A pregnancy test can detect pregnancy before a woman misses her period, but some may notice symptoms even earlier than this.
The first sign of pregnancy is often a missed period, which happens around 15 days past ovulation (DPO). Some women may notice symptoms as early as 5 DPO, although they won't know for certain that they are pregnant until much later.
Early signs and symptoms include implantation bleeding or cramps, which can occur 5–6 days after the sperm fertilizes the egg. Other early symptoms include breast tenderness and mood changes.
In this article, we look at the early signs and symptoms of pregnancy and discuss how soon women can get an accurate reading from a pregnancy test.
Women who are trying to conceive are often particularly sensitive to what is happening with their bodies as they are looking for symptoms of pregnancy.
Some women share anecdotes about their pregnancy symptoms as early as 4–5 DPO, while others report not noticing any changes to their body until much later.
Although signs are possible this early on, they are unlikely to appear this soon in the majority of people. Many of the early symptoms, such as breast tenderness or fatigue, are instead linked to hormonal changes during ovulation or menstruation.
Implantation may already have taken place at 5 DPO, or it may be about to happen soon. As a result, depending on the time of conception, it is possible for women to feel some symptoms of pregnancy this early on.
Pregnancy tests are not accurate at 5 DPO, but some women later find that their early symptoms were indeed due to pregnancy.
At 5 DPO, if the sperm has reached and fertilized the egg, the cells within the newly formed zygote begin multiplying to create a lump of cells called a blastocyst.
These cells continue to multiply as the blastocyst makes its way down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus.
When the blastocyst reaches the uterine wall, it attaches itself to get access to nutrients through the blood. At 5 DPO, the blastocyst may either be traveling to the uterine wall or already connected to it.
If it is attached, the blastocyst has started its journey toward becoming a fetus, and pregnancy is underway.
The specific symptoms of pregnancy vary hugely from woman to woman. There is no "normal," as each pregnancy is unique.
However, some of the earliest symptoms that women may notice tend to include the following:
Implantation cramping and bleeding
Women may experience cramps very early on in pregnancy. These are due to implantation, which is when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus.
Implantation cramps may occur a few days after ovulation, and many women say that they feel cramps around 5 DPO. These cramps may occur in the lower back, abdomen, or pelvis.
Around 25 percent of women may notice slight bleeding around the time of implantation. This is called implantation bleeding, and it tends to be lighter in color and flow than a menstrual bleed.
Raised basal body temperature
Many women keep track of their basal, or baseline, body temperature while trying to conceive because it changes throughout the menstrual cycle. The temperature increases after ovulation and may stay higher than usual until the period begins.
A basal body temperature that remains unusually high beyond the typical length of time may indicate pregnancy.
However, these signs are not unique to pregnancy and can be due to another hormonal or lifestyle factor.
Other early signs and when they happen
According to the National Institutes of Health, other early signs and symptoms of pregnancy may include:
- Breast tenderness. Hormone fluctuations may cause the breasts to swell, feel tender, and tingle or itch. Women may notice these symptoms as early as 1–2 weeks after conception.
- Fatigue. Changes in hormones, especially a steep rise in progesterone during the early stages of pregnancy, may make women feel sleepy throughout much of the day. Fatigue can occur as soon as 1 week after conception.
- Headaches. Raised hormone levels may also trigger headaches early on in a pregnancy, although the stage at which they appear can vary.
- Food cravings. Many women find that they have very specific cravings during pregnancy, and these often begin early on.
- Food aversion. Just as women may crave particular tastes, they can begin to find other flavors repellant. The smell or taste of some foods may make them lose their appetite or feel nauseous.
- Urinating more frequently. The need to urinate more often is a sign of pregnancy in some women. It may be due to the increased levels of pregnancy hormones in the body, which increase blood flow in the kidneys and pelvic region.
- Mood swings. Significant mood swings may also be an early sign of pregnancy. Again, these can result from significant changes in hormone levels. Mood swings may begin a few weeks after conception.
- Morning sickness. Women may experience nausea and vomiting at any time throughout the day and as early as 2 weeks after conception.
Some women also report feeling dizzy or wobbly early on in pregnancy, often when they get up after lying down. This symptom may be due to changes in the blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain.
Some women cannot explain any specific symptoms or changes in their body, but they intuitively feel that something is different.
They might describe it as not feeling like themselves or feeling as though they are suddenly always a step behind. This may be a sign of fatigue and an indication of hormonal changes.
As tempting as it can be to take pregnancy tests early and often, it may not be helpful. At 5 DPO, there is no reliably accurate way to check for pregnancy.
Most tests check for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which the placenta makes. This hormone starts building up in the body after implantation.
While implantation may occur early on in some women's menstrual cycles, it does take time for the hormone to build up to a level in the blood that will make it detectable in a blood or urine test.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, blood tests for hCG levels should be accurate 11 days after conception, while it would be best to wait 12–14 days before taking a urine test.
Taking a pregnancy test too early may give inaccurate results. It is possible that a pregnant woman could still get a negative result if the level of hCG has not yet built up in her body.
A false positive is also possible, which is a positive result on a pregnancy test when the woman is not pregnant. This can happen when a woman performs the test incorrectly, has a chemical pregnancy, or is taking certain hormonal medications as part of fertility treatment.
When a woman thinks that she might be pregnant, she may wish to note any signs and symptoms and discuss them with a doctor. It will only be a few more days until the level of the pregnancy hormone hCG in the blood or urine is sufficient to allow an accurate reading on a pregnancy test.