Let’s face it – probably every woman trying to conceive knows that the only objective evidence of pregnancy is a positive pregnancy test. No subjective symptom can unequivocally assure you that you’re pregnant. However, despite this, we still can’t help but interpret the slightest stinging in the ovaries as a possible symptom of pregnancy. Which of the symptoms may give us hope, and which can cause confusion? Which pregnancy symptoms are rare during the early stages? Before you go through the list of pregnancy symptoms again, learn what really happens in a woman's body after conception.
There are two factors needed for conception to happen: an egg cell released during ovulation, and just one of the millions of racing spermatozoids. Conception may occur up to a maximum of 24 hours after ovulation, which is the length of time an egg usually lives. After the spermatozoid enters the egg (this may take between 10 and 30 hours), the fertilized egg starts to divide and travels up the fallopian tube to the uterus. This journey may take three to four days. Although the egg cell has already met the sperm and fertilization has taken place, it’s still too early for you to feel any symptoms at this stage. You may experience the first symptoms no sooner than when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterus, which is on average between the 6th and 12th day after ovulation. During that time, a small percentage of women will feel light cramps, similar to those occurring during menstruation. In some cases, bright red spotting may also occur.
After the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus, the body starts to produce the HGC hormone (chorionic gonadotropin). The levels of HGC grow exceptionally quickly, as they double every 48 hours on average! The HCG causes an increase in the levels of progesterone and estrogen, the hormones responsible for most of the early symptoms of pregnancy.
A majority of the subjective pregnancy symptoms occur on the date of the expected menstruation, when the levels of pregnancy hormones (HCG, progesterone and estrogen) reach their increased levels. However, your body may give you signs that something extraordinary has happened even before the date of your expected menstruation, and a few days after implantation. The degree to which you sense the first symptoms of pregnancy depends on, among other things, when the implantation occurred, when the production of the pregnancy hormones started and at what rate they are increasing, and how sensitive the woman is to the “side effects” of their increased levels.
One of the first subjective symptoms that may indicate pregnancy is sensitive, painful to the touch breasts. This breast sensitivity may be similar to that which many women experience before menstruation, but it is much more distinct. You can blame the hormones progesterone and estrogen, which are present in the body even when you’re not pregnant. The hormonal changes in your body during early pregnancy, however, are much greater than during a normal cycle.
Another early symptom of pregnancy, resulting from an increased level of progesterone in the blood, is general fatigue and drowsiness. This may normally also occur after ovulation, because the level of progesterone always increases after ovulation. However, in a normal cycle, the level of progesterone increases for about seven days, after which it slowly starts to fall. If you’re pregnant, the level of progesterone, instead of slowly decreasing, rises quite quickly, and the symptoms of fatigue and drowsiness also increase.
Nausea, which is a typical pregnancy symptom, occurs in most women on average as late as four weeks after ovulation. The HGC levels, which reach their peak during that time, are the ones responsible for it.
Due to hormonal changes and a slowdown of digestive system functions, many women experience bloating. Bloating caused by increased progesterone levels, like many other pregnancy symptoms, can also occur during premenstrual tension. Can you distinguish pregnancy bloating from menstrual bloating? Not really, although pregnancy bloating will usually be more distinct and more noticeable.
A symptom related to bloating is constipation, which many women experience during the first weeks of pregnancy. Here, the increased level of progesterone is also the culprit.
An increase in body temperature at about seven to ten days after ovulation may be a promising symptom. But in order to notice it, you must take your basal body temperature from the beginning of the cycle. Two temperature phases will be visible on a normal ovulation chart: a lower temperature phase, and a higher temperature phase due to the influence of progesterone after ovulation. When a woman gets pregnant, you can sometimes see a third thermal shift on the chart. It’s related to an additional increase in progesterone, which occurs in a pregnant woman's body due to HCG. A chart in which you can observe three phases is called a tri-phasic chart, and is a quite promising sign of pregnancy.
Headaches may be one of the first symptoms announcing pregnancy, and they are related to hormonal changes and an increased amount of blood in a pregnant woman's body. This symptom does not occur in every woman, but for some it may be one of the signs of pregnancy. Migraines also occur often during pregnancy.
Mood changes and excessive crying may indicate that the hormonal storm in your body has begun, and a new life has started to develop. Mood swings, nervousness, and overreacting also occur in women prior to menstruation, but if you normally don’t experience them, and during this cycle you feel like crying all the time, it may be a good sign.
The need for frequent urination occurs in many women. Some expectant mothers don’t feel the need to go too often up until the last months of pregnancy, but for some it becomes a problem almost immediately after conception. This is due to an increase in the amount of blood in a pregnant woman’s body, and thus an elevated kidney function.
Many people associate pregnant women with various food cravings. It is, however, a symptom typical for the later weeks of pregnancy. Therefore, if you have an insatiable appetite for dumplings with spinach, don’t necessarily interpret it as an early sign of pregnancy. A sudden heightening of your sense of smell may be something to arouse your suspicion, say if you can suddenly smell something unpleasant coming from the other side of the house, which has never bothered you before. The cause for a heightened sense of smell in pregnant women has not yet been fully investigated (it may have to do with the increased level of estrogen), but many expectant moms confirm that it was one of the first symptoms of pregnancy for them, often in reaction to specific odors.
If it has been more than 18 days since ovulation, menstruation has not occurred yet, and your basal body temperature is still at a heightened level, there is a high probability that you are pregnant. You don’t have to wait that long for an answer, though. An almost foolproof indicator that there is a new life developing in your body is a positive pregnancy test! The new, very sensitive tests can detect pregnancy only a few days after implantation. Blood tests for the presence of HCG can detect pregnancy even sooner, as early as two days after the implantation of the fetus. It’s best, however, to wait until the expected menstruation date to carry out a test. Then, you won’t have to wonder whether you took the test too early, or whether the obtained result is reliable.
If you’re pregnant, after the expected date of menstruation even the subjective symptoms of pregnancy will become more distinct, and because of the hormonal storm in your body, it will probably be difficult for you not to notice them. Your hormone levels will increase as pregnancy progresses, and they will reach their peak values between the 8th and 10th week of pregnancy; then, the symptoms of pregnancy will be at their most intense and most noticeable.
If you take any medications (especially progesterone and estrogen), the symptoms, which would normally indicate pregnancy, could be due to the extra dose of hormones. When taking any medication, try not to interpret your body’s signals, because you can’t know which symptoms are caused by the medication and which may actually herald a pregnancy. Some medications may also distort the result of the home pregnancy test. In such cases, the best way to find out if you’re pregnant is through a blood test. Often, doctors recommend to repeat the blood test in 48 hours to make sure that your HGC level has indeed doubled.
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