While many women know their bodies so well they can tell within days they are pregnant, there are others whose first hint of pregnancy is when they go into labour.
Many women find those ‘surprise pregnancy’ stories hard to even believe, as usually the changes to our bodies are very noticeable! It’s always good to know what the early signs of pregnancy are, but what are the early and first symptoms to look out for? How does our body tell us that this miraculous change is underway?
While some of the following symptoms may not necessarily mean pregnancy, these are the most commonly reported early clues. Some women will experience very little symptoms and others will experience them all.
For a woman who has always been regular, a missed menstrual period is often the first symptom of pregnancy. However, women also miss periods for other reasons such as emotional upset, illness, severe weight loss, over-exercising, anxiety about getting pregnant, onset of menopause and sometimes coming off the pill.
So a missed period alone is by no means an answer to the question: Am I pregnant?
An increase in white or clear vaginal discharge is normal in early pregnancy. But if the discharge becomes coloured, smelly, or causes itching, soreness or becomes bloody, you should tell your doctor.
Your breasts may feel different immediately if you are pregnant - or in some instances not until the second trimester. Some women notice that their nipples are more sensitive or that the breasts feel heavier, fuller and ache a little or tingle. There is usually also an increase in superficial veins over the breasts and tiny nodules may appear in the areola.
It is very common to wee more often during the first three months of pregnancy. Many women find they have to get up during the night – sometimes more than once.
This frequent need to pass water is due to pressure from the enlarging uterus on the bladder. It usually wears off slightly in the middle months and returns again when the baby is bigger and starts pressing on your bladder – especially when her head has engaged in the pelvis.
This can be very noticeable during the first three months and a clear early symptom of pregnancy. Women who usually have boundless energy can find themselves simply having to catnap during the day.
Tiredness in the early months can be caused by your body having to adapt to rapidly changing hormone levels, many women find that tiredness eases off in the middle months and then returns in the last trimester.
Feelings of exhaustion are caused by the strain your increased weight puts on your body, frequent trips to the toilet during the night also mean that your sleep is disturbed so you are not getting as much rest as you need.
The action of the hormone progesterone relaxes the muscle of the intestine reducing its movement and causing varying degrees of constipation. This can last throughout the whole pregnancy. Although constipation by itself is not a sign of pregnancy, for women who are usually very regular it can be an addition clue.
Sickness or nausea is a common early sign for some women and it can occur any time of the day not just the morning. Some very unlucky women feel sick all through their pregnancy and this can vary from being sick to just a feeling of nausea.
The exact cause is not known but is thought to be associated with the high levels of the hormone progesterone.
Some women suffer from occasional headaches. These are quite normal early and first symptoms of pregnancy and are thought to be caused by fluctuating hormones. After the first trimester, they can be treated with the recommended dose of paracetamol.
Alterations in tastes may be among the earliest pregnancy signs for many women. Some have a strange taste in their mouth even before the first period is missed. It varies from woman to woman but is most commonly described as metallic.
Shortly after missing the first period many women also start to go off certain foods and develop a strong aversion to the smell of cigarette smoke and the smell or taste of alcohol which can trigger the question: Am I pregnant?
Many women also report an intense dislike of the smell of cooking fat or are repulsed by a food they previously enjoyed. Conversely some women may develop a strong craving for a certain food very early on and this too can be a clue to pregnancy.
Many women mistake these common early signs of pregnancy for PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) but they can be caused by hormonal changes and the growth of the uterus.
Changes in the skin are common in early pregnancy. Skin can become drier, but also can be prone to an outbreak of spots. These sometimes persist for several months. Happily many women report that their skin has never been so good as when they are pregnant, and that hair and nails are stronger too. See our feature on the perks of pregnancy.