From Tracee Cornforth
"Am I pregnant?" is probably the most common health question women ask. It can be confusing, as every pregnancy is different -- meaning, you may not have the same symptoms from one pregnancy to another. For example, during one pregnancy, you may experience incredible breast pain or nausea and vomiting, while during another pregnancy, you might not experience these symptoms at all. That said, there are some common signs and symptoms that may indicate pregnancy.
Pregnancy Signs and Symptoms:
- Swollen, tender, or sore breasts and/ or nipples - Often, this is the first physical sign of pregnancy. In fact, some women know when they are pregnant based on this sign alone. The reason breasts and/ or nipples are often sore, swollen, or tender during early pregnancy is because the breasts are undergoing changes to prepare for breastfeeding.
Breast tenderness and pain during early pregnancy is caused by the increased production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone that occurs during pregnancy. Breasts and/ or nipples are often particularly painful during your first pregnancy; however, some women experience this symptom during subsequent pregnancies as well. If you experience breast pain when you are not pregnant, it's often caused by benign fibrocystic breast disease.
- Fatigue or unusual tiredness - Do you feel like you could close your eyes and sleep at any time of day? Early pregnancy is a time when a woman's body is working very hard to keep up with the changes that occur. This means increased hormone production, as well as the fact that the heart is pumping harder and faster due to the escalation of blood flow, which is necessary to bring nutrients to the growing fetus. Increased progesterone production is the primary reason for the extra fatigue most pregnant women experience early in their pregnancy. Progesterone, a natural central nervous system depressant known to cause sleepiness, is the reason this occurs.
- Late period - The most common reason for missing your period is pregnancy, and this is often the first sign that makes women suspect pregnancy. Only a pregnancy test followed by a pelvic exam can tell you positively whether you are pregnant. Once your health care provider rules out pregnancy as the cause of your late or missed periods, the next step is usually to rule in or out several other possible explanations for absence of menstruation, or amenorrhea.
- Light bleeding and/or cramping - The most common reason for light bleeding during early pregnancy is implantation. Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine lining and usually occurs about 10 to 14 days after conception. Bleeding caused by implantation is very light; often, the only sign you might notice that indicates implantation has occurred is a small (can be as small as a pinhead) spot of blood on your underwear.
Cramping that is similar to menstrual cramps occurs very early during pregnancy and happens when the uterus begins to expand to make room for the embryo to develop into a fetus.
- Morning sickness - Nausea during pregnancy can occur with or without vomiting. While morning sickness is most common between weeks four and eight of pregnancy, many women experience this symptom beginning about two weeks from their date of conception.
Morning sickness is a misnomer since it can, and often does, occur at anytime of the day or night. The most common reason for this symptom seems to be the rapid rise in estrogen, produced by the fetus and placenta. Another trigger for nausea is odors. During pregnancy, a woman's sense of smell increases considerably and can make almost anything from everyday household odors, foods, perfume, and smoke, to name a few, trigger a bout of morning sickness or nausea and vomiting.
The most common foods to trigger morning sickness are coffee, meat, dairy products, and spicy foods. However, it's essential to understand that anything can trigger nausea and/ or vomiting during pregnancy.
- Running to the bathroom - During the first trimester of pregnancy, it's easy to believe you might have to move into your bathroom since it seems you are constantly running to make to the bathroom. The growing uterus causes frequent urination during pregnancy. The first and third trimesters of pregnancy are typically when the most intense frequent urination happens.
While the signs and symptoms of early pregnancy listed on the previous page are the most common, other symptoms can, and often do, occur in pregnancy. Other pregnancy symptoms include:
- Headaches - Headaches that occur during pregnancy are often intense and caused by increased hormone levels.
- Mood swings - Don't think you're crazy if you suddenly develop atypical mood swings or if you are unusually emotional during pregnancy. Many times, pregnant women burst into tears for reasons that are unclear to anyone, including the pregnant woman. This is another symptom caused by increased hormone levels.
- Feeling weak, faint, or dizzy - This symptom can be caused by the circulatory system as dilation of the blood vessels occur. Low blood sugar early in pregnancy can also trigger these symptoms.
- Increased basal body temperature or BBT - Your basal body temperature is your temperature immediately upon rising in the morning. BBT normally increases during ovulation and decreases when menstruation occurs. However, when pregnancy takes place, increased basal body temperature continues. BBT is a good indicator of pregnancy for women who have used it, either to prevent pregnancy or when trying to get pregnant.
- Constipation - Food digests slower than usual during pregnancy due to increased progesterone production. Slower digestion sometimes causes constipation during pregnancy.
If I have one or more of these symptoms, does that mean I'm pregnant?
Not necessarily. Many of these symptoms are common to several different conditions, and could mean that you're sick or that menstruation is about to begin. Another point to remember is that while these symptoms are common during pregnancy, sometimes none of these symptoms occur.
If you experience the signs and symptoms of pregnancy, you may want to buy a home pregnancy test and see your doctor -- either to begin prenatal care and confirm your pregnancy, or to determine the cause of your symptoms if you're not pregnant.