Pregnancy - signs and symptoms


Getting pregnant or becoming a parent can be an overwhelming experience. A lot of planning is involved, and many things can go wrong in the process. However, certain things should not be missed irrespective of whether you planned a pregnancy or not. These include the signs and symptoms of pregnancy. While a missed period can be a tell-tale sign, other factors also need to be considered. In this article, let us look at some of the most common but overlooked signs of pregnancy other than a missed period.

Nausea and vomiting

While some people never experience morning sickness, of all the early pregnancy symptoms, nausea is among the most common that people report experiencing before missing their period.
Nausea is never a fun symptom, but if you're trying to conceive, it might be something you actively look for, according to researchers. In a cohort study, scientists studied a group of people trying to get pregnant. They found that 67% of study participants trying to get pregnant experienced nausea as a first early pregnancy symptom within 11 to 20 days of ovulation.1
But as common as nausea is as a first sign of pregnancy-affecting up to 80% of all pregnant people-very little is known about what causes pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting.2 It is widely believed that morning sickness is closely related to the rise of the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which peaks around weeks 12 to 14, but more research is needed.

Breast changes

"Breast changes are generally one of the first signs of pregnancy," says Dr. Gaither, and can be noticed before a missed period. Your breasts may feel tender, or you may notice a difference in their size or the color of your areolae or nipples.
Breast changes, including tenderness, swelling, and darkening of the areola, are very common in early pregnancy and can occur as soon as one to two weeks after conception, according to the National Institutes of Health. Doctors think the cause of tender or sore breasts during pregnancy is attributed to rising pregnancy hormones such as progesterone and hCG.

Implantation bleeding

It's possible to have light spotting and be pregnant. In fact, some newly expectant moms experience what's known as implantation bleeding six to 12 days after conception.
Light spotting or implantation bleeding before you'd expect your period is sometimes an early pregnancy symptom signaling that an embryo has implanted itself into the uterine wall, which may be accompanied by menstrual-like cramps.
Here's how to tell it's implantation bleeding and not your period: Implantation bleeding is usually medium pink or light brown - it's rarely period-red. It's also spotty (much lighter than your period) and not continuous, lasting a few hours to a few days.
Spotting, however, can sometimes be a mid-cycle blip before your usual period, especially if you have an irregular or disrupted cycle. Mid-cycle brown discharge may also happen when you're not pregnant because you're reacting to a vaginal exam, a Pap smear or rough sex.


Overwhelming tiredness is common in early pregnancy. This is most likely caused by the massive increase in the sex hormone progesterone. Progesterone is needed to maintain the pregnancy and help the baby to grow, but it also slows your metabolism.
Try to get some more sleep or rest when you can during this early stage. Your energy levels will probably rise again by around the fourth month of pregnancy when the placenta is well established.
Tiredness during pregnancy can also be caused by anaemia, which is most commonly caused by iron deficiency. Eating iron-rich foods is important in the prevention of iron deficiency anaemia during pregnancy. Medical treatment of anaemia in pregnancy usually involves taking iron tablets. Sometimes an iron infusion (iron medicine given by a drip) is needed. This needs a hospital admission but only takes a few hours. Some iron infusions can be given by your GP.

Food cravings

Cravings for certain foods are very common in pregnancy, especially for foods that provide energy and calcium, such as milk and other dairy products. You may also notice a sudden distaste for foods you previously liked.
Some women even develop an unusual taste for non-food items such as soil or paper. This is called 'pica' and may indicate a nutrient deficiency. Please speak to your GP or midwife if this develops.

Mood swings

Yet again, blame those pregnancy-related hormonal changes for the mood swings you may be experiencing once you're expecting. As early as 4 weeks into your pregnancy, you may feel a PMS-style moodiness; later in the first trimester and often throughout the rest of pregnancy, you could be up one minute and anxious or down the next.
Aside from pregnancy hormones running amok, your life is about to change in a big way, so it's completely normal for your moods to go haywire. Do what you can to give yourself a break, eat well, get enough sleep and pamper yourself.

Frequent urination

Frequent urination can be an early sign of pregnancy. It results from not just the hormonal changes in the body but also the physical changes. The need to visit the toilet can become more intense during the 10th to 13th week of pregnancy as the uterus begins to push on the bladder.

Constipation, bloating, and cramping

While high levels of progesterone released during pregnancy is often one of the main culprits behind symptoms like constipation and bloating, experiencing them before a missed period is most likely due to unrelated gastrointestinal issues than pregnancy, says Dr. van Dis.

Constipation during pregnancy primarily happens for two reasons. First, the hormone progesterone can slow digestion. Second, by the third trimester, the weight of the uterus can put pressure on the digestive tract, including the bowels.

Bloating and gas are other side effects of progesterone. Since progesterone rises sharply during the first trimester, you could feel bloating as an early sign of pregnancy, but like constipation, you're not likely to experience it as a pregnancy-related symptom before a missed period.

Last, but not least, abdominal cramping commonly happens in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and can be caused by several things:

  • Implantation
  • Uterine growth
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Ectopic pregnancy


While cramping is a common PMS symptom, cramping before a missed period could also possibly be due to the implantation process.


The sure-shot way to know if you're pregnant is through a test. You can take a self-pregnancy test on the first day of a missed period. If you're unsure when your next period is due, get a test at least 21 days after your last unprotected sex, advises the UK National Health Services. You can also opt for a blood or urine test to confirm your pregnancy.