Why it matters
A missed period typically offers the first noticeable sign of pregnancy. At least, it does when you have a regular menstrual cycle.
When your period makes a regular appearance every few weeks — on average, menstrual cycles range from 24 to 38 days long-trusted Source — you might suspect pregnancy within just a few days of missing your period. A pregnancy test or two will usually provide the confirmation you need and give you the chance to start considering your options.
But maybe you don’t have regular periods. Some months you have two, others only some light spotting. You might go for several months without any bleeding at all. When irregular or light periods happen as a result of hormonal birth control, you might be even less likely to wonder about the possibility of pregnancy until several weeks have passed.
If you know pregnancy and parenthood aren’t right for you right now (or ever) and live in a state that bans abortion after 6 weeks, these extra days of uncertainty can mean the difference between getting an abortion and not getting one, unless you have the funds and time to travel out of state.
But we’re here to help. In the guide below, we’ll cover six of the earliest signs of pregnancy, plus offer more information about your options.
First, a quick rundown on conception
Say you had penis-in-vagina sex just once since your last period. You could only have conceived on that one occasion, about 2 weeks into your cycle. When you miss your period and have a positive pregnancy test, you might count back the days and assume, quite understandably, that you’re 2 weeks along.
But, as a recent press release from Planned Parenthood explains, healthcare professionals typically count weeks of pregnancy by your last period. The first day of your last period marks the beginning of the first week of pregnancy. By the very first day of your missed period, you’re already considered 4 weeks pregnant. Yes, even though conception only happened 2 weeks earlier.
This leaves you a mere 14 days to find an abortion provider, make an appointment, and navigate any extra hurdles like counseling or mandatory waiting periods. In short, it significantly limits access to abortion in states that ban abortion after 6 weeks.
1. Nausea, with or without vomiting
The name “morning sickness” isn’t entirely accurate, since pregnancy-related nausea can occur at any time of day.
Morning sickness doesn’t always involve vomiting, either. It’s pretty common to simply feel nauseous.
Research from 2019Trusted Source suggests that while somewhere around 80 percent of people notice nausea during early pregnancy, only between 35 and 40 percent also report vomiting.
Nausea can begin very early in pregnancy.
In a 2021 studyTrusted Source of 241 pregnant women, researchers tracked the onset of pregnancy sickness beginning from the day of ovulation.
Two-thirds of the participants reported having symptoms 11 to 20 days after ovulation. About 5 percent of the participants noticed symptoms even earlier.
In all, 94.1 percent of the participants experienced at least some nausea and vomiting.
Again, ovulation happens around the middle of your cycle, so if you have a 28-day cycle, you may start to notice some nausea around the time you miss your period.
Keep in mind, though, that not everyone experiences nausea during pregnancy. In other words, “no nausea” doesn’t automatically translate to “not pregnant.”
2. Tender or swollen breasts
Changes in your breasts or chest tissue also tend to begin in early pregnancy.
You might notice:
- tenderness and sensitivity to the touch
- a full or heavy feeling
Of course, soreness and tenderness commonly happen with premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Wondering how to tell the difference? Your breast or chest veins can offer a clue: blue, visible veins often suggest pregnancy, as can tingling in the area and aching underneath your armpits.
The color of your areolae, or the ring of skin surrounding the nipples, might begin to appear darker, or even slightly larger, in early pregnancy.
3. Increased urination
You might associate frequent urination with late pregnancy, but this uptick in bathroom trips can happen a whole lot sooner, sometimes as early as week 4 of pregnancy (or right around the time you miss your period).
Another key change you might notice in your bathroom habits? Constipation.
By week 4, even though you might be peeing a lot more, you might also feel bloated and backed up.
4. Changes in smell and taste
Hormonal changes in early pregnancy can affect senses like smell and taste.
You might notice:
- increased sensitivity to odors
- smells you usually don’t mind, like coffee, spices, or cleaning products, suddenly become unpleasant
- a metallic or sour taste in your mouth
- an aversion to certain foods, even ones you enjoy
- increased salivation
5. Fatigue and sleepiness
Can’t seem to keep your eyes open, even though it’s the middle of the day? Fighting off frequent yawns and the urge to nap?
Feeling more tired than usual is a common sign of pregnancy, one that often shows up around the 4-week mark.
Of course, it’s also very common to feel more tired than usual just before your period starts. But if your period doesn’t show and the fatigue persists, you may want to take a pregnancy test sooner rather than later.
6. Implantation bleeding
When you’re worried about an unplanned pregnancy, the faintest hint of pink on the toilet paper or in your underwear might bring intense relief. (We’ve been there.) After all, getting your period means you aren’t pregnant.
That blood may not be your period arriving, though.
Implantation bleeding, which can happen when the fertilized egg attaches, or implants, to the uterus’ lining, typically happens somewhere between weeks 3 and 4, or between 10 and 14 days after conception. That’s often right around the time your period would show up, or just before.
It would be easy to mistake this bleeding for a light period, especially if your periods already tend to be on the lighter, shorter side.
But implantation bleeding differs from a typical period in a few key ways:
- It usually lasts just a couple of days.
- You’ll notice very little blood, usually not enough to fill a tampon, pad, or cup.
- The blood will often be brown or pink, rather than bright red.
- It can involve some pelvic pain or cramping, or you may not notice any pain at all.
Taking a pregnancy test may be a good option when your period seems unusually light and the blood never becomes red.
Taking an at-home pregnancy test
A monthly pregnancy test is never a bad idea, especially because most signs of early pregnancy can mimic PMS symptoms or have other causes unrelated to reproductive health.
Taking a test each month is the best way to tell for certain whether you’re pregnant, say Cynthia Plotch and Jamie Norwood, co-founders of Stix. The Philadelphia-based online brand aims to increase stigma-free accessibility to pregnancy and ovulation tests, along with other reproductive health products, with discreet and direct shipping.
Pregnancy tests can offer fast confirmation without the need to wait for symptoms that may or may not show up.
“We recommend taking a pregnancy test the first day of your missed period, or 19 days after sex if your periods are irregular,” they say.
They also suggest testing first thing in the morning before you’ve had any water, as your urine will be most concentrated at that time.
What to do next
If you have a positive pregnancy test but don’t want to be pregnant, you’ll want to reach out for care right away. Your timeline for getting an abortion will vary depending on the state you live in.
Abortion options also depend on how far along the pregnancy is:
- You can usually get a medical abortion up to the 10-week mark. In some states, it’s possible to get a medical abortion using telehealth services.
- After 10 weeks, you’ll typically need a surgical abortion.
Get more details on when and how you can get an abortion.
At your appointment, healthcare professionals can confirm the pregnancy and offer information about your options, depending on how many weeks pregnant you are.
If you can no longer get an abortion in your state, you still have options. These resources can help.
You’re not alone
It’s common to experience a complex mix of emotions when facing an unplanned pregnancy, even when you plan to have an abortion.
Certainly, you might feel relieved to know you have the option. But at the same time, you might also feel anxious when considering the potential hurdles you’ll have to overcome or feel worried that you might not be able to get one after all.
“We’re hearing from women every day that they’re scared,” Plotch and Norwood said. “Women in Texas are afraid for their health and safety, and women across the country are scared similar laws will pass in their state.”
This lack of control over your health, your body, and your choices can lead to plenty of stress and fear. If you need to talk to someone but aren’t sure where to turn, the All-Options Talkline offers free, confidential peer support.
- In the United States or Canada, call 1-888-493-0092.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed but prefer to text, you can also connect with a crisis counselor through the Crisis Text Line. These peer counselors are trained to offer support for any type of emotional distress.
- In the United States or Canada, text HOME to 741741 any day, any time, for free and confidential support.
Abortion bans like Texas’ S.B.8 can prevent you from making your own healthcare decisions, a right everyone deserves, without question.
Sure, birth control can go a long way toward preventing unplanned pregnancies — but the fact remains that not everyone has access to birth control. Plus, even the most effective methods can still sometimes fail.
Some hormonal birth control methods can also lead to lighter or irregular periods, making it even harder to recognize one of the most obvious signs of pregnancy in time to get an abortion.
That’s why Plotch and Norwood recommend monthly pregnancy and ovulation testing as a way to get in tune with your cycle.
“Now more than ever, we need to understand what’s going on with our bodies,” they say. “Ovulation tests offer a great place to start. You can use them whether you’re trying to get pregnant or trying not to, since they find your fertile window and help you know your likelihood of getting pregnant.”
If you’ve had penis-in-vagina sex since your last period, it never hurts to take a pregnancy test if your period doesn’t show up when you expect it. The sooner you know you’re pregnant, the more time you have to consider your options.
The bottom line
Paying attention to changes in your body and menstrual cycle can help you recognize early signs of pregnancy while you still have time to end the pregnancy if you choose.
You’re the only one who should have control over your body and healthcare decisions. No one should have the right to force you to continue a pregnancy, but that’s exactly what legislation like S.B.8 aims to do.
“We’ve dedicated our careers to empowering women to make confident health decisions. For us, this means doubling down on creating the right resources and products to help the members of our community make the choices that are right for them,” Plotch and Norwood conclude.
Need abortion support? Try these resources: