For couples trying to get pregnant, the days following ovulation mark the infamously difficult 2-week wait.
However, knowing what is happening in the body, as well as the typical pregnancy symptoms that occur on different days past ovulation (DPO), can make the wait a little easier.
Many women wonder if every twinge and ache could be a sign of pregnancy. However, the early symptoms of pregnancy are often similar to the symptoms of an impending period. Some, like muscle aches and pains, are also a part of everyday life.
It is not possible to know for sure if a woman is pregnant until a pregnancy test confirms it. Also, pregnancy symptoms, and when they occur, vary significantly between individuals.
In this article, we look at what is happening in the body around the time of ovulation, and what early signs women might notice in the early DPO.
While some women experience many early pregnancy symptoms, others experience few or no symptoms at all.
Also, early pregnancy symptoms can be very similar to the symptoms experienced around the time of ovulation, during PMS, and by those taking fertility medications.
This is why DPO symptoms are not a reliable measure of whether or not a woman has become pregnant. Women should talk with a doctor about their specific symptoms.
Days 0–7 past ovulation
Ovulation is the moment an ovary releases an egg.
As soon as an ovary releases an egg, the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle begins. The luteal phase ends with a menstrual period unless pregnancy occurs.
Women will not experience any pregnancy symptoms during the earliest part of the luteal phase. This is because pregnancy does not occur until the fertilized egg implants into the wall of the uterus.
During the luteal phase, the body produces more progesterone, which is a hormone that helps sustain an early pregnancy. The levels of progesterone peak at 6–8 days after ovulation, even when a woman does not become pregnant.
Progesterone levels can affect a woman's mood and body — this means that after a week or so, they may experience similar symptoms in early pregnancy as they do before a period.
When a fertilized egg reaches the uterus, it implants itself into the wall of the uterus. This is called implantation and marks the start of pregnancy. Implantation typically happens 6–12 days after fertilization.
This is the time when women may begin to experience pregnancy symptoms, including:
- breast tenderness
- food cravings
- increased nipple sensitivity
- headaches and muscle aches
However, these symptoms may also occur in those who are not pregnant. This is because of the increased levels of progesterone that are present during the last stages of the menstrual cycle.
Days 7–10 past ovulation
When the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus, around one-third of women will notice light bleeding or spotting, which is called implantation bleeding.
This spotting typically lasts only a day or two and is very light in flow. Implantation bleeding is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy since it happens around the time the woman becomes pregnant.
However, even when a woman notices bleeding around the time of implantation, they may still not get a positive pregnancy test. They may have a very early miscarriage called a chemical pregnancy, or the bleeding might be due to something else.
At implantation, the body begins producing a pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Known as the pregnancy hormone, hCG — along with progesterone and estrogen — is responsible for early pregnancy symptoms. It is also the hormone that pregnancy tests identify.
However, it can take several days for hCG to reach to a detectable level, so pregnancy tests may not pick up the hormone, and symptoms may not develop immediately.
Days 11–14 past ovulation
A few days after implantation, hCG levels may be high enough to cause early pregnancy symptoms. However, this is also the phase of the menstrual cycle when a woman is most likely to experience symptoms that mean they are about to get their period.
Women who are aware of how their body behaves each month might be better able to identify whether their symptoms are due to pregnancy or regular menstruation.
Some other symptoms of early pregnancy include:
- darkening in the color of the nipples
- food cravings or increased hunger
- increased need to use the bathroom
- gastrointestinal changes, such as cramping or diarrhea
By the time a woman has experienced several early pregnancy symptoms, it is possible that the hCG levels are high enough that a pregnancy test can indicate a pregnancy. However, hCG levels vary, so this is not always the case.
As pregnancy progresses and hCG levels rise even more, many women begin experiencing more symptoms.
Some of the most common include:
Whether a woman is trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid a pregnancy, the 2-week wait can be frustrating.
Some women track their ovulation by looking out for physical symptoms or using ovulation tests. It is important to note that the only way to detect ovulation is through medical testing.
However, home ovulation tests can be misleading, particularly if a woman has a condition that affects ovulation.
No symptom alone can confirm early pregnancy, and many women experience no early pregnancy symptoms at all. The only way to establish a pregnancy is by taking a pregnancy test.