Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy

When a woman becomes pregnant, she experiences many bodily changes, as well as the emotional and psychological effects of pregnancy. Some of these changes are quite easy to detect (weight gain, back pain, swollen ankles), while others are subtler. Although different women can experience very different symptoms during their pregnancy, there are some significant signs that appear commonly and consistently.  Pregnancy brings changes in your hormonal balance that can cause several symptoms. Here is what to look for.

  • Missed or abnormal period (spotting due to the implantation of the fetus in the uterine wall)
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 2-8 weeks after conception (also called “morning sickness”)
  • Changes in libido
  • Soreness and enlargement of the breasts (preparing for lactation)
  • Excessive urination (due to pressure on the bladder)
  • Food cravings or aversions
  • Fatigue/Tiredness and Mood swings

A Missed Menstrual Period

Missing one or more menstrual periods is a classic sign of pregnancy. Menstruation is the shedding of uterine lining, but when a woman is pregnant the embryo has then been implanted into the uterine lining and is retained inside the womb. Because the lining is not shed, a woman does not menstruate during pregnancy.  However, this cannot always be a reliable sign of pregnancy if you have irregular or missed periods. Causes of missed or irregular periods include:

·         Excessive weight loss or gain

·         Having an eating disorder

·         Increased exercise

·         Stress

·         Illness

·         Birth control methods, that cause lighter, less frequent, more frequent, skipped periods, or no periods at all

·         And breast feeding. Many women do not yet begin their periods until they have completely stopped breast feeding

Teenage girls should also keep in mind that missed periods can occur because the hormones controlling their cycle may not become regular for the first few years of menstruation.

Spotting or Light Bleeding

Implantation bleeding can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, typically  occurring around 6-12 days after conception. The spotting is caused by the embryo implanting itself into the uterine lining. However, there are many other causes for spotting or light bleeding in between periods, which include:

·         Actual period

·         Irregular period

·         Change in hormonal birth control methods

·         Infection or abrasion from sex

Swollen or Tender Breasts           

A woman’s hormone levels rapidly change after conception in preparation for the baby. Breast changes can occur as early as 1-2 weeks after conception. In preparation for breastfeeding there may be:

-          Soreness/Tenderness

-          Darkening or enlarging of the areola (area around the nipple)

-          Swelling and heaviness

-          Increased breast size

For most women, these symptoms are not the first sign of pregnancy and usually occur after the first missed period or after a positive pregnancy test. Other reasons for swollen or tender beasts may include:

·         Period about to start (PMS)

·         Hormonal Imbalance

·         Birth Control Pills

Nausea/Morning Sickness

            Nausea and vomiting, a combination of symptoms commonly called “morning sickness” are another classic sign of pregnancy. Morning sickness typically occurs from around 2-8 weeks after conception.  Nausea and vomiting are likely caused by the increase in hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) and estrogen levels, but currently the complete explanation of the symptoms is unknown by medical professionals. If you are not pregnant, other causes for nausea may include:

·         Food Poisoning

·         Stress

·         Influenza (“The Flu”)

·         Change in hormonal birth control method

·         Or other stomach disorders

Frequent Urination

Frequent urination is one of the early signs of pregnancy, occurring at around 6-8 weeks into the first trimester. The hormonal change in the body causes increased blood flow through your kidneys, filling your bladder with urine more often. Also, a normal pregnancy causes an increase of blood plasma volume by almost 50%; this excess amount of fluid is processed through the kidneys and winds up in the bladder.

Are you losing sleep from frequent urination? Lying down, improves in the legs and feet that may have swollen throughout the day. The fluid retained in the lower body is then processed through the kidneys, causing those nighttime bathroom runs. To help alleviate this symptom you may try:

·         Avoid diuretics such as tea and coffee - especially late in the day

·         On the toilet, leaning forward assists to empty the bladder more effectively

Fatigue and Mood Swings

Fatigue and mood swings occur as early as the first trimester, fades away in the second trimester and then returns at the close of pregnancy. The full reason for fatigue is unknown by medical professionals, but the likely culprit is the increase in progesterone. The other symptoms that occur during pregnancy, such a nausea and vomiting, can also be exceptionally draining. To cope, make habit of getting to bed early and try to take naps during the day. A 25-30 minute catnap can be the most rejuvenating.

Changes in the Areola

The areola is the circular area of skin around the nipple that is a different color to the rest of your skin. This tissue specifically has muscle fibers to give the nipples an erection to prepare for nursing a baby. The areolae also contain Montgomery glands, which secrete oils to help lubricate the nipple area and helps prevent infection. Various changes may occur in the areolae in preparation to nurse a baby:

·         Darkening of color

·         Increased diameter

·         Thicker skin

·         Bumpier texture (these bumps are the Montgomery glands increasing in size)

·         The nipple will also enlarge

The purpose of these changes is to help the baby spot the milk source and to prepare the area for suckling, which can be painful at first.

Breasts Leaking Colostrum

In the third trimester of pregnancy, the breasts will lactate colostrum, a thick yellowish fluid that is packed with the antibodies and protein that are necessary for baby in the first few days following birth. Lactation will often occur during times of intimacy as lactation is controlled by the hormone, oxytocin, which itself is triggered by feelings of love and affection.  Nursing pads, sold at drugstores, can be worn within a bra to protect clothes from leakage.

Braxton-Hicks Contractions

Braxton-Hick contractions are relatively painless uterine contractions experienced throughout pregnancy that are not associated with going into labor. They are not likely to be noticed until after mid-pregnancy. A woman usually experiences more Braxton-Hicks contractions as her pregnancy progresses, sometimes even being confused for labor contractions. However, Braxton-Hicks contractions do not consistently grow longer, stronger and closer together like labor contractions.  When you are within the last few weeks of pregnancy, Braxton-Hicks contractions can be uncomfortable to some, you may consider trying:

·         Walking or resting can ease these contractions (true labor contractions will persist no matter what you do)

·         Braxton-Hicks contractions can be brought on by dehydration, so drink plenty of water

·         Try body relaxation techniques such as deep meditative breathing or a warm bath.

These contractions are difficult to distinguish from preterm labor. If you are experiencing more than four contractions in an hour before your 37th week of pregnancy, contact your caregiver immediately.

Do all women get early pregnancy symptoms?

The answer is no; every pregnancy is different. Not only do symptoms vary from woman to woman, but the same individual can have varying symptoms from pregnancy to pregnancy. About a quarter of women who become pregnant are fortunate to experience no symptoms at all! This is why it is most important to use a pregnancy test to determine if you are pregnant or not. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and wish for any medical attention, please consult with your doctor.


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American Pregnancy Association;

Baby Center;

Baby Med;


Last Updated 5 May 2013


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