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Early signs of pregnancy: 7 symptoms to look out for

Male and female cuddling and eating ice cream, with happy expressions
Has a morning wave of nausea led you to suspect you might be pregnant? Or maybe it’s your sudden craving for pickled foods that’s got you wondering? A missed period followed by a pregnancy test is the only reliable way of finding out if you’re definitely expecting a baby. But there are some other early signs of pregnancy that could be a hint of what’s to come.

When do early pregnancy signs start?

You might be surprised to learn that you can start to experience the first early signs of pregnancy before a missed period. This is because even in the very early weeks after conception, your hormones will fluctuate causing your body to exhibit certain changes. These subtle (and some not so subtle) changes can be very early signs of pregnancy.

What are the early signs of pregnancy before a missed period?

First, it’s important to recognise that pregnancy is unique for every woman. While some will experience none or very few of the early pregnancy signs, others will get a full whammy of symptoms. To help you understand what might be happening to your body, here are seven really early signs of pregnancy.

1. Feeling tired

Hormonal changes in early pregnancy can leave you feeling extremely tired.1 Although exhaustion can definitely make life feel more difficult, it won't cause harm to you or your baby. What can help: The best thing you can do is try to put your feet up as much as possible. Maybe even take a nap when you can. And the good news is, most women find their energy levels start to return at the beginning of the second trimester.

2. Change in taste and smell

A more sensitive sense of smell and a strange metallic taste are common early signs of pregnancy. Fortunately, they’re temporary changes and will pass.

What can help: Try to avoid strong smells, especially those that make any nausea you’re experiencing worse.

3. Changes to your breasts

One of the signs of early stage of pregnancy is breast tenderness. As your body starts to adapt to new hormone levels, the glands inside the breast begin to grow and prepare for milk production. As a result, they may become bigger and feel sensitive. You may also notice your veins are more pronounced, your nipples may get darker and don’t be surprised if you get a tingling sensation in this area too.2,3 

What can help: With all the changes to your breasts you’re likely to find your old bras become a little snug. Investing in a well-fitting bra can help you feel more comfortable.

4. Constipation

Even very early in pregnancy, increased levels of the hormone progesterone can cause food to pass through your intestines slower. This may lead to constipation.4

What can help: Take a walk, do regular exercise and drink water to stay hydrated. Eating plenty of high-fibre foods could also help regulate bowel movements.

5. Peeing more

More frequent urination can happen throughout pregnancy, starting for many mums-to-be in the early weeks after conception.5 This is down to your kidneys going into overdrive to produce more urine, as an efficient way to flush waste from your body more promptly. Later in pregnancy your baby pressing on your bladder is a more likely cause of your frequent night-time toilet trips.

What can help: To lessen your need to pee overnight, try drinking less in the late evening and drink more fluids during the day.

6. Nausea or sickness

Morning sickness is a classic symptom of early pregnancy. But it’s not a rite of passage for every mum-to-be. It also doesn’t happen exclusively in the hours before midday. Unfortunately, for some women it can be an all-day occurrence that can linger for many weeks. Although the cause of morning sickness isn’t completely clear, a sudden rise in hormones may be the likely culprit.6,7

What can help: Try eating small, frequent meals consisting of plain foods such as bread, pasta, rice, and crackers. And sip regularly on water..

7. Food aversions and cravings

While certain food smells will make your nausea worse, you may find yourself obsessively hankering after foods you’ve previously been ambivalent to.8

What can help: Make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need by eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Common signs of early pregnancy – an example timeline

Here’s an example of how early signs of pregnancy could first show up:9
  • Week 3 - metallic taste
  • Week 5 - Food cravings & aversions, fatigue and nausea
  • Week 6 - Breast changes
  • Week 7 - Frequent urination
  • Week 8 - Constipation

What should I do if I am pregnant?

If you’re experiencing symptoms, your next step is to take a pregnancy test. If this is positive, make an appointment to see your doctor or a midwife. And if you’re not already taking a folic acid supplement, it’s time to start.
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