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Christin Perry

14 Early Signs Of Pregnancy

Think you might be expecting? From sore breasts to bloating to food cravings, here are the most common early pregnancy symptoms.

When you’re trying to conceive, any slight new symptom can get your heart pounding. Waiting to see if two pink lines are in store for you this month can be agony, so it’s hard not to read into every twinge, cramp and extra trip to the bathroom. But what are the first signs of pregnancy you should really be on the lookout for? We break down the most common early pregnancy symptoms and what you can do to ease any ensuing discomfort.

When Do Pregnancy Symptoms Start?
There’s no hard and fast rule for when early pregnancy symptoms kick in. Some women may begin noticing the first early signs of pregnancy a week or two after conception, while others will start to feel symptoms closer to four or five weeks after, when your period is conspicuously late, or even farther into pregnancy. According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, most women (59 percent) experienced an onset of pregnancy symptoms by their fifth or sixth week, while 71 percent reported symptoms by the end of week six and 89 percent by week eight.

Whether you start to sense early pregnancy symptoms immediately or later in pregnancy, don’t fret. “All women are different and don't experience the same symptoms of early pregnancy,” says Michele Justice, MD, an ob-gyn at Inova Loudoun Hospital in Leesburg, Virginia. “Also, her second pregnancy can be different from her first.” And of course, just because you experience something that could be chalked up as a sign of pregnancy, it’s never a guarantee there’s a baby on board. If you think you might be pregnant, Justice says, your best bet is to take a pregnancy test.

Pregnancy symptoms in this article:
Sore breasts
Darkening areolas
Cramping
Spotting
High basal body temperature
Fatigue
Frequent urination
Missed period
Morning sickness
Heightened sense of smell
Food cravings
Food aversions
Bloating
Constipation

1. Sore Breasts

Are your boobs killing you? Do they feel tender and swollen? If so, it’s possible you’ve conceived this cycle. Sore breasts and nipples are often one of the first early signs of pregnancy that women experience. Unfortunately, a lot of women also experience soreness as a normal part of their monthly menstrual cycle, so it can be hard to tell the difference between the typical breast tenderness before your period vs an early pregnancy sign. But there’s one key difference: In pregnancy, the tenderness doesn’t go away like it normally does with PMS, Justice says. Instead, the painful, tingly sensations tend to get worse as time passes, often leveling off around the end of the first trimester.

Why does it happen?

During early pregnancy, levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones spike, which causes increased blood flow to your breasts. These hormones are also why some women experience breast tenderness around the time of ovulation and as part of PMS—but in that case, the hormones begin to plummet as you get closer to the start of your period, and the breast pain subsides. If you’ve conceived, your hormone levels will rise rather than fall and your breasts will become increasingly tender.

Is it common?

Don't worry, you're not the only one dealing with breast pain—it’s one of the most common early pregnancy symptoms. For many women it lasts just a week or so, but others experience some level of breast tenderness for their entire pregnancy. Take comfort in the fact that this pain and tenderness means your breasts are preparing to nourish baby after she’s born!

What should you do?

Get a supportive bra to ease the discomfort of this pregnancy symptom. Talk to a professional who can help you with a fitting, and be sure to leave a little extra room. Trust us, they’re going to keep growing. And don’t be afraid to use either warm or cold compresses if things get really uncomfortable—just use whichever feels right for you.

2. Darkening Areolas

Your areolas—aka the area around your nipples—can start to appear darker and larger as early as one or two weeks after conception, making this one of the more popular early pregnancy symptoms. And that’s not all—look closely and you’ll see that the veins in your breasts are more noticeable as well. You might also notice little bumps popping up around the edges of your areolas. They’re called Montgomery tubercles, designed to help lubricate your nipples once baby is here and ready to nurse. If you haven’t realized it yet, your breasts will undergo lots of changes during pregnancy!

Why does it happen?

Like so many early signs of pregnancy, darkening areolas and veins are both a result of surging pregnancy hormones, namely human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. But while a dramatic increase in hCG is responsible for many of the initial pregnancy symptoms, it seems to affect your breasts earliest of all.

Is it common?

Darker areolas and veins will probably be one of the first signs of pregnancy you'll notice, and they’re both extremely common. And it doesn’t stop there: Your areolas may continue to grow and deepen in color as your pregnancy progresses. Sometimes the changes are permanent, sometimes they’re not.

What should you do?

As with so many other pregnancy symptoms, this is one that requires a grin-and-bear-it approach. The deepening color shouldn’t be a cause for concern—it’s a harmless part of the pregnancy experience. Your nipples are probably much more tender now too, especially when you’re cold or something rubs against them. Applying warm compresses and wearing a lightweight, soft cotton bra can help.

3. Cramping

Similar to sore breasts, cramping is among the early signs of pregnancy. The cramping shouldn’t be severe, though, so contact your doctor if you’re doubled over in pain, if you feel intense pain on only one side, or if you’re experiencing simultaneous bleeding and cramping (outside of your menstrual period, of course).

Why does it happen?

It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between early pregnancy symptoms and signs that your period is on its way, especially when it comes to cramping. But even though they feel identical, cramps in pregnancy and period cramps are caused by different things. “The cramping that occurs during early pregnancy comes from the increased blood flow to the uterus,” Justice says. “The cramps before your period are due to increased prostaglandins that help the uterus prepare to shed its lining.”

Is it common?

Most women experience at least some cramping during their pregnancy. Just remember to contact your doctor if you’re worried or if it becomes severe.

What should you do?

If you’re having cramps, don’t panic. Many women immediately fear a miscarriage, but according to Kimberly Harney, MD, a clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and maternal fetal medicine at the California-based Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, “mild cramping in the pelvis that’s symmetrical and generally in the center above the pubic bone could be normal in early pregnancy.”

4. Spotting

Having some light pink or brown spotting about a week before your period is due? If you’re wondering “can bleeding be a sign of pregnancy?” the answer is actually yes. It could be what’s called implantation bleeding, one of the early signs of pregnancy. It happens six to 12 days after conception, when a fertilized egg burrows deep into the lining of your uterus, causing a bit of mild irritation. When it’s happening, it can easily be confused with the onset of your period, so it’s one of those pregnancy symptoms that’s often noticed only in hindsight. “You probably won’t know that the irregular bleeding you had was implantation bleeding until you get that positive pregnancy test and remember that you had some spotting,” Justice says.

Why does it happen?

It means you've got a baby on the way! A few days after conception, the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tubes and settles in your uterus. There, the egg will attach to the wall of your uterus. Since your uterine lining is rich with blood, a little spotting can often occur and isn’t cause for concern.

Is it common?

Implantation spotting occurs in about 25 percent of women, according to Justice, so you may or may not encounter it. Remember, every woman is unique and will experience pregnancy symptoms differently.

What should you do?

Keep your fingers crossed—this could be a good sign! Be sure to take a pregnancy test if your period is late to arrive to determine if your spotting really is an early sign of pregnancy. If it turns out you haven’t conceived, note the date the spotting occurred and which cycle day you were on. Pay close attention to your next few cycles and see if you notice any spotting—mid-cycle bleeding can be a sign of a medical condition that would require a doctor’s diagnosis, so definitely visit your ob-gyn if you notice a pattern.

5. High Basal Body Temperature

If you’ve been charting your basal body temp, you may be privy to one of the subtle signs of pregnancy that many women won’t even notice: a higher than normal reading. When you’re charting, your basal (or waking) temperature peaks when you ovulate, then gradually decreases during the latter part of your cycle until your period begins. But if you get pregnant during the cycle, your basal temperature won’t plummet; instead, it’ll stay high.

Why does it happen?

Like so many pregnancy symptoms, those pesky pregnancy hormones are to blame yet again. If you don’t get pregnant, your levels of progesterone and estrogen will decrease, signaling your period to begin. But if an egg is fertilized, the opposite happens, and these hormones begin to rapidly rise. Your basal body temp will reflect that rise and you won’t see a dip after ovulation.

Is it common?

It’s not just common, it’s biology, baby! Progesterone and estrogen are the hormones that sustain a healthy pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, a sustained high basal body temperature is one of the pregnancy symptoms you’re guaranteed to see.

What should you do?

If you’ve been charting, just keep doing what you’re doing and enjoy seeing those high temps. If you haven’t been tracking it and are trying to conceive, consider starting a basal temperature chart to become more familiar with your cycle. The best time to start your chart is the day your period begins.

6. Fatigue

This can be one of the more difficult early pregnancy symptoms to deal with. It’s not just a loss of energy we’re talking about here—it’s more of a can’t-keep-your-eyes-open-another-second total exhaustion that you’ll likely deal with throughout the first trimester. This mind-numbing fatigue sets in thanks to those pregnancy hormones and, more importantly, from your body’s efforts to nurture baby's development.

Why does it happen?

Your body is working overtime to make sure baby has everything he needs to grow for the next nine months, and boy, will you feel it! Your body is producing more blood to carry nutrients to your growing baby, and your blood sugar levels and blood pressure are lower. These factors, combined with high levels of pregnancy hormones estrogen and progesterone, can all make you feel super sleepy.

Is it common?

Excessive fatigue is (unfortunately) among the common pregnancy symptoms during the first trimester and isn’t a cause for concern. The good news: You’ll probably enjoy a dramatic bump in energy as you round the corner of the second trimester.

What should you do?

Don’t be afraid to press snooze or take that early evening nap you’ve been daydreaming about. The better you feel, the better baby will too. There are also certain energy-boosting foods for pregnancy that can help you cope with first-trimester fatigue.

7. Frequent Urination

Peeing more than usual? It may not be one of the first early signs of pregnancy you notice, but having to urinate more frequently is definitely among the standard pregnancy symptoms and tends to kick in about two to three weeks after conception.

Why does it happen?

Once an egg has implanted in your uterus, the hCG hormone ramps up production and begins to rise dramatically. One of the side effects? It can make you feel like you’ve got to use the restroom every five minutes. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that heightened hCG levels in your urine are used to detect pregnancy, which is how you’ll get a positive result on your home pregnancy test.

Is it common?

Every pregnant woman will have increased hCG levels, but not everyone will have that frequent urge to pee. If you do, there’s no cause for concern, since higher hCG levels are a good thing. As your pregnancy progresses, baby will get bigger and put more pressure on your bladder, so you might as well get used to making multiple trips to the bathroom.

What should you do?

If you’re slipping away to visit the ladies’ room all night and it’s not because of one too many margaritas, pick up a pregnancy test and call your doctor. It’s possible you have a baby on board!

8. Missed Period

If you’re hoping to start the journey to motherhood, your heart probably races every time you visit the bathroom around the time your period is due. So it’s only natural to feel pretty excited if you’re late, even by a day! After all, it’s one of the classic early pregnancy symptoms. While the accuracy of a pregnant test increases the longer you wait to take one, many pregnancy tests these days are able to detect hCG levels up to five days before your period is supposed to start.

Why does it happen?

Here’s a little refresher: You get your period every month when your egg isn’t fertilized. The egg breaks apart, causing hormone levels to drop and your body sheds the lining of your uterus. If you skip your period, it’s a good sign there’s a baby on board, busy nestling into your uterine wall.

Is it common?

A missed period is one of those pregnancy symptoms that all expectant women will have (does the phrase “I’m late” sound familiar?), but it isn’t uncommon to have a bit of spotting around the time your period would have arrived, which is related to the implantation of a fertilized egg (see above).

What should you do?

If your cycle is regular, missing your period is one of the first early signs of pregnancy, so try taking a pregnancy test (or calling your doctor) to confirm. If your periods are irregular, it’s possible you just skipped a month—or you could be pregnant. A pregnancy test will help tell.

9. Morning Sickness

The one-two punch of nausea and vomiting are pregnancy symptoms that strike some women very early on, but for most sufferers the fun begins around week six. Morning sickness is a bit of a misnomer—while you’re likely to feel more nauseous on an empty stomach (like in the morning before you’ve had breakfast), that queasiness can pop up at any time of day.

Why does it happen?

The dramatic rise in hCG after implantation results in early pregnancy symptoms like nausea and vomiting. Why do some pregnant women heave at the mere thought of food while others can put away a six-course meal? According to Harney, it has to do with their brain chemistry. “The nausea center in their brain is more sensitive. [Women who suffer from extreme nausea during pregnancy] are the people who get motion sickness more easily, vomit more easily with stomach flu, etc.” This may be only part of the story, though, since some women experience morning sickness with one pregnancy but not another.

Is it common?

Experts think anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of pregnant women suffer from some form of morning sickness, so if you're one of them, you're in good company. If that’s not enough reassurance, just remember that the nausea and vomiting will be over before long—these early pregnancy symptoms usually don’t extend past the first trimester.

What should you do?

In most cases the queasiness isn’t too overwhelming, so listen to your body and try to stay calm. Yvonne Bohn, MD, coauthor of The Mommy Docs’ Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, suggests eating frequent small meals, nibbling on some crackers before getting out of bed, taking vitamin B6 or B12 or ginger tablets, and drinking tea or ginger ale. But if you’re losing significant weight or can’t keep anything down, you may be suffering from a more serious problem (like hyperemesis gravidarum), so talk to your doctor. Get more morning sickness tips to help minimize any nausea and vomiting.

10. Heightened Sense of Smell

If your favorite dish suddenly smells like dead fish, you may be experiencing one of the more bizarre early pregnancy symptoms. Often associated with morning sickness and all the lovely things that come with it, having a super sniffer isn’t exactly a blessing. Most of the time, the strong smells will seem nauseating to the mom-to-be.

Why does it happen?

No one knows the exact reason why pregnant women have such a strong sense of smell, so, like most pregnancy symptoms, most physicians just chalk it up to the increase in pregnancy hormones.

Is it common?

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but if you’re able to smell your boss’ lunch from all the way down the hall, rest assured, you’re not alone. Even better news? While it can be among the more annoying early pregnancy symptoms, it tends to subside after the first trimester.

What should you do?

If it’s really bothering you, try to stay away from those strong-smelling odors. Consider taking the stairs instead of the elevator so you’re not overwhelmed by someone’s perfume. Change lanes if you find yourself stuck behind an exhaust-heavy truck. At home, wash your clothes often (since odors cling to fibers), and switch to unscented cleaners and toiletries in order to curb those unpleasant smells.

11. Food Cravings

Pickles and ice cream, anyone? It’s not a myth! If you’re expecting, chances are you might experience strong (and possibly bizarre!) food cravings, especially in the first trimester. Some common yearnings you can chalk up as pregnancy symptoms? Sweet, spicy, salty and sour.

Why does it happen?

Experts aren’t sure why, but some think cravings are just your body's way of telling you what it needs. So if you’re ravenous for pickles, that could mean your body needs something salty. You can blame raging hormones (again!) for messing with your senses of taste and smell.

Is it common?

It’s one of the most common pregnancy symptoms: Around 90 percent of moms-to-be crave something, so if you’ve got the urge for Thai food one minute and pickle-flavored gummy bears the next, it’s totally normal.

What should you do?

Moderate indulgence is fine (and totally inevitable), but watch your intake of empty calories, especially if they start to replace important nutrients. There are easy (and healthy!) snacks that will give your body the nutrients it needs without downing three quarts of ice cream.

12. Food Aversions

Ah, pregnancy—the only topic where it’s totally normal to discuss cravings and aversions in the same breath. One of the more unusual signs of pregnancy, aversions to or distaste for certain foods during early pregnancy and food cravings may be opposite pregnancy symptoms, but they can be equally as strong. Common aversions include meat, onions and eggs, although a pregnant woman can develop a distaste for just about any food.

Why does it happen?

“Food aversions are more likely to occur during early pregnancy because of the extreme levels of nausea that can occur, and that can make your brain develop a strong dislike for the food that triggered the nausea,” Justice says. “No one likes to feel bad, and our brains try to protect us from this.” It’s also widely believed that food aversions during pregnancy are an evolutionary warning alarm; your body instinctively knows when a certain food, like raw chicken, is potentially dangerous.

Is it common?

It’s totally normal to feel repelled by certain foods during early pregnancy. Like many other early pregnancy symptoms, food aversions should subside after the first trimester.

What should you do?

The best way to deal is simply to avoid whatever foods are triggering your aversions. If it’s chicken, try eggs or another source of protein. If it’s milk, get your calcium fix from yogurt or even supplements.

13. Bloating

A boost in progesterone and estrogen is one of the common early pregnancy symptoms, causing many women to swell up early in pregnancy. Abdominal pain or tightening, bloating, belching and passing gas all accompany pregnancy, sometimes for the entire nine months.

Why does it happen?

Progesterone (one of those pregnancy hormones) is relaxing smooth muscle tissues all over your body, including in your gastrointestinal tract. This makes your gut work slower, giving your body more time to snatch up nutrients from your food and take them to baby—and that translates into gas for you.

Is it common?

Consider this among those pregnancy symptoms that are par for the course, especially in early pregnancy. The March of Dimes reports that nearly every mom-to-be will feel bloated at some point during her pregnancy (even if she doesn’t feel it right at the beginning).

What should you do?

Not a fan of pregnancy symptoms like gas and bloating? Eat small, regular meals and stay away from gas-causing foods like fried foods, sweets, cabbage and beans. Eating and drinking slowly will keep you from swallowing excess air (you'll later use this technique when feeding baby), and loose clothing will keep you comfy. Yoga classes can also help settle things down. If your gas is really intense, talk to your doctor before taking medication.

14. Constipation

Is constipation an early sign of pregnancy? It can be. It goes hand-in-hand with bloating, and occurs for all the same reasons. If you’re making more trips to the bathroom to pee but far fewer for the other, ahem, function, pregnancy could be the reason.

Why does it happen?

As increased levels of progesterone relax smooth muscle tissues, food begins to pass through your intestines more slowly, which can cause bowel movements to—you guessed it—move more slowly.

Is it common?

As with bloating and gas, constipation is one of those pretty common pregnancy symptoms, although it’s not relegated to the first trimester—some women struggle with it during the entire nine months.

What should you do?

Eat as many fiber-rich foods as your queasy tummy will allow, and don’t forget to drink lots of water. If you’re really struggling, you might even consider adding a bit of white grape or pear juice to your diet. In addition, talk to your doctor about switching to a different prenatal vitamin, since there are some that tend to cause less constipation than others.

Updated October 2017

PHOTO: Kelly Knox