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Early Pregnancy Symptoms: How to Tell Before a Missed Period

Pregnancy symptoms are really similar to those of PMS on paper, but there are a few clues your body gives you if you listen.

A positive pregnancy test next to a card with a question mark.
FotoDuets/Getty Images

Your menstrual cycle is your body's way of preparing a nourishing environment for a pregnancy by building up a uterine lining. So you won't get your period (lose your uterine lining) if you're pregnant. This is true even if you're taking birth control pills that stop ovulation and mimic the natural menstrual cycle with a monthly bleed. 

But while a missed period is many people's first signal that they're pregnant, it often isn't the first clue your body gives you. 

In the first weeks of pregnancy (which technically starts the week of your last menstrual cycle, before you ovulate and before fertilization), the body starts producing a lot of hormones that can affect you physically and mentally. In addition to amping up its regular production of progesterone and estrogen, your body starts producing new hormones, including human placental lactogen (a.k.a. hPL) and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG -- the hormone that home pregnancy tests detect).

While your body is in hormonal overdrive during early pregnancy, you may feel some (often not-so-fun) side effects. But if hormones are to blame, how do you tell if it's PMS, ovulation symptoms or something else completely? Below, we outline some signals you might notice from your body during early pregnancy, before you even take a pregnancy test. 

Read more: Best Birth Control Delivery Services for 2022

Early signs you're pregnant 

Pads and a clock against a bright red background.

"Implantation bleeding" usually doesn't last more than a couple of days, and it's much lighter than most people's periods (not enough blood to fill a tampon or pad). 

Siriporn Kaenseeya/EyeEm/Getty Images

Sore breasts 

Rising levels of hormones in early pregnancy can cause your breasts to feel heavy or sore, and this can happen as early as a week or two after you conceive, or during weeks three and four of pregnancy, according to Healthline. For many people, this is one of the first pregnancy symptoms you'll experience.

If you have breasts, you're probably no stranger to the random aches and pains that sometimes comes with having them, notably the soreness that comes with premenstrual syndrome, which can also cause tender breasts as hormone levels change. Some people report breast pain during pregnancy as being a more "full" feeling, however, or more sensitivity in their nipples. 

A woman holds out a positive pregnancy test with both hands.

A pregnancy test is the surefire way to determine if you're pregnant, but other cues can alert you.

PeopleImages/Getty Images

Mood swings

Unexpected or unexplained bouts of anger, sadness, irritation, paranoia, guilt, glee and other emotions make up a common early pregnancy symptom: mood swings. 

"Estrogen and progesterone are skyrocketing at the beginning of your pregnancy," Dr. Lucy Puryear, psychiatrist and author of Understanding Your Moods When You're Expecting, told Parents. "The changes have big effects on your mood. You can be tearful one minute and happy the next." 

While there are a variety of factors that can impact your mood, sudden changes might be a clue if you think there's a chance of pregnancy.

Spotting

Some people experience some light pink or dark brown spotting about 10-14 days after conception during what's called "implantation bleeding." This light bleeding (not nearly enough to fill a tampon or pad) usually only lasts a few hours or up to two days, and it's believed to happen as the embryo attaches to the uterine wall. (Not all researchers agree that's the cause for this early pregnancy bleeding, however.) 

Implantation bleeding stops by itself and doesn't require treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic, but because it happens around the time you might be expecting your period, some people may mistake it for a very light period. 

Vaginal discharge 

Discharge is normal, but you may notice a lot more of it when you're pregnant, even early on. This increase in healthy discharge or "leukorrhea" helps stop bacteria or infections from spreading from your vagina into your womb. Pregnancy shouldn't change the color or smell of your discharge, though, so keep an eye out for infections

Cramps

Another symptom of the fun "am I pregnant or is it PMS?" game is cramping. During early pregnancy, increased blood flow to the uterus can cause pelvic pressure as your body prepares for the long-haul journey of pregnancy and childbirth. Your uterus, though you won't be "showing" yet, also begins to stretch and expand to accommodate the increase in blood as well as the growing pregnancy. This can cause a "pulling" feeling on your abdomen, according to Healthline, and may mimic cramps you experience before or during your period.

If your cramps are especially painful or located on one side of your body, however, this could indicate an ectopic pregnancy (when an embryo attaches outside the uterus, usually to a fallopian tube), which is a life-threatening condition for the pregnant person and requires emergency treatment, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

A woman with cramps hugs a pillow against her abdomen.

Some mild cramping during early pregnancy is normal, but it shouldn't cause you severe pain.

LumiNola/Getty Images

Fatigue 

Feeling extremely tired is common throughout pregnancy, but you may notice it before a missed period because of high levels of progesterone, per the Cleveland Clinic. You may feel more energized during the second trimester or feel your symptoms lessen altogether as your hormones begin to balance out during what some people call the "golden period."

Frequent urination

Many of us have seen a movie or some sort of GIF where a heavily pregnant person rushes to the bathroom while the heavy weight of their growing belly pushes onto their bladder. But frequent urination is a symptom of early pregnancy, too, as an increased blood supply creates more work and waste for your kidneys, per the Cleveland Clinic. 

This waste leaves the body as urine, so if you haven't missed your period yet but notice you're making more inexplicable trips to the bathroom, it's a sign you could be pregnant.

Headaches and dizziness

Your growing blood supply or rising hormone levels could be the culprit for another unpleasant pregnancy sign, dizziness and headaches. Expanding blood vessels may also cause migraines in some pregnant people, according to Stanford Children's Health. 

Additionally, hunger and low levels of blood sugar can trigger headaches, and some pregnant people may experience sinus pressure because of increased congestion, which is the next early pregnancy symptom in this list.

A woman pinches her sinuses between her nose and eyebrows

Headaches and nasal congestion are common during the early stages of pregnancy.

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Congestion

Post-nasal drip during pregnancy, or a collection of mucus in the back of your throat, is called pregnancy rhinitis. In addition to producing more hormones, more blood and more vaginal discharge during the early stages of pregnancy, your body also produces more mucus that can cause sinus pressure, congestion or other ear, nose and throat symptoms. Your body is now a powerhouse of bodily fluids. 

Great sense of smell

You can thank your hormones again for giving you an acute sense of smell, or an aversion to some smells, including food. According to research reported by Medical News Today, the majority of pregnant people experience a heightened sense of smell during the first trimester. You might notice this change in your nose before you notice a missed period. 

A positive pregnancy test laid out on a calendar

Many people suspect or find out they're pregnant before they miss their period. 

Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Nausea

"Morning sickness," or all-day sickness for some people, typically kicks in around week 6 through week 8 of pregnancy, which is when most people will have noticed their period is missing. But some can experience nausea even sooner, according to Parents. 

Once again, hormonal changes are thought to be the root cause of morning sickness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sometimes, morning sickness and vomiting can be so severe that it causes dehydration or requires medical treatment; this condition is referred to as hyperemesis gravidarum.

When should I test?

Home pregnancy tests can be very accurate (and they're usually inexpensive), especially if you wait to test until after your period is officially late. Some tests claim to accurately detect pregnancy up to a week before your missed period, so if you're experiencing some pregnancy symptoms and are champing at the bit, go for it.

You're more likely to get an accurate test result if you wait until your period is late, according to the Mayo Clinic. That's because the hormone that's detected in home pregnancy tests, hCG, doubles every two to three days after an embryo attaches to your uterus, meaning there's more to detect in your urine if you wait a few days. 

Because this hormone can sometimes take a while to build up, false negative results aren't uncommon in early pregnancy. It's much more rare to get a false positive. If you get a positive test result, you are very likely pregnant or experienced a recent pregnancy loss, and can confirm the pregnancy through a blood test or ultrasound.

We know you're wondering: Is it possible to be pregnant and still have a period? 

Nope, experts say. Some people may experience bleeding or spotting, but those are different bleeding patterns from the cyclical menses your body experiences in absence of a pregnancy. 

Dr. Michele Hakakha, an OB-GYN and author of Expecting 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy, told Parents that people definitely can experience vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, but that "when they bleed, they are not having a 'period.'" That's because your body needs to reserve the uterine lining as nourishment for the growing pregnancy.

Although bleeding during pregnancy doesn't always mean cause for concern, it can indicate something more serious like a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, according to the Mayo Clinic. (If you've already confirmed your pregnancy and you're experiencing bleeding or any pain, you should seek medical care.)

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.