We’ve all done it: your boobs hurt and despite the fact you can’t remember the last time you had full sex, you spend an embarrassing amount of money on Boots own pregnancy tests.
Alright, so this is probably just me (I once did this during a two-year sex drought, as if I was the Virgin Mary) but it’s true that most sexually active women who like to do it with men occasionally feel their boobs hurt and convince themselves they’re pregnant.
Don’t bother to Google ‘early signs of pregnancy’ because you’ll invariably get onto some message boards where Catgirl88 tells you she ‘started smelling oranges and a baby popped out’, leaving you completely terrified of the fruit aisle in Sainsbury’s.
Also, there are roughly 70,000 different variations of signs and symptoms for when a woman is pregnant. My mum, for example, ‘just knew’ and when I pressed her for further information she just raised her eyebrows and said something about ‘feeling different’. Alright mum, but let’s get to specifics because sometimes I wake up and feel like I’m pregnant but then it turns out I’m hungover. Or on my period.
To allay any fears and concerns, I spoke to Dr Daryll Shadow-Wind – a doctor, a friend to all the world, and a man I’ve given a pseudonym – to get a better idea of what the fuck you’re supposed to do when you’re having sex and don’t want to take Catgirl88’s pregnancy advice. Because she isn’t a registered GP, goddammit. She’s probably an actual cat.
If you’ve skipped a period, then for god’s sake do a pregnancy test (see below ‘When To Do A Pregnancy Test’). If you’re on the Pill, then your monthly bleed – probably the loveliest medical phrase ever – is a false one, meaning you could be preggers if you bleed on your seven-day break. So be careful with skipping pills, but that’s a whole other article. Back to period fun.
‘The most common early pregnancy symptom is alteration in timing, duration or amount of period – though this is less reliable if you have irregular periods anyway,’ says Dr Shadow-Wind.
‘Also, up to 25% of women bleed in their first trimester anyway, making it difficult to be certain just based on that, but I guess if things are very regular and specific, and there is a change, it’s worth thinking about.
‘I wouldn’t advise someone to get a pregnancy test every time they have a period – only if they’ve had sex that they’re worried about, or there are other subtle suggestions. Sometimes periods just skip, and the more irregular they are, the less reliable this is as a sign.’
Spotting is also something to watch out for – this is when you have tiny bits of blood in your pants when you should usually be on your period. If this isn’t usual, then do one of your suspicious faces.
Oh, this is a great one. Especially when you’ve had a drunk one night stand, can’t remember if you used protection and consequently throw up the next morning. Nothing will convince you there’s a baby in your womb more than morning sickness, even if it’s more likely to be a hangover.
‘Persistent vomiting, whether morning or evening, can be a clue, but not a solid one. It tends to be a later sign, usually peaking around 12-14 weeks,’ says Dr Shadow-Wind.
So if you had sex last week and are vomming a bit, it might just be a dodgy omelette, rather than an actual fertilised egg. If it’s been 12-14 weeks since you had unprotected sex, and you’ve started being sick a lot for no reason, then that could be a sign you’re pregnant. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be in the morning, either.
‘If it is more persistent, and compatible with the right timeline in terms of your most recent sexual intercourse, as well as occurring when you’re expecting your period, then that’s a sign. Whether morning or night. It can vary between individuals.’
This is because of the change in hormones, and changes related to breast pain start to appear around 4-5 weeks. So, again, if they’re really sore and it’s a month since you had unprotected sex, go do a test.
‘Some of the early symptoms are due to an increase in the levels of progesterone and prolactin, causing breast symptoms and tiredness,’ says Dr Shadow-Wind.
Thing is, your boobs can hurt because of your period so, again, focus on period changes over sore boobs. If your periods are fine, and you have no other symptoms, then you’re not necessarily pregnant because your left tit aches a bit.
One of the classics bandied about forums by Catgirl88 which fascinates me because it implies that she’s a) regularly staring at her own vagina and b) regularly staring at her own vagina in good lighting while taking photos with which to compare shades. Perhaps she has a colour chart.
Either way, Dr Shadow-Wind is sceptical about this as a solid pregnancy symptom. ‘In terms of the vagina changing colour in association with pregnancy, this is not recognised in medical literature as a change associated with pregnancy,’ he says.
‘The nipples and areola can go darker colour, but this is more of a later sign in pregnancy, and earlier signs are pain in the breast with some increased nipple sensitivity.’
See above for more info on this, if you skipped straight to this symptom.
You won’t start craving cold beans on cake or lumps of coal (my mum craved lumps of coal) immediately, but experts do say that your appetite could change pretty quickly. Or you’ll be really sensitive to smells and tastes. Or you’ll have a metallic taste in your mouth.
Thing is, I’m just describing my own hangovers again, so it’s pretty difficult to say that’s a confident symptom. Especially considering your appetite could change because of anything. Maybe you’re hungry. Maybe you walked a lot that day. Maybe you have a baby in you.
Mate, I mean. C’mon. Don’t go to a forum and ask people about that. Go to a doctor’s and get it confirmed, because you’re probably pregnant.
Pointless doing it the moment you’ve had unprotected sex, because it won’t show and you’ll end up wasting all your money on a test you’ll have to do a few weeks later anyway.
‘If you have an implanted embryo, home-testing kits take 10-12 days to detect anything, so doing it too early can be falsely reassuring,’ says Dr Shadow-Wind, champion of all pregnancy scares.
‘Tests get more reliable the further from conception, so recommendations are that the best time to test is a week after the first day of your period being due. The key thing is to follow instructions with the kit and do it at the appropriate time. If a test is positive, go see your doctor and they can decide on whether further testing is warranted based on your symptoms and the timing of your last intercourse/period.’
If you had unprotected sex a few weeks back, and are recognising some convincing symptoms, and your period has changed, then go buy a test. Or go to the doctor’s, because they’re actually a bit more reliable than the home-testing kits.
Most of the tests done in hospital will pick up a pregnancy by testing for beta hcg (human chorionic gonadotropin) pretty reliably with a low false positive rate (ie the test says you’re pregnant when you’re actually not).
‘Home-testing kits are not quite as reliable as laboratory tests on the whole,’ says Dr Shadow-Wind. ‘It’s probably best to do two tests at different times because these have a higher false negative rate (says you’re not pregnant when you might be).’
HOW LONG DOES A NORMAL MENSTRUAL CYCLE LAST?
A menstrual cycle is the time from the day a menstrual period starts to the time the next period starts. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long. However, a normal cycle can be shorter or longer than this. It may be anywhere from 21 to 35 days long. Most periods last 3 to 5 days, but anywhere from 2 to 7 days is normal. Menstrual cycles may happen around the same date every month or they may be irregular.
WHEN IS A PERIOD LATE?
A menstrual period is considered late if it hasn’t started 5 or more days after the day you expected it to start. A period is considered missed if you have had no menstrual flow for 6 or more weeks after the start of your last period.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
During the first couple of years of menstruation many teenagers have irregular periods. During this time your body is still developing and the ovaries may not release an egg every month. As a result, your cycles may be irregular, occurring as close together as 2 weeks or as far apart as 3 months. If you have been having periods for 2 years or less and your physical exam is normal, your irregular periods may be part of your normal development.
Most girls' menstrual cycles become fairly regular as their hormone levels mature and synchronize. A few women will continue to have irregular cycles as their normal pattern.
Other causes of a late or missed period are:
Pregnancy is the most common cause of missed periods in teenage girls. If your period is late and you have had sex even once in the past several months, see your healthcare provider. It’s best to see your healthcare provider for a pregnancy test because home test kits can be confusing and give incorrect or unclear results.
It is important to find out early if you are pregnant. Starting prenatal care right away helps you have a healthy baby.
If you are pregnant, you will not have a normal period until after the baby is born.
Stress is the second most common cause of late or missed periods in teenagers. It may be emotional stress (for example, breakup with a boyfriend or final exams) or depression. Or it may be physical stress to the body, such as a severe illness, a sexually transmitted disease, rapid weight loss or gain, or strenuous exercise. Dieting or binging and purging may interrupt menstrual cycles. Changes in your usual routine (for example, going on vacation) may also cause your period to be late or missed.
Some stress is a normal part of daily life. Too much stress for your body may cause a late or missed period. Your periods should come back when you change your activities or situation.
In some cases hormone imbalance is causes missed periods. For example, if you have been taking birth control pills, your periods may be irregular for a while when you stop taking the pills. If you are having sex, be sure to use another reliable method of birth control because you could still get pregnant.
A rare problem called polycystic ovary syndrome can affect a young woman’s menstrual cycle. Polycystic ovaries may cause irregular cycles, more body hair, acne, and weight gain. It can be treated with hormone medicine prescribed by your healthcare provider.
Problems of the thyroid gland, pituitary gland, adrenal glands, or ovaries are other rare causes of irregular periods.
HOW CAN I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
Talk with your healthcare provider if you are not sure what your proper weight should be, or if others are worried about your weight. A nutritionist may also be able to give you helpful advice.