When we think of early pregnancy, we think of the typical symptoms of morning sickness, loss of appetite, intolerance to odors and fatigue. However, these ‘typical’ symptoms do not occur in every women and in most instances it does not commence the day after conception. In fact many women go for weeks (sometimes even months) before discovering that they are pregnant.
How To Spot Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a physiological process which leads to a host of changes in the body from the time of conception (when the sperm cell fertilizes the egg cell). Most of these early changes are due to hormones,which are necessary to help the embyro grow and develop. However, these hormonal changes also impacts on the mother and may manifest as a host of signs or symptoms that we consider to be typical of pregnancy.
Some people will report seeing a ‘glow’ of the skin and other vague symptoms in a woman who has just fallen pregnant. There is little anecdotal evidence to support such claims. Therefore a pregnancy test is the best way to spot and confirm pregnancy. Women who are trying to conceive should keep pregnancy tests at hand but should remember that these tests are not accurate within the first week or two of conceiving.
When do pregnancy symptoms start?
The earliest symptoms should be seen about a week after falling pregnant although this can occur a little sooner. However, there is no definitive time for when early pregnancy symptoms should arise. Sometimes the earliest symptoms are missed altogether. Often a women is only alerted to the possibility of being pregnant when she misses her next period. A pregnancy test needs to be done in order to confirm the pregnancy.
Read more on common pregnancy symptoms.
A vaginal discharge is one of the first symptoms of pregnancy. It is usually a white and milky discharge. However, a vaginal discharge is a common occurrence even when a woman is not pregnant. Therefore the discharge may not always be immediately associated with pregnancy. It arises with thickening of the vaginal walls that arises immediately after conception and will persist throughout pregnancy.
Implantation is where the fertilized egg attaches to the inner wall of the uterus. It results in a bleed, that is often just spotting. This is one of the first definitive symptoms of pregnany that a woman may notice. The implantation bleed may occur about a week after fertilization (conception). The time varies between 6 to 12 days. There may also be some cramping. As a result, many women mistaken these symptoms for a very light period or mid-cycle bleed (intermenstrual bleed).
Fatigue is a non-specific symptom that can occur for a variety of reasons including dietary and lifestyle changes physical strain, psychological stress and a host of medical conditions. It also arises with pregnancy but on its own it is difficult to attribute to the pregnant state. This abnormally tired feeling can arise as soon as one week after pregnancy and may persist throughout pregnancy.
Breast Tenderness and Swelling
Changes in the breast are an early symptom of pregnancy that arise about one to two weeks after conception. These changes may include tenderness and swelling although some women will also report an unusual sensation in the breast like tingling. It may at times be mistaken for breast symptoms that arise with the menstrual cycle although in early pregnancy it is more pronounced.
The menstrual cycle is the body’s way to prepare for pregnancy and if this occurs, then it is paused. A pregnant woman will therefore not have a regular period (menstruation) for the duration of pregnancy. It only returns after childbirth, usually about 2 to 3 months after giving birth (sometimes sooner, sometimes later). It s not uncommon to experience no other pregnancy symptoms and only becoming alerted to the possibility of pregnancy when the next period does not occur as expected.
Nausea and Vomiting
Nausea and vomiting, often referred to as morning sickness, is considered characteristic of pregnancy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the earliest symptom of pregnancy. In fact it may only start mid-way through the first trimester, around 6 weeks into pregnancy. However, some women will experience it much earlier and there are even instances where a woman will not have morning sickness at all in early pregnancy.
Changes in appetite are not usually an early sign of pregnancy. The typical cravings and increasd appetite (“eating for two”) occurs later in pregnancy. However, some women may experience appetite changes early due to the morning sickness. Naturally the nausea and vomiting of morning sickness will lead to a loss of appetite. This can continue throught pregnancy in cases of severe and persistent morning sickness known as hyperemesis gravidarum.
Read more on appetite loss in pregnancy.
Some degree of cramping may occur at the time of the implantation bleed but overall abdominal cramps are a rare indication of early pregnancy. Instead it may occur later in pregnancy as the uterus expands to accomodate the growing fetus. As with appetite changes, there may be some gastrointestinal cramping as a result of morning sickness. This is particularly prominent in women who experience significant vomiting.
Pregnancy While Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding does not mean that a woman cannot fall pregnant. Even the lack of a period after childbirth does not mean that a woman will not fall pregnant. The signs and symptoms of pregnancy while breastfeeding are not significantly different from pregnancy symptoms when not breastfeeding. However, these symptoms may sometimes be masked to some degree due to the hormonal changes that persist after childbirth.
Breast tenderness and swelling are common while breastfeeding. It can also be a sign of pregnancy. However, it can be difficult to differentiate between just breastfeeding and pregnancy while breastfeeding. If tenderness and swelling in a breastfeeding woman increases in the backdrop of unprotected intercourse then pregnancy is possible. There may also be some reduction in breastmilk production but this can occur for various reasons other than pregnancy.
As with pregnancy when not breastfeeding, the most accurate way to confirm pregnancy is with an appropriate test. These tests measure hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) which is a hormone that is present during pregnancy. Therefore breastfeeding will not necessarily affect the accuracy of these tests. However, it is important to conduct the test at a time when these tests can be accurate.