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Health Resource Center

Unexpected Pregnancy

Signs of Pregnancy

Early signs of pregnancy vary from woman to woman, and even from one pregnancy to the next in the same woman. Here are a few signs many women experience:

  • A missed, lighter, or shorter menstrual period than usual

  • Breast tenderness or enlargement

  • Nipple sensitivity

  • Frequent urination

  • Feeling unusually tired

  • Nausea and/or vomiting

  • Feeling bloated

  • Cramps

  • Increased or decreased appetite

  • Feeling more emotional than usual

There may be other reasons besides pregnancy that you are experiencing some of the above. If you do not want to be pregnant, do not assume that you are; use birth control until you take the test.

Finding Out

Any woman who has begun her period, has not experienced menopause, and who has vaginal intercourse with a man can become pregnant unexpectedly. Whether you are fourteen or forty-five, every method of birth control can fail, even tubal ligation. It is possible, though very rare, for you to become pregnant without intercourse if the man's sperm got near the entrance of your vagina. If you suspect you are pregnant now, try to take a test within the next twenty-four hours.

At age 45, I thought I knew my body well; you think you’ve got it covered. I was tired a lot, and my period was light, but I didn’t even consider it. A colleague asked, “Could you be pregnant?” I bought a test and did it at lunch. I was so rattled I turned it upside down, and it said I wasn’t pregnant. I did another the next day. It was positive.

The Test

A simple way to find out is to take a home pregnancy test, which tests your first urination of the day. The test is easy to use, available in the family planning section of drugstores, and costs between $6 and $12. Follow the directions exactly. The test can detect pregnancy starting at the time of your missed period, about two weeks after ovulation.

Family planning clinics, women’s health centers, and medical offices offer both urine and blood tests. A blood test can detect pregnancy six to eight days after ovulation.6 Both tests, known as monoclonal antibody tests, detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone present first in the bloodstream and then in urine during pregnancy. Be cautious about assuming that a negative urine result means you are not pregnant. Test results can be negative because the test wasn’t performed correctly or because you tested too early in the pregnancy for the hCG levels to be detected.

Be aware that some clinics, sometimes called pregnancy crisis centers or abortion alternatives, offer free testing and counseling to frighten you away from considering abortion, or to convince you to choose adoption with their agency. When you seek testing, medical care, or counseling, it is normal to feel both greatly relieved and vulnerable. Professionals, consciously or not, may also treat you with some bias depending on how they perceive your age, marital status, race, disability, or other factors. No matter what your circumstance, you should receive advice that clarifies your needs and desires and does not presume anything about your life.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.
6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, Pregnancy Tests, November 2002, www.4woman.gov/faq/pregtest.htm, accessed on October 21, 2004.


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