5 Early Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy

Updated: June 9, 2021
Without a doubt, pregnancy takes you for a ride! Thank you, hormones and growing fetus! These hormone changes will cause many common symptoms, including fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and headaches, as well as swollen feet and joints. Use this guide to assess your symptoms, learn what causes them and find out tips on what you can do to either wait out or treat your concerns.
Early Symptoms of Pregnancy

When you're waiting to find out if you are expecting, the wait can seem to take forever. While home pregnancy tests are able to tell us sooner and sooner, our body sends several other signs when it is preparing to support a growing baby.

More: First Signs of Pregnancy

Many of these signs of pregnancy are present even before a test can tell us, and some women just have that intuitive feeling. When our body begins to support a growing fetus, our hormones jump into overdrive and can cause many symptoms, including swollen ankles, swollen feet, morning sickness, fatigue, and most commonly, a missed period.

We've compiled a list of the most common early pregnancy signs and symptoms to help you learn what they are, what causes them, and ways you can help relieve them!

Remember, every pregnancy is different, so your symptoms may vary greatly from your sister, your best friend, or even your first one! You may experience all of these symptoms or only a few of them. Many first-trimester side effects are annoying at best, but you should always talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns or symptoms troubling you.

Fatigue

Fatigue is probably one of the most annoying early pregnancy symptoms. All of a sudden, it seems as if your body has been zapped of all energy! This prevalent side effect tends to go away during the "honeymoon phase" of the second trimester but may return in the third.

Causes

Massive hormonal changes are the culprit that causes fatigue in most women. Your body is also pushed into overdrive, producing 50% more blood in order to support your thickening uterus and the development of the placenta. During your second trimester, your body gets a bit of a break as your hormone levels stabilize. However, these symptoms are likely to come back in the third as you and your baby gain weight and require more energy. The lack of sleep in the third trimester due to difficulty finding a comfortable position and needing to use the bathroom are also contributing factors to fatigue.

What to Do

Take frequent breaks if possible and nap when needed. It may feel challenging to take breaks, especially if no one knows you're pregnant yet, but try to get as much rest as possible! It will also help if you get some exercise, fresh air, and stay hydrated with water. Avoid drinking more caffeine as too much is not healthy for your developing baby; if you really need that coffee smell, try decaf for the placebo effect!

Frequent Urination

Feeling the need to pee every 10 minutes can be common for many pregnant women. Depending on your job, this side-effect may be quite a nuisance, not to mention when you have to get up two or three times a night to go!

Causes

At the end of your pregnancy, this need to pee is caused by the extra weight pushing down on your bladder, and sometimes your baby will feel like they're sitting right on top! However, increased urination is caused by the uptick in blood flow and hormones at the beginning of your pregnancy.

What to Do

Know where the bathrooms are when you are out and about, and try to use one even if it doesn't feel like you have to go right then. Sometimes the urges can be sudden! When going, lean all the way forward to fully empty your bladder. You can also try some kegel exercises to strengthen your muscles down there, and wear a pad as an extra layer of protection because the “sneeze and pee” is a real thing!

Headaches

Headaches are a common pregnancy symptom, especially in the first trimester. This is another side effect that can be rather bothersome and contribute to trouble sleeping and tiredness.

Causes

Most headaches during pregnancy are caused by pregnancy hormones (notice a pattern with these side effects yet?) but are no reason to worry. Your headache is likely being caused by dehydration and the need for uptake in fluid intake. If you are experiencing headaches accompanied by nausea and abdominal pain, vomiting, or leg swelling in the third trimester, speak with your doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of preeclampsia, high blood pressure caused by pregnancy.

What to Do

Increasing fluids will always help with headaches, and yes, it will probably make you have to pee even more. Still, it's better than a nasty headache all day! Avoid caffeine and sugary drinks, and make sure you are getting enough sleep. Fresh air and walks can help, especially if your headaches are being contributed to by stress. A cool compress to the neck or forehead can help relieve tension as well as partaking in yoga and meditation. Always speak with your healthcare provider before taking any medications during pregnancy.

Light Spotting

Believe it or not, a little bit of blood can actually be one of the early signs of pregnancy, and many women experience it throughout their first trimester.

Causes

Cramping and light spotting is caused when the fertilized egg attaches itself into the uterine wall, and it is called implantation bleeding. This is often one of the first signs of pregnancy, much before a home pregnancy test, but many women mistake this as the first day of their period or another part of their menstrual cycle, particularly if they are not trying to get pregnant. The light bleeding in the early weeks of pregnancy is usually pinkish in color and much lighter than your menstrual period.

Many women experience spotting throughout their pregnancy, and there is usually no cause for alarm. In addition to implantation bleeding, you may also have cervical polyps, a harmless growth on the cervix caused by increased estrogen and the increased number of blood vessels forming around the cervix. Even though the cause of spotting is often benign, it is always a good idea to mention these occurrences to your doctor. Any spotting in the third trimester should be reported to your ob-gyn.

What to Do

If you are experiencing spotting, wear a panty liner to protect your undies. The blood should never be enough to soak through a liner; if you experience heavy bleeding and you know you are pregnant, contact your obstetrician or gynecologist immediately.

Overall Body Changes

When you are pregnant, your body will change; not surprising, but many women are shocked at how early some symptoms of pregnancy begin. In the early stages of pregnancy, many women experience mood swings, breast changes such as darkened areolas and breast tenderness, constipation or diarrhea, bloating, food aversions, food cravings, an increased sense of smell, swollen feet, and swollen ankles.

Causes

Many of these common early signs that will begin between your last menstrual period and a positive pregnancy test are caused by what is known as the pregnancy hormone; HCG. HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, is how home urinary tests detect pregnancy. Many of these symptoms are often confused as PMS by women who are not actively trying to get pregnant. Even if you are tracking your ovulation date by taking your basal body temperature or other methods, you may not realize you are pregnant.

What to Do

To help alleviate some of these early symptoms, rest as needed, elevate swollen feet and ankles, stay hydrated and stay away from food or smells that bother you. While frequent breaks and sitting can relieve tension and swelling, try not to sit for extended periods as this could lead to deep vein thrombosis. Light, frequent activity with breaks is best.

If you suspect that you are pregnant, even if a home test has shown a negative, schedule an obstetrics appointment for a blood test. Many home pregnancy tests aren't strong enough to detect pregnancy in the first weeks, so if you get a negative, wait a day or two and test again. HCG rapidly increases each day of pregnancy. Once you have a confirmed pregnancy, your doctor will use the date of your last period to estimate your due date.

Pregnancy can cause all types of symptoms and side effects throughout its almost 10-month course. Whenever you have a question or concern about something you are experiencing, it is best to contact your doctor for advice and peace of mind. You can also browse through one of the many articles on Family Education related to pregnancy, or Track Your Pregnancy Day-By-Day.