseous belly? You're not alone. The queasiness associated with pregnancy can start as early as one to two weeks after the sperm and egg unite and continue into the early days of the second trimester. Even more frustrating for many moms-to-be is that nausea can spring up throughout the day or night and sometimes even become a constant companion.
While it may serve as bittersweet consolation to some moms that intense morning sickness means you're having a girl, as with most pregnancy superstitions, this one doesn't seem to hold up under a microscope. No matter whether the embryo turns out to be boy or girl, a light snack such as saltine crackers can provide some relief from morning sickness in the meantime. Ample sleep and ginger or peppermint tea may also help.
"Mood swings can occur during pregnancy due to the dramatic shift in hormone levels," explains Sonja Regis, a certified nurse-midwife [source: Regis]. "This may be most evident in early pregnancy when there is a rapid increase in progesterone levels."
Many women experience similar mood swings prior to the start of their menstrual cycle. Either way, this is just part and parcel of being a woman, so grab some tissues as you ride the peaks and troughs of the mood-coaster.
Tender or Swollen Breasts
Women can thank the soaring levels of hormones for this early-pregnancy symptom [source: Mayo Clinic]. Many frequently report that their breasts feel more tender, heavy or full as early as a couple of weeks after conception. This can be confused with premenstrual breast sensitivity. It doesn't help that your old bra starts feeling like a cross between a corset and a straitjacket.
The simple solution is to treat yourself to a shopping spree and invest in some comfortable new bras that will literally support you through the months to come. (Note to partners: Though budding breasts may be hard to resist, please remember to "handle with care.")
Don't be alarmed if naps are suddenly part of the daily routine. "Fatigue is very common, especially in the first trimester -- again due to increased hormone levels, as well as the demand placed on a woman's body during this critical time of fetal development," explained certified nurse-midwife Regis by e-mail [source: Regis].
The body is working overtime as it ramps up progesterone levels and prepares a healthy, safe home for your baby's next 40 weeks. This blanket of tiredness usually lifts around the second trimester. But remember that every pregnancy is different, so if you're tired throughout the entire process, you can always point to the intense physical effort required to make a human.
Toilet time again! Hormonal changes and a growing uterus place pressure on the bladder, which leads to many more bathroom breaks. So too does an increase in blood volume, which puts your kidneys into overdrive [source: Women's Healthcare Topics] Frequent urination is most noticeable during the first and third trimesters of pregnancy, though some women may continue making frequent trips to the bathroom throughout he entire pregnancy.
While you may want to limit your intake of liquids during this time to avoid urinating so frequently, please don't. It's important to drink lots of water throughout your pregnancy to stay hydrated, although you may want to ingest the bulk of your daily fluid intake during the daytime to limit nighttime bathroom trips.
Food Aversions or Cravings
Always been a salad eater, but suddenly that pile of leafy greens is as unappetizing as chopped liver? Many women describe strong reactions -- good and bad -- to food during early pregnancy. The cause may be rising levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the same hormone measured by pregnancy tests, and an increased sense of smell, but no one knows for sure [source: Ward].
The solution: Listen to your gut so long as you're maintaining a healthy diet. This means focusing on food that is high in fiber, folic acid, calcium, iron, vitamins C and A, and also taking a daily prenatal vitamin supplement. After all, it's never too early to teach your child healthy eating habits.
If the world has morphed into an olfactory wonderland, you might want to head to the drug store for a home pregnancy test. Whether it's the noxious fumes of a pedestrian's cigarette or the sweet aroma of a honeysuckle bush, the nose frequently knows when you're expecting. Again, you can thank those pregnancy hormones for your new superb sense of smell [source: Mann].
We suggest using turning this keen sense into an advantage by surrounding yourself with scents that make you feel great. Herbs frequently do the job. Think lavender, rosemary, mint or ginger. If these don't help and are instead making you feel nauseous, open your windows whenever possible and ask your friends and family to be considerate.
Shortness of Breath
Even short bursts of exercise can leave pregnant women breathing deeper than normal. This is common during the first trimester because of rising levels of progesterone and dramatic increases in blood volume. By 32 to 34 weeks pregnant, a women's blood volume can soar by 40 to 50 percent [source: HON Foundation].
Both of these physical changes require more oxygen [source: Mann]. While you may feel societal pressure to be like the energizer bunny, pregnancy is a time to take things a little slower. Also, sitting up straight may help your lungs expand. Your breathing will return to its normal, easy state after giving birth.
Positive Pregnancy Test
Seeing is believing, and nothing is as definitive as a seeing that positive result on your home pregnancy test. These tests work by detecting the hormone hCG, produced by the placenta, and found in a woman's urine. They're over 99 percent accurate when the instructions are followed carefully.
"Home pregnancy tests are comparable [in accuracy] to urine pregnancy tests used in clinical settings when used properly," wrote certified nurse-midwife Regis [source: Regis].
Though uncommon, it's still possible for the test to be wrong and show a false-negative or false-positive result [source: Mayo Clinic]. If you've taken more than one home pregnancy test and gotten conflicting results, the Mayo Clinic recommends making a doctor's appointment.
Want to know more? We've got lots more information on the next page.
Is it possible for a woman to get pregnant when she's already pregnant? HowStuffWorks looks at superfetation.
- Dyne, Pamela et al. "Bleeding During Pregnancy Causes." eMedicineHealth. Dec. 6, 2005. (April 27, 2011)http://www.emedicinehealth.com/pregnancy_bleeding/page2_em.htm
- HON Foundation. "Cardiovascular System Changes During Pregnancy." June 25, 2002. (April 28, 2011)http://www.hon.ch/Dossier/MotherChild/preg_changes/circulation.html
- Mann, Denise. "8 Early Signs of Pregnancy." WebMD. July 1, 2010. (April 20, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/8-early-signs-of-pregnancy
- Mayo Clinic. "Home pregnancy tests: Can you trust the results?" Oct. 30, 2010. (May 17, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/home-pregnancy-tests/PR00100
- Mayo Clinic. "Symptoms of pregnancy: What happens right away." Feb. 19, 2011. (April 20, 2011)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/symptoms-of-pregnancy/PR00102
- Regis, Sonja, Certified Nurse Midwife, Northside Women's Specialists in Atlanta, Ga. Personal interview. April 22, 2011.
- Ripton, Nancy. "Pregnancy and Nursing Bras." Just the Facts Baby. Oct. 21, 2008. (April 29, 2011)http://www.justthefactsbaby.com/pregnancy/article/pregnancy-and-nursing-bras/54
- Stoppler, Medical, M.D. "Pregnant or Not? How To Know." MedicineNet.com. Dec. 15, 2009. (April 21, 2011)http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=46675
- Ward, Elizabeth M. "Coping with Pregnancy Food Cravings." WebMD. June 1, 2006. (April 28, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/coping-with-pregnancy-food-cravings
- WebMD. "Pregnancy and Conception." Dec. 20, 2009. (April 28, 2011)http://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/understanding-conception
- Women's Healthcare Topics. "Frequent Urination During Pregnancy." 2011. (April 28, 2011)http://www.womenshealthcaretopics.com/preg_frequent_urination.htm