If you think you might be pregnant, it can be excruciating waiting until the first day of your missed period to test and find out. But just how early can you test? I am currently 17 weeks pregnant, and while I was waiting to see if I’d conceived, I experimented with different tests to try and find out as quickly as possible. Because of the expense, and the plastic, I didn’t want to start testing too early and waste a branded shop-bought plastic stick, so instead, I purchased some simple One Step pregnancy test strips from Amazon for only £3.29 for 20, so that I could test daily without worrying about the expense, or the plastic waste!
These little cardboard strips can be dipped in urine and will detect hCG if you’re pregnant, displaying two maroon/pink lines for a positive result. They are the same ones that your GP will use if you visit them for a pregnancy test (I can vouch for this as I have seen them do it!). They’re pretty easy to use if you read the instructions carefully.
I had been monitoring my ovulation with Ovusense and knew that I had ovulated on day 12 of my cycle. All the advice online seemed to agree that with sensitive tests, you can test from about 10 days after ovulation (10DPO or ’10 days post ovulation’). On day 23 of my cycle, 11 days after I’d ovulated, and 5 days before my expected period, I used one of the One Step hCG strips, and found that if I looked really, really carefully in the right light, I could see what I thought was a line; an almost completely invisible line, that is. Was it my imagination? I couldn’t be sure either way, because of the possible confusion with an ‘evaporation line’ (more on that below!), so I tested again the next day, and for a few days after that. Here were my results:
-Cycle Day 23 (11DPO): Practically invisible test line, almost entirely undetectable to the naked eye.
-Cycle Day 24 (12DPO): Almost the same as Day 23, but a ghostly-faint, colourless, almost invisible test line which can be detected when photographed and turned into a negative (see here for how to do this!) is present.
-Cycle Day 25 (13DPO): Very little change, but the test line today is every so slightly more visible than Day 24, especially its top left hand corner.
-Cycle Day 26 (14DPO): The test line is now visible, especially at its top left, where the ink meets the edge of the strip. The left hand side of the line is defined and straight, but it’s still hard to make out any pink colour.
-Cycle Day 27 (15DPO): The left hand side of the test line is now obvious and its right hand side is more defined.
-Cycle Day 28 (16DOP): The test line is now unmistakable, especially on the left border, where some colour is visible. The positive result is confirmed with a First Response test.
So what is an evaporation line and why should you beware?! An evaporation line is a really faint line that can show up where the test line would be if you leave it sitting around for too long after you’ve weed on it. It’s NOT a positive result, but equally, it isn’t a confirmation that you’re not pregnant. You should discard the test, re-test on subsequent days and make sure you read the result in the time specified.
I used one of my First Response tests the previous month, a day or so before my period was due. When I didn’t see a test line appear at first, I put the stick aside, still (mistakenly) convinced that I might be pregnant. The next day I looked at it again (yep, obsessed!) and saw what I thought was an extremely faint positive result line showing up, which made me wonder if it was in fact positive after all. When I called First Response to ask them, they told me that you should never read a test after the time limit specified in the instructions, and that what I was seeing was most likely an evaporation line, which is where the urine evaporates off the test line and leaves a faint, colourless mark. Sure enough, my period arrived the next day on that occasion!
You can avoid the confusion by reading the test within the time window specified in the instructions, and also, by taking a photo of your test, and using an app to turn it into a negative. This method is quite useful also if your test line is really, really faint, as mine were on the first days I was testing. Read how to do this here.
So there you have it, my verdict on testing early! If you’re (impatient!) like me and you want to avoid the expense and planet-destruction of using loads of plastic branded pregnancy tests when you’re testing every day, then I highly recommend the One Step pregnancy test strips. Then, if you really want confirmation from a well-known brand, you could get one test stick just to make sure. I chose the First Response test.
The first trimester can be quite a hellish time, dominated by nausea, vomiting and tiredness, but what about those lesser talked about symptoms that hit you out of the blue and come as a surprise? Well, here’s a guide to the symptoms I have been experiencing over the past three months, plus a few chucked in from my previous pregnancy. You may recognise some or all of them, and you probably have a few of your own to add to the list, but remember, even if you have no symptoms at all, this isn’t necessarily anything to worry about! Plenty of women don’t notice any changes at all when they’re pregnant and still have perfectly healthy babies, so don’t fret. If in doubt, contact your doctor or midwife team.
Symptoms at THREE WEEKS:
At three weeks, it’s extremely early, and I didn’t really have any ‘symptoms’ as such. However, because I have the patience of a two year old in a sweet shop, I had started testing on day 23 of my cycle, which was still 5 days before my period was due. This was my ‘symptom’ at 3 weeks pregnant:
An almost totally imperceptible line on an hCG strip:
At 11 days post ovulation, I used a cheap hCG strip, and found that if I looked really, really carefully and in the right light, I could see what I thought was a really, really faint line. So faint, that it was almost entirely invisible, and makes for a pretty terrible reference photo for a blog, as on a computer screen you can hardly see it at all! I couldn’t be sure that it was a positive result because of the possible confusion with ‘evaporation lines’, but as it turned out, it was in fact a very early detection of low levels of hCG in my urine, which, in this case did mean that I was pregnant.
Symptoms at FOUR WEEKS:
Four weeks is around the time when many women who have been actively trying to conceive discover that they’re pregnant, as it’s about when your period would normally be arriving, and your hCG levels are high enough to be picked up on a pregnancy test. So, an absent period is the (pretty obvious) first symptom of pregnancy a this stage! But if you’re anything like me (impatient), you might be searching for clues as to whether you’re pregnant even before your period is due. These are the other symptoms I had started to notice at around 4 weeks, but you might spot them even earlier:
∙Mild nausea that comes and goes.
∙Slight car sickness.
∙Slight tiredness, with less ‘strength’ and less energy than normal.
∙A craving (bordering on obsession) for sparkling drinks containing grapefruit or rhubarb.
∙A strange one: my finger nails seem stronger and the tips whiter than normal. My imagination?
∙A sudden sensitivity to smells that previously went undetected was actually the first sign for me when I was pregnant with my first child, Odhrán. This time around it took a few more weeks to fully take hold.
Symptoms at FIVE WEEKS:
At five weeks, many women still haven’t taken a test, as your period is still only about one week late at this stage. Therefore, you may not notice any symptoms if you’e not looking out for them. In my case, this is when my symptoms starting ramping up, and the list was added to by the day.
∙My nausea is becoming more consistent now.
∙The tiredness is more noticeable, especially in the afternoon and early evening. Lots of early nights!
∙I’m getting slightly breathless when exercising compared to normal.
∙The obsession with sour or bitter sparkling drinks is growing ever stronger.
∙A craving for grapefruit begins (‘m eating at least 1 large pink grapefruit a day, cut up into chunks and eaten with a spoon).
∙My first aversion begins, to chocolate! Normally I’m addicted to it, so this has been surprising to say the least…
Symptoms at SIX WEEKS:
At 6 weeks, you still may not be feeling too bad, and will possibly still feel like you have the same energy levels as before. Be careful though, pushing yourself too hard at this stage can bite you on the bum, as you find yourself more exhausted after physical exertion than you would normally be.
∙Nausea has gone up a gear and has become even more consistent.
∙Motion sickness is increasing, even to the point where swinging gently on a swing induces the feeling of needing to vomit.
∙Physical exercise and exertion induces more tiredness and exhaustion than normal.
∙Food seems to taste more delicious and satisfying, or more disgusting and repulsive. The middle ground seems to have faded away.
∙The urgent need to eat often and at regular intervals is developing.
∙Not strictly an ‘aversion’, but I have gone off coffee. Even the smell doesn’t appeal any more.
∙A metallic taste is developing in my mouth. Not pleasant.
Symptoms at SEVEN WEEKS:
Ok, so here’s when things really got interesting. Even if I hadn’t already taken a pregnancy test, my symptoms by 7 weeks were unmistakable; I felt terrible.
∙Extreme exhaustion is setting in; I’m feeling the need to lie down constantly, nap during the day and be in bed by 7pm.
∙Strong and unrelenting nausea has firmly taken hold, as if suffering from permanent ‘sea sickness’ —on dry land.
∙A sudden aversion to chicken has begun; can’t eat it, can’t smell it, can’t even think about it. Apologies to my father-in-law who cooked us a big chicken dinner and watched as I ate NONE of it…
∙My aversion to chocolate is confirmed; I tested this out by sampling some of my mother-in-law’s secret stash. Nope. Revolting.
∙My super-human sense of smell is now firmly in place; everything stinks, including my partner, Rob!
∙Talking of smells, my farts have got smellier! This is down to hormones changing the way your bowel works. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.
∙Thrush! Yep, I’ve had it with both pregnancies. Severe itching ‘down below’ both on internally and externally. Get me the Canesten!
Symptoms at EIGHT WEEKS:
∙Nausea is constant, intense and has no break now. Why it’s called ‘Morning Sickness’ when it lasts all day and night, I’ll never know.
∙Exhaustion is now extreme, meaning daily 2 hour naps plus 12 hour night sleeps.
∙Dizziness, shakiness and weakness has started to kick in, especially first thing in the morning, as if caused by low blood sugar or low blood pressure.
∙Constant eating and snacking needed to stave off feelings of sea-sickness and dizziness.
∙Night time eating has become necessary, as nausea and light-headedness wake me up at night.
∙My hands are swelling up a bit now, and the veins on the backs of them stick out more than normal. Pretty.
∙Hormone-related bowel changes means I now have diarrhea. Thankfully not the ‘desperate-run-to-the-loo’ kind, just looser than normal. TMI?
∙I’ve also been feeling flutterings, pulling and tightening in the lower abdomen, which is most likely the womb expanding and growing to accommodate it’s new happy camper.
Symptoms at NINE WEEKS:
If your first trimester is anything like mine, by nine weeks you’ll be praying that the second trimester arrives early! For me, at 9 weeks I was just over half way through this challenging first stage. To cheer ourselves up we got an early reassurance scan and saw our little gummy bear moving on screen. You’re over the hump! You can do it! Symptoms this week were:
∙Sickness and nausea is as strong as ever.
∙I would now descried the exhaustion as ‘debilitating’. I spend the whole time lying down and getting dizzy when I stand up.
∙The familiar aversion to being touched on the legs that I experienced in my first pregnancy shows up again. Get off, Rob!
∙The frequent need to urinate means I need to wee all the time, including throughout the night, which is more than a little annoying.
∙An insatiable thirst has me downing pints of water and waking at night to drink even more. Ice cubes in the water is particularly refreshing.
∙Bogeys: Here’s a weird one! Extra snottiness and dried up bogeys occupying my nostrils are now unmistakable. Gross, but true!
∙Lower back pain has blighted my week this week, most likely caused by picking up my son (which normally wouldn’t have been a problem).
∙Last but not least, and caused by the muscles of the stomach relaxing due to my pregnancy hormones, I am finding myself needing to burp a lot more. Attractive, this 1st trimester, isn’t it?
Symptoms at TEN WEEKS:
∙Nausea, exhaustion and weakness continue as strong as ever.
∙Insomnia has ramped up, caused not only by the need to urinate, eat and drink but also by nightmares!
∙Nightmares and vivid dreams have become a nightly occurrence and will wake me up at 2am or 3am for several hours.
∙Food obsessions continue to pop up out of nowhere, causing me to panic-buy tonnes of the same thing (which I wouldn’t recommend; I stocked up on Thai green curry sauces in week 10 but by the end of week 11 I hated the stuff).
∙I’m guzzling whole milk by the gallon (in porridge, cereal and tea).
∙As well as food aversions, I’ve also developed pregnancy-related human-aversions. or more specifically man-aversions. Ok, Rob-aversions. Rob’s feet gross me out now; if his toes so much as touch my leg I freak out. I was also surprised to notice that certain sounds he makes (particularly low, rumbling noises that he puts on to play with Odhrán) make my skin crawl and drive me insane (imagine The Incredible Hulk in the fight scene where he’s floored by the sonic cannons; that’s me).
Symptoms at ELEVEN WEEKS:
∙My drink obsession is now iced water with mint leaves, lemon and lime juice.
∙My food obsession is pear, kiwi and lime fruit salad with a mango puree and mint leaves, as well as carrots and cucumbers dipped in hummus.
∙The chicken aversion has become ever stronger, to the point that even the thought of live chickens walking around in their pen make me feel sick. Sorry chickens, no offence.
∙I realise that I also have an aversion to eggs now too.
Symptoms at TWELVE WEEKS:
∙Just when I thought it was already at its peak, the nausea and “sea-sickness’ has become even strong this week.
∙Exhaustion levels are now immense; I hardly get up from the couch or the bed.
∙Burgers have been added to the aversion list. YUCK.
∙Baked potatoes and corn on the cob have beome the new obsessions, as well as salmon (smoked, poached or baked) and cream cheese. YUM.
∙Desserts have started to taste “too sweet” (how?!) and chocolate still doesn’t appeal.
∙Crusty nipples. Anyone? I noticed this in my last pregnancy too, though it seems to have started earlier this time. It was only when I gave birth that I realised that the creamy coloured specs on my nipples were bits of dried colostrum (the thick, golden yellow-coloured first milk that your breasts produce to feed your baby in the initial few days) which, unbeknown to me, was already being made by my mammary glands in preparation for the baby’s arrival.
On the plus side, we got to see bub again at our 12 week scan.
Symptoms at THIRTEEN WEEKS:
∙I have become accustomed to existing in an almost-permanently horizontal position, while having only the slightest will to live. The only reason I get up at all is to look after my toddler or take him to the (very local) park, but where I can, I am sitting, or preferably lying, down.
∙Where previously, eating regularly was at least giving me some momentary relief, food is no longer helping my nausea now.
∙Carrots and cucumber are my favourite thing this week, food-wise. So cold and refreshing, ahhhhh.
∙Mint, and ginger and lemon tea is my latest drink obsession, and gives (very temporary) relief.
Symptoms at FOURTEEN WEEKS:
∙The nausea has ramped up to a new level, and evenings are the worst. I’ve never vomited, but this week I came very, very close, gagging and retching at the sight of some food on TV, and even innocent old toothpaste is causing some issues.
∙My new food aversion is tomato-based pasta sauce, which ordinarily I love, but which now I HATE.
∙Night eating (bread with margarine) is imperative (I take a slice to bed with me wrapped in cling film), as is a pint of water during the night.
∙Hot chillies and jalepenos continue to be a food obsession.
∙I have started trying some anti-nausea acupressure wrist bands. I’m not sure if it’s a placebo but they seemed to work on day one…
∙Despite the horrendous nausea, by the end of this week I have noticed one area of improvement: I had my first nap-free day this week! Progress? Let’s see…
Symptoms at FIFTEEN WEEKS:
O.M.G! Are things on the up? It does seem improving this week. By Tuesday I saw glimpses of my old self, meeting a friend at the park and feeling a renewed vigour to walk and do things.
∙No need for daytime naps this week, which means I can finally start working on some projects I’ve been meaning to get on with while my toddler naps on his own.
∙Evenings are still difficult, with the activity of the day catching up on me and causing strong nausea and exhaustion by 5pm each night.
∙Nightmares seem to be reducing too, although…
∙I still need to wee a lot at night!
∙Thrush continues to be an issue.
Symptoms at SIXTEEN WEEKS:
A mixed week this week. I was looking forward to week 16, as in my head it was the magic week when, in my pregnancy with Odhran, the woeful first trimester symptoms came to an end and I stopped feeling sick and exhausted. So I was (mistakenly) expecting that this week I would suddenly feel completely normal and bounce back to life. In reality, things seem to have gone backwards somewhat this week ,and some of the progress made last week appears to have retroceded.
∙Energy levels are up and down; some days I feel almost ‘normal’ and others I need to join my toddler for a daytime nap.
∙The nausea has been quite bad, and my gag reflex has stepped up a gear. I gagged on toothpaste one evening and was a tiny bit sick into the basin!
∙My huge disgust reflex and aversion to the tomato-based pasta sauces that emerged 2 weeks ago has gone up a level; I tried to make a pasta bake and couldn’t even look at it, let alone smell or taste any of it. Rob had to eat it all. He wasn’t complaining.
∙I seem to be eating nothing but bread and cereal (with whole milk).
∙The vivid dreams continue but not quite as bad as previous weeks.
∙My insomnia is fairly bad; I’m spending 2 or 3 hours awake per night.
Symptoms at SEVENTEEN WEEKS:
I don’t want to speak too soon, but the first trimester appears to have finally been left in the past now, as my energy levels, nausea and general outlook on life seems have vastly improved. Last week must have been the transition. While certainly not my ‘normal self’, I’ve come on leaps and bounds from the invalid I was a few weeks ago, and I’m looking forward to a productive second trimester! I hope you are too.
∙Coffee, which I haven’t touched since I discovered I was pregnant, has suddenly reclaimed its appeal. I am now enjoying one (weak) cup a day.
∙The nausea, although still present, has reduced greatly.
∙My taste buds are still off kilter, with things that I used to like (chicken, tomato-based pasta sauce, eggs, burgers etc) now pretty revolting.
∙Acid reflux is now kicking in; this was an unwelcome accompaniment to my last pregnancy too. Gaviscon is my new best friend.
∙Back and hip pain is causing me a bit of discomfort, and my normally comfortable mattress is now way too hard! I have got myself a HUGE pregnancy pillow and a memory foam mattress topper, which help immensely, as I am also trying to train myself to sleep on my side, ahead of the third trimester (when it’s recommended you don’t sleep on your back in order to maintain good oxygen supply to the baby).
∙No more naps! I’ve got way more energy again during the day.
So there you have it, that brings us up to date and into the second trimester! Let me know in the comments below if you’ve had similar symptoms or whether you’ve experienced others that I haven’t mentioned, I’d love to hear!
Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents, along with her partner Rob. Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama for more parenting articles and photos.