For women who have a regular menstrual cycle, the most reliable early symptom of pregnancy is a missed period, but there are a number of other pregnancy signs in the early months and weeks of gestation, caused mostly by hormonal changes in the body.
Not all women will experience all of these symptoms and they may occur at different times during pregnancy.
Often mistaken for a light period, up to 30% of new mums report light spotting just before their expected period. This is an early symptom experienced by some and is caused by the embryo implanting itself in the uterine wall. You may experience cramps at around the same time.
Sickness and nausea
One of the most common symptoms of pregnancy, many women experience ‘morning sickness’ from around 4-6 weeks pregnant. Contrary to what the name might suggest, morning sickness can strike at any time of day with an estimated 8 out of 10 pregnant women experiencing sickness and/or nausea during pregnancy.
Feelings of nausea and vomiting usually lessen as the pregnancy progresses into the second trimester, but some women experience sickness throughout their pregnancy.
If you are vomiting a lot and cannot keep any food or water down, speak to your midwife or GP. Hyperemesis gravidarum is the condition used to describe extreme and excessive vomiting during pregnancy and often needs treatment to prevent dehydration and further complications.
It is hard work growing a baby and it is common to experience higher levels of tiredness during pregnancy, particularly during the first 12 weeks as the body puts a lot of energy into building the baby’s life-support system. Listen to your body, try to get plenty of rest, and make sure you are supporting your body by taking in enough fluids alongside your prenatal vitamins.
Thanks to pregnancy-related hormonal changes, you may experience similar mood shifts to those experienced during PMS, particularly at the later end of the first trimester and further into the pregnancy.
Thanks – yet again – to those pregnancy hormones, breasts can feel tender, sore and swollen early on in pregnancy. You may also notice more visible veins, more prominent nipples, and an increase in areola size.
You may mistake abdominal bloating for an approaching period, but many women experience the feeling of puffiness shortly after conceiving. This is not due to a growing baby at this early stage, but the hormone progesterone which slows down digestion, enabling nutrients more time to enter the bloodstream before reaching your baby.
Constipation can also be caused by the slowing down of your digestive system, so make sure you take in plenty of fibre.
More frequent urination
You may experience the need to pee more often during pregnancy. In the first trimester this is due to pregnancy hormones which increase blood flow to the kidneys to support them in getting rid of bodily waste.
As your uterus grows, pressure on the bladder and less space for urine will see you heading to the toilet more frequently.
Sensitivity to certain smells and tastes
Many pregnant women experience aversions or cravings for foods they usually love or hate. Early on in pregnancy, you may experience a heightened sensitivity to certain smells and tastes, making usually mild smells strong and unappealing and often contributing to those feelings of nausea.
When to expect pregnancy symptoms
Some of the above symptoms – such as breast soreness and sensitivity to tastes and smells – may show up before your missed period, while others are more likely to appear later, after the embryo has implanted in the uterus and the body works to build the placenta and support your growing baby.
Many of these symptoms will also crop up at different times for different women with some experiencing them many weeks into their pregnancy or not at all.
A note on pregnancy tests
The most accurate way to tell whether you are in fact pregnant is through a pregnancy test which detects the level of hCG hormone in the urine.
Pregnancy tests are usually most accurate when taken after your missed period but some report to be effective when tested several days before the date of your missed period.
A positive result is unlikely to be incorrect, whereas a negative result is less reliable. If you get a negative test result but still suspect you may be pregnant, try again in a few days.
If you are worried about any of the symptoms you are experiencing, speak to your midwife or GP for guidance.
Jen Dowding, Baby massage and baby yoga instructor, Basking Babies Laindon & Orsett