Early signs of pregnancy: 23 symptoms to be aware of

Don't miss these early signs of pregnancy and oh-so common pregnancy symptoms

Early signs of pregnancy illustrated by birds eye view of person holding pregnancy test
(Image credit: Getty images / Future)

Early signs of pregnancy are always there, and there are many, you just need to know what to look for. 

If you think you might be pregnant and know it's too early to take a pregnancy test, and definitely too early for an ultrasound scan, then look out for the subtle signs of pregnancy that we outline below; you know your body better than anyone. 

Early signs and pregnancy symptoms can show as soon as four days after conception. “For most people, one of the early signs of pregnancy is a missed period,” Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife, and co-founder of My Expert Midwife, explains. “Some people feel tired and a little sick before this. It’s these symptoms that are the most common in early pregnancy. They tend to show around six weeks from your last period and improve from about 12 weeks onwards.”

Though, most pregnancy symptoms will start to appear around five or six weeks after your last menstrual period. A study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences backs this up, showing that people report symptoms as early as 36 days after their last menstrual period. Here we speak to the experts to define the early signs, such as morning sickness and other symptoms.

Early signs of pregnancy

1. Loss of appetite for favourite foods

Pregnancy can really mess with your eating habits, that’s for sure. As well as pregnancy symptoms such as craving foods you may not usually like, you can actually lose a taste for some foods and drinks that are usually a big part of your normal diet, sometimes put off by their smell. People sometimes go off staples such as coffee, tea, or fatty foods. “Changes in tastes and a heightened sense of smell are very common and can persist throughout pregnancy but do tend to be strongest early on”, Dr Knight explained.

What else could it be?

People often experience a loss in appetite when they’re feeling anxious or stressed. This is because anxiety triggers emotional and psychological changes in your body to help you deal with the pressure. These triggers can often affect the stomach and digestive tract and can make you lose your appetite. When you’re feeling more relaxed, your appetite should return back to normal.

“ I went off coffee. Which, considering I was a three-cups-before-noon girl, this was a huge sign that something had changed for me, even before I took a test this kick-started my suspicions.”

Mum-of-twins, Kelly

2. Tummy twinges, pinching and pulling

Some people experience feelings inside their stomach in the early stages of pregnancy that replicate the sensation of their muscles being pulled and stretched. Sometimes referred to as ‘abdominal twinges’, these tingles are nothing to worry about.  About 1 week stomach pain can be felt sometimes. 

Layla Rumble, midwife at The Portland Hospital, which is part of HCA Healthcare UK, said, “Abdominal twinges and mild pains are very common during pregnancy and usually nothing to worry about. Twinges and abdominal pain are usually caused by constipation, ligament pain, or trapped wind – all of which are normal parts of pregnancy.

“As pregnancy symptoms go, Twinges and pains can be alleviated by regular light exercise, eating smaller, frequent meals, having plenty of fibre-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water to help empty your bladder regularly. 

“If you find that you experience intense and ongoing pains or pain accompanied by bleeding, it is important to seek medical advice from your midwife or GP to rule out anything serious.”

What else could it be?

If you’ve been heavily exercising or straining your muscles, you could be experiencing some tension from that, especially if you’ve focused on ab workouts. 

A tight stomach can also be due to other factors such as digestive issues, stress, or hormonal changes, and doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant.

3. Vulva change in colour

One of the early signs of pregnancy and one of the more subtle pregnancy symptoms can be a change in colour of your vulva and vagina. Your vulva and vagina are usually pink, but this changes to dark purplish-red as your pregnancy progresses. This happens there is increased blood flow to the area. This change is one that midwives refer to as Chadwick’s sign, sometimes also referred to as Jacquemier’s sign when the vaginal tissue appears bluish in colour. It’s one of several changes that can indicate you are likely pregnant. It usually happens between six to eight weeks after conception.

What else could it be?

All of the maintenance we perform on our vaginas can contribute to a change in colour. If you have been using razors or hair removal creams you could be suffering from reddening or a rash. Also, watch out for washing products that aren’t sensitive to the hormone balance as this can have an effect too. Look for gentle products to prevent irritation to your vagina.

Lesley tells us: “This purple-blue discolouration of your vulva (and vagina, which can be seen during an examination) can be observed as early as four weeks of pregnancy but, unless you are regularly looking at your vulva, you may not be aware of it as it won’t feel any different. Although many women experience this change in colouration, the absence of Chadwick’s sign does not mean that you are not pregnant.”

4. Peeing more often

It is possible that in the early stages of pregnancy you might feel an increased need to wee, feeling like you’re forever making trips to the toilet. You could notice this feeling, especially at night time.

Dr Prudence Knight, GP at Lancaster Medical Practice tells us. “As pregnancy symptoms go the need to wee a lot can be common and is caused by changing hormones in the early days, as are tender, swollen breasts which are sensitive when touched.”

What else could it be?

It is normal to wee between six to eight times in a 24-hour period, if you’re urinating much more often than this it could be that you’re drinking too much fluid or caffeine. You could also have a bladder infection or be suffering from an overactive bladder. If it’s painful or you have any concerns, speak to a GP about your symptoms.

5. Metallic taste

One of the early signs of pregnancy and one of the stranger pregnancy symptoms could be a strange, sour, slightly metallic taste in your mouth in the early stages. This happens because of the pregnancy hormone progesterone which is known as dysgeusia, which is a taste disorder causing an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Experts have discovered that pregnancy hormones play a role in controlling our sense of taste, so they might fluctuate wildly throughout your pregnancy. However, dysgeusia usually disappears after the first trimester.

What else could it be?

According to the NHS, other reasons could be gum disease, colds or sinus infections, indigestion, and due to certain medications. There are also serious illnesses that are linked to tasting metal such as problems with your liver or kidneys, so it’s best to speak to a professional if you have any concerns.

6. Bloating

The pregnancy hormone progesterone can cause your tummy to feel full, rounded, and bloated. If you’re feeling swollen in this area, there’s a possibility you could be pregnant. 

What else could it be?

Lots of foods can bloat you, so if you’re experiencing this feeling after eating foods such as grains, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, or even artificial sweeteners it may just be wind. Bloating can also be a sign of food intolerances or conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you think it might be IBS, take a look at our IBS symptoms and remedies guide to see if any of this can help to relieve the bloating you’ve been experiencing. A low FODMAP diet is also recommended to alleviate symptoms. 

7. Period pain

This is one of the most contradictory pregnancy symptoms but, you may actually get pains that resemble your period around the same time that you are expecting your period. This is one of the less common signs of pregnancy but shouldn’t be discounted. Many people experience this pain as the womb expands, stretching the ligaments as your bump grows to accommodate the baby.

“I remember being baffled that the first signs of pregnancy felt like my usual period. I had small cramps, spotting, and backache - all the usual culprits. I later learned this was the embryo implanting.”

Mum-of-one, Meesha

What else could it be?

Period pains are commonly associated with muscle cramps in your tummy, back, and thighs, but this kind of pain is normal for people. If it’s not your period, it could be a result of exercise or overexertion.

Lesley says: “Low abdominal cramps can be one of the common pregnancy symptoms felt in the early pregnancy as the womb grows, the ligaments that hold it move and stretch, and there’s increased pressure on your bladder. These pains should ease with rest and a warm hot water bottle or heat-pack. Consult with your midwife or doctor if they don’t, so that infection, thrush or other problems can be excluded.”

8. Tender breasts

As early as 1-2 weeks after conception you might notice a difference in your breasts. Your nipples might be sensitive to the touch, they may be sore or they may change shape and become swollen – meaning your bra might not fit as well as normal. Dr. Knight said: “Your breasts may become sore around the time your period is due and they usually increase in size during early pregnancy.”

“I knew something was different when just putting a bra on hurt my nipples.”

Mum-of-two Louise

What else could it be?

It could be your pill or you might be due on your period – many early signs of pregnancy are similar to when you’re having a period or are due on. Some antidepressants and other medications can also cause breast pain, so it’s recommended to thoroughly read the enclosed leaflet to learn about side effects.

9. Bleeding or 'spotting'

About a week after conception, the embryo pushes itself into the wall of the uterus (or womb), this is known as 'implantation' . This causes some light bleeding or spots of blood to appear in your knickers. You may even get stomach cramps while the embryo is moving.

A recent study (opens in new tab) shows that vaginal bleeding in the first trimester occurs in about one fourth of pregnancies. And while there is no definitive research proving that bleeding is always implantation, anecdotal reports from pregnant mothers suggests this.  Bleeding can spotting can be one of the more confusing pregnancy symptoms.

What else could it be?

Your period (although some women still get light periods throughout their pregnancy), changes with the Pill; such as forgetting to take it or taking it during your seven-day break, an infection, or bleeding from sex. It can also be a result of any hormonal changes.

10. Missed period

This is the most common pregnancy symptom and is usually the first one you might pick up on. It happens around 4-5 weeks after the embryo has attached itself to the wall of the uterus, the wall builds itself up so the embryo is well-cushioned – rather than break down and cause a period.

What else could it be?

Stress, changing your contraception, or excessive weight gain or loss can all contribute to changes to your period, including a missed one. It doesn’t automatically mean you’re pregnant, but it’s best to take a test if you want peace of mind either way.

11. Nausea/Morning Sickness

Some people complain of feeling nauseous throughout their whole pregnancy and others manage to escape it, it's one of the more well-recognised pregnancy symptoms. Morning sickness will normally show up between 2-8 weeks into your pregnancy. One theory is that it is caused by an increase in the hormone progesterone. Progesterone apparently softens the muscles in the uterus ready for labour but it also softens the stomach muscles causing nausea and sickness.

Dr Prudence Knight, GP at Lancaster Medical Practice tells us “Morning sickness is also common and can take on several forms for different people, such as feeling nauseous at certain times of the day or all day. Vomiting, dizziness, or a combination of all these things. 

What else could it be?

Food poisoning, stress, or other stomach upsets can also cause you to feel queasy.

12. Fatigue and tiredness

Feeling more tired is one of the early pregnancy symptoms that can also start as early as the first week and is because your body is working overtime to get ready for the baby.

Layla Rumble adds, “Pregnancy is a tiring process and can take its toll on energy levels as your body changes.  Therefore, it is very common to feel tired and exhausted during pregnancy, particularly during the first trimester when your hormones fluctuate the most. 

The rapid increase in oestrogen levels in the first trimester, along with a constantly increased level of progesterone hormones throughout pregnancy, play a significant role in the onset of most pregnancy symptoms, including fatigue.”

“The fatigue, for me, was on another level. I was getting my usual 8 hours a night but struggling to keep my eyes open. I just wanted to lie down all the time.” here

Mum-of-one Dhriti

What else could it be?

Stress, depression, common cold or flu, or other illnesses can also leave you feeling tired or sleepy, and it can sometimes occur if you woke in the middle of a sleep cycle or didn’t sleep well.

13. Backaches

While having backache is one of the very common pregnancy symptoms, usually felt in the later stages of pregnancy due to the extra weight, it can also be one of the early signs of pregnancy. The ache will be similar to the stomach cramps and aches you get when you’re on your period. And it’s just because your body is getting ready for the baby.

What else could it be?

If you are due on your period you may get a backache or if you suffer from physical or mental stress and tension this could also present as back ache.

14. Leg cramps

As pregnancy symptoms go, it’s quite common for people to suffer from leg cramps during pregnancy and you might notice it a lot more in the early stages. According to a Harvard study, this has been linked to having less calcium in your blood because it’s being taken by the baby.

What else could it be?

Straining a muscle or being cold, especially at night, can cause the muscles in your legs to tense and spasm. It can also be a result of dehydration or simply sitting still for a long period of time and not moving your muscles enough.

15. Headaches

According to the National Library of Medicine, as pregnancy symptoms go this is a common one. The sudden rise of hormones in your body can cause you to have headaches early in pregnancy. If you’re tired too you might be more sensitive to light and noise.

“I was convinced the headaches were because I wasn't drinking enough water. I later learned it was hormones. And with hormone headaches, no amount of water will help. Just gotta ride it out.”

Mum-of-one Jasmin

What else could it be?

There are loads of reasons why people get headaches, from tension and dehydration to eye strain. Headaches are normal and can be triggered by too much screen time, stress, alcohol, changes to routine, and more. However, if you’re concerned about the number of headaches you’re getting, speak to a GP.

16. Food cravings

Having random pregnancy cravings is another one of the most common early signs and pregnancy symptoms. It’s caused by your body craving what it needs. Some people say they crave mud when they’re pregnant, and this may be due to a lack of iron in their blood. Others want combinations like fish and ice cream. This could be because of a lack of protein and sugar.

It doesn’t necessarily mean your cravings will be weird and wonderful though, just a craving for cheese could mean you need more calcium, especially if it’s linked with your cramps. This can start early on and last throughout your pregnancy. While you should give in to these cravings and listen to your body if you can, do it safely and ask your Dr or midwife if ever you’re unsure. 

What else could it be?

Poor diet, lack of a certain nutrient, stress, depression. Craving sugar could also be a sign of diabetes, and any concerns about strange cravings should be discussed with your GP.

17. Feeling hot

You might not even notice the difference yourself, but if you’re trying for a baby you may have been charting your basal body temperature. This is the temperature of your body at rest. Throughout your cycle, your body temperature fluctuates and if it has been high for 18 days or more, it’s likely that you’re pregnant. The normal temperature is 96-98°F and when you are ovulating or pregnant, it may be around 97-99°F.

What else could it be?

Your temperature is likely to rise if you’re feeling unwell with a cold or the flu. It will also rise slightly at different stages of your cycle.

18. 'Feeling' pregnant

Many people will notice that they feel uterine cramping as one of the early signs of pregnancy. You could even feel period-like cramps or even pain on one side. The most common reason for this kind of cramp is that your uterus is growing. This is normal pain and should be expected in a healthy pregnancy. You may also feel ‘full’ or ‘heavy’ around your uterus, and actually, it’s not uncommon to hear that in early pregnancy some people describe feeling like they were about to start their period any minute.

What else could it be?

If you are due on your period you may get pre-menstrual cramps.

19. Larger breasts

You might already know that one of the early signs of pregnancy, and one of the more common pregnancy symptoms many people experience is changes to their breast tissue. Towards the end of the first trimester or the beginning of the second trimester, you may notice that your breasts begin to grow. This is because the tissues inside the breast are preparing for nursing.

What else could it be?

Breast tenderness and swelling can be another sign that you’re expecting your period.

20. Changes in nipples

You may notice changes in your nipples as one of the early signs of pregnancy. They may also become larger and darker as your pregnancy progresses. You may also notice small, goosebump or pimple-like white areas on your areola, but don’t panic, these are totally normal. They’re called Montgomery’s tubercles.

What else could it be?

Changes in nipples should be examined as part of your regular check against breast cancer, follow these easy steps to checking your breasts for peace of mind.

21. Low libido

It’s common to suffer from a low libido during the early stages of pregnancy. Your breasts may be sensitive, causing you a bit of pain, plus feeling nauseous and tired could reduce your sexual appetite.

What else could it be?

There are lots of other reasons why you have gone off sex, from exhaustion to stress.

22. Tingling nipples

Some people get a tingling feeling in their nipples as one of the early signs of pregnancy. The surge in hormones in your body causes an increased blood supply to your breasts, which causes this tingling sensation.

What else could it be?

It could just be related to your menstrual cycle, or there’s a small chance a tingling feeling can be caused by an infection.

23. Shortness of breath

In the early stages of pregnancy, an increase of progesterone in your body causes you to breathe more often, which can feel like shortness of breath. You’ll also increase the amount of air you take in with each breath. The feeling might be a bit unusual, but it’s usually harmless.

What else could it be?

Chest infections, common colds, allergies, and anxiety disorders can also contribute to shortness of breath. However, if it’s impacting your daily life you should speak to a professional about your symptoms.

How can you tell if you’re pregnant?

The most effective way to confirm you’re pregnant is via a pregnancy test. These can be bought for at-home use, or you can take a test at your GP’s office. Pregnancy tests check for the presence of the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), in your urine, which the body produces after you conceive. 

GP’s can also test for pregnancy via a blood test, as they can check for the hormone in your blood as well as urine. Blood tests can tell if you are pregnant about six to eight days after you ovulate.

How reliable are home pregnancy tests?

According to the NHS, home pregnancy tests are reliable as long as you follow the instructions correctly. It may not be reliable if you didn’t follow instructions or you’ve taken the test too early. 

Most pregnancy tests can be taken after the first missed period, with any tests taken before this time running the risk of being inaccurate. Professionals also recommend avoiding drinking too much fluid ahead of doing a test, as it can dilute the level of HGC.

Negative tests may not be reliable if you’ve taken it too early, as the level of HGC might not be enough at the time of taking it. Tests can also vary in their sensitivity and so it’s recommended you read instructions thoroughly before using one, as there’s no guarantee each one will be the same.

Alternative ways to check for pregnancy

If you don’t want to buy a test yet, there are other ways you can find out whether it’s likely you’re pregnant or not. But keep in mind that this is in no way accurate, and pregnancy tests are the best way to confirm your pregnancy.

All of the symptoms listed above can be early signs of pregnancy, but don’t always mean that you are. If you’re experiencing several of them at once, it could be a sign that it’s time to take a test.

Clearblue has a free online quiz which asks you about any symptoms, as well as what contraceptives you’ve been using, if applicable. It takes minutes and they can give you advice on whether or not to use one of their tests.

You also know your own body better than anyone, so you might identify significant changes to your mood, physical changes to your body especially around the stomach. If you have regular periods, any changes to that routine could indicate you’re expecting too.

Related features: 

Video of the week:

Image of woman smiling at camera
Lesley Gilchrist

Lesley is a highly qualified registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife who has worked in some of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe and is now an expert in pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal care.

Stephanie Lowe
Family Editor

Stephanie Lowe is Family Editor at GoodTo covering all things parenting, pregnancy and more. She has over 13 years' experience as a digital journalist with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to all things family and lifestyle. Stephanie lives in Kent with her husband and son, Ted. With his love of choo-choos, Hey Duggee and finger painting he keeps her on her toes.