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How do I know if I’m pregnant, or just late?

You’ve ovulated and had sex, you might be noticing some possible early pregnancy symptoms, and your period should be coming soon or has already passed. Could you be pregnant, or is this more likely a late period? It’s hard to know for sure.

Are you pregnant or is your period just late? Here’s how to tell

Learn more about actual pregnancy symptoms before you start getting concerned.

The science behind symptoms

Pregnant or not, your body starts releasing progesterone after you ovulate. This hormone keeps getting released and is at its highest point around five to seven days after ovulation. If a woman is pregnant, her body continues to produce progesterone in high amounts to help sustain the pregnancy. If she’s not pregnant, her progesterone levels decrease, and she’ll start her menstrual period.

Thanks also to progesterone, the symptoms of early pregnancy and your period are nearly identical. Cramps, fatigue, dizziness, breast tenderness – all early signs of pregnancy, but also possible signs of your period coming.

What about light spotting a week after ovulation? It could indicate implantation bleeding, but most women don’t experience this symptom and spotting can happen for other reasons.

What about nausea? This symptom is typically attributed to hCG, the pregnancy hormone, but it can be caused by other things, too (including PMS).

In the weeks between ovulation and a pregnancy test, many women “symptom spot”; that is, they take note of certain physical symptoms and think that they are definitely signs of early pregnancy. Is symptom spotting so wrong? Absolutely not, and it can even be kind of fun, as long as you know that only a blood test can tell you for sure if you’re pregnant.

Is there anything I can look for?

Probably the most reliable physical symptom of early pregnancy is a missed period. Noticing that your breasts are getting increasingly sore, or experiencing symptoms that you don’t usually get around the time of your period, are also signs that you could be pregnant. But again, a blood test will be the best way to know for sure.

Final thoughts: things to keep in mind

The bottom line is that without a blood test, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure whether you’re pregnant or experiencing a late period. Even home pregnancy tests can sometimes give a false negative, if taken too early, so it’s really smart to wait to take a test until or after your expected period.

If you’re paying attention to your symptoms, just know that it can get a little stressful for some women. So if you find yourself symptom spotting, try to be aware of how often you do it, and how you feel – does it distract you or stress you out? If it starts to get emotionally taxing for you, look for ways to stop paying attention to your symptoms.

Finally, make sure you’ve scheduled a pregnancy blood test, and keep taking your prenatal vitamins! Whether it’s sooner or later, when you get that BFP, you’ll be glad you did!

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Home pregnancy tests: Can you trust the results?” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Dec 2015. Web. Accessed 8/3/17. Available at http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/getting-pregnant/in-depth/home-pregnancy-tests/art-20047940.
  • Lori A Bastian, Haywood Brown. “Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of early pregnancy.” UptoDate. UptoDate Inc., Jul 2017. Web. Accessed 8/3/17. Available at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-manifestations-and-diagnosis-of-early-pregnancy?source=search_result&search=waiting%20for%20pregnancy%20test&selectedTitle=1~150.
  • “Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy.” ACOG. FAQ126 from the American College of Obstetricans and Gynecologists, Dec 2015. Web. Accessed 8/3/17. Available at https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Morning-Sickness-Nausea-and-Vomiting-of-Pregnancy.

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