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Am I Pregnant? Telltale Signs That You’re Expecting

7 min read

By Catherine Roberts

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Andrea Eisenberg, MD

Did you miss your last period? Are your breasts unusually tender—more so than they get before menstruation? Are you suffering from nausea and vomiting in the mornings?

While every woman’s body is different, the following 10 symptoms can help clarify if you think you may be expecting. The only surefire way to know whether or not you’re pregnant is by having a blood test done at the doctor’s office. However, a pregnancy test (which is most accurate after a missed period) can also help.

In addition to taking a test, here are some possible telltale symptoms of pregnancy…

A Missed Period

The most obvious symptom of early pregnancy is the (dreaded or celebrated) missed period. If you’ve been trying to have a baby, this symptom will likely fill you with hope and joy. If you’re single and sexually active, chances are a missed period will induce anxiety and worry. Either way, you should head to the drugstore to get yourself a home pregnancy test. These tests are more accurate than ever, and they’re a quick alternative to dealing with doctors and ultrasounds.

However, you should keep in mind that pregnancy isn’t the only reason you might miss a period. Extreme stress, significant swings in your weight (either weight gain or weight loss), and even your diet can cause you to miss a period. Some medications, such as antibiotics, can also wreak havoc on your menstruation cycle. The bottom line is this: while all pregnancies will cause you to miss periods, not all missed periods are because of pregnancy.

Abdominal Cramps

Painful abdominal cramps, akin to the cramps you suffer prior to your period, may also be a sign that you’re pregnant. If you suffer from menstrual cramps; you’re more likely to suffer from pregnancy cramps. On the other hand, if you don’t suffer from menstrual cramps, you might not experience pregnancy cramping either. It’s different with every woman, though it’s extremely rare for a woman who doesn’t normally cramp during menstruation to suddenly start experiencing noticeable cramps in the early stage of pregnancy.

One clue that might help shed some light on the nature of your cramps is their severity. Compared to menstrual cramps, pregnancy cramps tend to be more intense and more frequent. Of course, this can just be the sign of a heavy period approaching, and cramps in and of themselves aren’t enough to conclude that you’re pregnant. However, if you’re cramping and you miss a period, get yourself a pregnancy test.

Bloody Spotting

A few days after conception, you may notice light spotting in your underwear or bed sheets. During this stage of pregnancy, the fertilized egg attaches itself to wall of your uterus, which can cause mild implantation bleeding. This bleeding may last anywhere from a few days up to a few weeks. Spotting that isn’t associated with your menstruation cycle and lasts longer than a few days is a significant symptom of possible pregnancy.

This spotting will look a lot like light menstrual spotting, and you may suffer some cramps as well. In this sense, it can be hard to distinguish from your regular monthly cycle. The key is the timing of the symptoms. If they’re happening without menstruation, or if they’re happening and you miss your period altogether, a pregnancy test should be in your immediate future.


Being zapped of energy is typical in the early stages of pregnancy, and these symptoms can start as soon as one week after conception. Diminished energy levels are particularly noticeable in women who normally have a lot of energy. These women often report feeling drained, sluggish, and motivated to do little else beyond relax on the couch with a good book, movie or TV show.

This dip in energy levels is caused by three factors: increased progesterone levels, an increase in blood production, and a drop in blood sugar. Progesterone has naturally occurring mild sedative properties, so you’re going to feel a little drowsy when your levels increase. Increased blood production makes it a little harder for you to maintain normal blood sugar levels, since you have the same amount of glucose but more blood to share it with. These symptoms typically intensify as your pregnancy continues, and your prenatal care team can help you manage them.

Tender Breasts

By now, you may be noticing a trend: many of the early signs of pregnancy are similar to symptoms you’ll experience during your period. Breast tenderness and pain is another example. While these are usually a sign of an oncoming period, they can also indicate that you’ve become pregnant. Fluctuating hormone levels can cause swelling and tissue pain, and you’re most likely to notice these symptoms in your breasts. Some women even get inflamed nipples, which can be very tender to the touch.

These symptoms usually calm down once your body gets used to being pregnant and your hormone levels stabilize. However, as with other symptoms that mimic menstruation and pre-menstruation, timing is everything. If you develop sore and tender breasts and the symptom isn’t accompanied by a period, pregnancy may be the root cause. Stay alert for other symptoms and visit your doctor or get a home pregnancy test if they persist.

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is another obvious sign that you might be pregnant.  Although it’s called “morning sickness” because many women experience it during the morning hours, nausea and vomiting can occur any time of day, and it can happen throughout your pregnancy. This symptom is caused by the physical changes taking place in your body, which include a rise in estrogen and hCG hormones, sudden sensitivity to foods and certain smells, and increased levels of physical and emotional stress.

While you may be tempted to reach for an over the counter medication to treat your nausea and vomiting, hold off until you’ve talked to your doctor. Some medicines can pose risks to fetuses and unborn children, even if they are otherwise perfectly safe to take. As a general rule, don’t self-treat any signs or symptoms of pregnancy. Get confirmation from a doctor, then follow your doctor’s self-care directions.

Vaginal Discharge

On top of spotting bleeding, a newly pregnant woman may also experience a thick vaginal discharge that appears to be white and milky. While it’s not the most pleasant of symptoms, its root cause is perfectly harmless; it happens due to the thickening of the vagina’s walls to accommodate the newly implanted fetus. This discharge is completely harmless, and it is usually odorless. It can occur spontaneously, or after contracting your vaginal muscles during intercourse or urination.

Vaginal discharges may also be caused by other conditions, including yeast infections and sexually transmitted diseases. However, the discharges caused by these conditions are usually markedly different from the ones experienced during the early stages of pregnancy. Yeast infection and STI-related discharges are usually yellow in appearance, and may have a pungent odor. Either way, the sudden appearance of discharges is a sign that things aren’t quite normal with your body.

Aversion to Certain Smells

The strange cravings a woman experiences in later pregnancy (including the stereotypically bizarre combination of pickles and ice cream) might seem hilarious, but the aversion to certain foods and smells are actually no laughing matter. Due to rapidly shifting hormone levels, a favorite food may suddenly make you nauseous with even the slightest whiff. In extreme cases, vomiting may accompany this unusual aversion to beloved meals and snacks. Sensitivity to smell is frequently tied to foods; in other words, it is usually food scents and odors that trigger reactions.

However, some women report having sensitivity to other types of smells, which could include everything from air fresheners and scented candles to chemical cleansers and drying paint. While reactions are not usually extreme or overly dramatic, some women experience an aversion so strong that they cannot stand to be in the room or the area where the smell is originating.

Frequent Urination

Urinary urgency can come on suddenly, usually beginning on or around the sixth week of pregnancy. The vast majority of women don’t even know they are pregnant at that early stage, so it’s easy to dismiss this symptom as being caused by something else. A wide range of conditions can cause an increase in the frequency and urgency of urination, including urinary tract infections (UTIs). Many sexually active women develop UTIs, so pregnancy is often overlooked as a potential cause.

Changes in your urinary habits are caused by surging hormones. During a typical episode, a pregnant woman may suddenly an unexpectedly feel an overpowering urge to use the bathroom, and in some cases, an embarrassing leak here and there may even occur. As the fetus grows, it can put a little added pressure on the kidneys and bladder, so it’s not unusual for these types of disturbances to persist throughout your pregnancy.


Mood swings are common to pregnant women, particularly as your body undergoes a series of very rapid physical and hormonal changes during the first trimester. Many women describe it as an emotional roller coaster that has them laughing one moment and sobbing the next for no apparent reason. These types of mood swings can also occur as part of a woman’s normal menstrual cycle, but they are usually much more intense and mystifying during the early part of pregnancy.

Much to your chagrin (and probably to the chagrin of your partner), there’s very little you can do about these mood swings, apart from riding them out. These hormone changes are an essential part of fetal development, and interfering with them isn’t really an option. However, if the mood swings are severe, you should certainly tell your doctor about them. He or she may be able to offer resources to make things a little easier on you and your loved ones.

MD, Obstetrics and Gynecology

Andrea Eisenberg, MD is a board certified OB/GYN in the Metro Detroit area. She has dedicated her life to caring for women through all stages of their lives -- from adolescence, to delivering babies, and later into menopause. Her special interests include minimally invasive surgeries, adolescence, family planning, infertility, and menopause. In her spare time she writes about the human side of medicine on her blog and has several essays published in a variety of journals. To decompress, she enjoys trail running and baking.

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