Plastic Pregnancy Tests: What’s Inside Yours?

When you suspected you were pregnant, you probably ran out to the chemist like I did and bought yourself a well-known branded pregnancy test. And not just the one either; how many of us have bought two or three tests just to ‘make sure’? I’ve been pregnant three times, and have taken many tests while trying to conceive (plus a few more over the preceding years) but what I never really asked myself was just how much plastic is used to make these tests, and, crucially, whether any of this plastic was even necessary?

It was only when Rob and I were actively trying for a baby, and I was finding myself spending quite a bit of money on tests, that I looked into a cheaper alternative that I could use throughout my cycle without breaking the bank —or filling the landfill. It was then that I discovered another type of pregnancy test that I’d never seen before: a tiny cardboard strip that had no plastic casing and no bulky packaging, that I could buy as a pack of 10 or 20 on Amazon for a fraction of the price of the shop-bought version. What I hadn’t realised, was that I had seen them before; the NHS use them as standard, and indeed my own GP had used one when I went to her to confirm my pregnancy with my son Odhrán.

The simple cardboard testing strip that your NHS GP or maternity unit will use to test if you’re pregnant has no plastic casing but works just as well.

If you take apart a plastic pregnancy test kit and look inside, what’s even more intriguing is that there is even one of these tiny strips inside it anyway! The bulky plastic around the strip is essentially just a single-use plastic case, making it a bit easier to hold, to give it a more aesthetically pleasing look, and to make it marginally easier to read. I decided to investigate mine, opening up both my Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test and their Digital version too, to see what was inside.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test. That little strip on the left of the photo (with the blue line) is the testing strip. The only bit that actually tests if you’re pregnant or not! The rest is essentially a single-use plastic case.

Inside the Clearblue Early Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Urine pad
  • Blue cap
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Blue foil packet
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapping

The only part you need out of all of this is the tiny little strip with the blue line on it! That strip is the bit that actually tests the hormone in your urine to tell you whether or not you’re pregnant, and it’s similar to the tiny cardboard strip that you can buy for a fraction of the price on Amazon.

The Clearblue Digital test. Spot the testing strip in the middle? That’s the only bit you really need.

Inside the Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test:

  • Two-part white plastic case with results window cut-out
  • Blue cap (missing from this photo)
  • Urine pad
  • Small piece of wadding
  • Black plastic case for digital reader
  • Desiccant moisture-absorbing tablet
  • Black plastic strip with digital screen
  • Testing strip with blue line
  • Foil wrapper
  • Instruction pamphlet
  • Box
  • Cellophane wrapper

What is important to know here, is that both these plastic kits do essentially the same job as the little cardboard strip version, but all the extra plastic is just there to give you a different reading experience. All of them have the tiny testing strip which is where the HcG pregnancy hormone will turn the ink blue (or pink, depending on your choice of test), so the question is, do we really need the bulky plastic casing as well, not to mention the digital screen? The simple cardboard strips are easy to use if you just read the instructions, and to be honest, not that different from the branded version: let’s face it, all of them require you to wee on the end of the strip, wait for a few minutes and then check to see how many lines show up!

In this photo you can see the difference in the amount of waste generated by the simple strip, compared to the branded test kits. The cardboard strips come in packs of 10, 20 or more, all in just one small plastic bag with one (unlaminated) paper instruction note. It makes you think, doesn’t it!!

Now there is even a flushable, 100% biodegradable pregnancy test coming to the market, which will hopefully make these other big brands think twice about using so much plastic in theirs. It’s called LIA and it weighs less than 4 squares of toilet paper, is easy to read and can be flushed down the toilet when you’re done. It will biodegrade in as little as 10 weeks according to their website. Now that is something! They aren’t on sale yet, but you can join their mailing list to be notified when they are.

In the meantime, if you’re keen to cut down on your single-use plastics, the simple test strips you can buy on Amazon that I’ve discussed here make a good, ecological alternative to using bulky plastic testing kits, and I can tell you that I’ve used them, and they work. You can read about my experience testing with them in my blog Am I pregnant: How early can you test?

Let me know your experience of using pregnancy tests, and whether you’d make the switch to a more ecological choice next time!

Freya is one half of The Amateur Parents; check out her Instagram page @the_amateur_mama:

The Pregnancy Test: At what point do you tell your man?

The pregnancy test. It’s a big deal, right? It tells you whether you’re bringing a brand new human into the world or…not. Whether you’ve been trying for a while, or your missed period has come as a surprise, taking the test and knowing for sure is a pretty big moment for any woman, and indeed, any man. But is taking the test a moment that should be shared by both the mother and father-to-be, or is it more fun, more romantic even, to surprise your partner with the happy news once you already know? Rob and I have been through three pregnancies together and we handled the testing part differently each time. Here we each give our perspective on taking the test, and talk to other couples about their experiences too.

FREYA: We’d been trying for a couple of months and I had just got back from a holiday to Ibiza when I noticed my period was late. It didn’t occur to me to wait to take the test with Rob; I just remember being at work and looking at the calendar, thinking “surely not?”. I went to Boots after work and bought myself a pregnancy test, and because I couldn’t wait, I took the test in a hotel toilet. It was positive! I spent the next few hours in an excited daze; entirely clueless as to what lay in store, but happy and giddy at the thought of having a baby. I had a huge suitcase with me, and having heard somewhere that pregnant women shouldn’t lift heavy things (which, incidentally, is a belief I don’t subscribe to anymore) I didn’t want to carry it home in my newly-pregnant state, so I texted Rob and asked if he could come to help me. He jumped on the tube, and it was in the middle of the concourse at Paddington station that I told him I was pregnant.

I told Rob about my first pregnancy in the middle of the concourse at Paddington station.

ROB: I was relaxing at home one Friday evening, looking forward to seeing Freya as she had returned from her holiday in Ibiza that day. Suddenly, I got a text from her about helping her with some luggage, and I must admit I did think it a bit strange, given that Freya is normally a very hardy character, and had been happily lugging a house-sized suitcase around London for the past few months, travelling around on all her housesitting placements. I put my shoes on and rushed over to Paddington. When I arrived, she was stood in the middle of the concourse with her suitcase, commuters streaming past. I had no idea what she as talking about when she said she had something to tell me, and asked me cryptic questions about why she might need help with her heavy bag. Eventually it clicked, and she confirmed the news by producing the positive test stick. I didn’t mind at all that I hadn’t been there for the test; I was over the moon at the surprise, and the fact that she told me in such an iconic train station made the whole thing an unforgettable experience.

FREYA: Sadly that first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 6 weeks, but I got pregnant again just weeks later. Thirty days after I’d had the miscarriage, with my period still not having arrived, I said to Rob “shall I take a test?’. My biggest concern was wasting money on a pregnancy test that might turn out to be negative, just because I hadn’t had the patience to wait a few more days for my period. But because I’d been complaining of bad smells, and a glass of water had made me wretch, Rob told me to go for it, so I got a test off Amazon and took it straight away. This time, there was no dramatic reveal; I peed on the stick while Rob waited downstairs, and we both stood in the kitchen waiting for the lines. Sure enough, it was positive. I remember quite matter-of-factly saying “I’m pregnant”. Rob was pretty incredulous, as he couldn’t believe it had happened so quickly, but there it was, the positive result for us both to see. Because of everything we’d been through, it was a more reserved reaction than the first time, but to make up for it, I surprised Rob with a baby Liverpool kit when we came out of our first ultrasound scan at the hospital, along with a daddy-to-be card.

To make up for the lacklustre way we took the test 2nd time around, I surprised Rob with a baby Liverpool kit at our first ultrasound scan.

ROB: I remember us discussing with Freya the fact that the miscarriage was so recent, and umming and arring about doing a test so soon. But she was complaining about stinky smells that didn’t exist, so when she suggested taking a test I was all for it. I tried not to get my hopes up, but at the same time I had never doubted that we’d be able to have a baby, despite the first time ending in miscarriage. I was in disbelief when the two lines showed up though, as I couldn’t believe that it had happened so quickly. Both times we’d tried we’d got pregnant almost immediately. Bizarrely, the way we took the test and how I felt when I heard that it was positive was less memorable the second time around than the first, even though thankfully, this time all went well and we had our beautiful son Odhrán 9 months later. I’ve always remembered the Paddington moment as if that was when I heard that Odhrán was on the way, so somehow the two memories have become intertwined.

FREYA: My third (and current) pregnancy had a bit of a strange lead-up. Because I was breastfeeding Odhrán, my periods didn’t return until I started to wean him onto bottles when he was about ten months old. Rob was keen to have another baby, as was I, and given our ages (I was 39 and Rob was 40) we knew we couldn’t hang around too long. I started monitoring my basal body temperature again when my period returned, but I didn’t tell Rob, as I didn’t want to put pressure on the relationship by ‘trying’ for another baby, as it had made things quite mechanical and chore-like the last time around. After a few months obsessing over LH strips and hCG tests, my patience ran out and I suggested that we actually try properly, as I was concerned that if we carried ‘winging it’, it might be another year before I conceived.

So we timed sex for the fertile window, and that very cycle I got pregnant. I had been testing with cheap hCG strips from about day 23 of my cycle, and had seen a gradually darkening positive line on the strips with each passing day, so I had an idea that I might be pregnant. I still didn’t really believe it until, on day 28, I used a branded test and got the confirmation that indeed I was! I wanted to make an occasion of the reveal this time, especially as it meant that Odhrán was going to have a brother or sister, so I bought him a ‘Big Brother’ T Shirt, and made a little story book about him getting a trouble-making playmate next year. When Rob got home from work, and I told him that I’d come up with a business idea to make personalised story books for families, and that I wanted him to read the ‘prototype’, while I filmed his reaction for my ‘market research’. As he sat down to read it, he clocked straight away what I was up to, as by this point he knew me too well! But he humoured me and read through the whole book, and seemed delighted at the end when his suspicions were confirmed and he read that Odhrán was to have a younger sibling come April 2021!

Odhrán wore a “I’m going to be a Big Brother” T Shirt for the pics I included in the booklet

ROB: I had been wondering if Freya was pregnant for the couple of days before she actually told me. I had been a little apprehensive leading up to that day, as although I suspected that our ‘trying’ had probably worked, there had been a bit of stress in the weeks leading up to that. After we had Odhran, I’d made it clear I wanted another child, but I hadn’t wanted to go on about trying for a second baby for numerous reasons, not least because I didn’t want to pressurise Freya to get pregnant again so soon. When out of the blue she told me that she’d been monitoring her ovulation for the last few months and that she was worried that nothing had happened yet, I was a bit surprised that she’d was ready to start trying again. As soon as I got home from work one Saturday, she brought Odhrán over to me and handed me a booklet, which she told me was a ‘business idea’ she wanted to test out on me. I knew straight away that something was fishy! But I quickly resumed my ‘innoncence’ and played along. Odhrán was sat next to me, enthralled with the little book (he loves reading!). We got to the page where he was to have a younger brother or sister, and I just smiled, looked up and said “I knew it!”. I was really happy, but I can read Freya like a book now (excuse the pun!).

WHAT ABOUT OTHER COUPLES? We talked to some of our friends to find out whether it’s best to ‘share or surprise’:

NIKKI: “After two traumatic miscarriages, Tom and I decided to have a weekend away in Amsterdam to let our hair down and take the pressure off trying for a baby. On our first night, we went out for a really fun evening of cocktails and food, and then the next morning I remember my boobs really hurting. I said “Tom, I’m pregnant, I just know it”. So we went to a chemist together in Amsterdam and took the test in our hotel room: it was positive. Despite the miscarriages, for some reason I just knew this time was going to be different. We were both really excited, and what had been planned as a ‘dirty weekend’ turned out to be a completely different experience; a loving, happy, joyful and romantic trip, celebrating the excitement of our future family together. The second baby was much more low-key. I was packing to go away on a retreat, and as I wondered if I should bring some tampons, I suddenly realised that I hadn’t had a period for a while. I took a test straight away while Tom was still at work, and it was positive. Tom came home, and before he’d even got in the front door, and while he was still soaked from the rain, I blurted out “I’m pregnant”. Although the baby was wanted and planned for, the speed at which I conceived was so unexpected that the timing felt like a bit of an inconvenience, as I was meant to be going away the next day, so our reaction was a little subdued. We were just as happy as the first time deep down, but the ‘reveal’ was much less glamorous the second time around!” @nikkiarmytagefoy

DOMINIC & TIM: “We decided to try conceiving the ‘turkey baster’ way, motivated by the savings we would make compared to IVF! Our single friend, Sarah* had never had IVF in mind, and was originally going to order some frozen sperm online. Because we also wanted a baby, the three of us made the joint decision to do it together using a Calpol syringe and a small Tupperware tub! Via our homemade method we had a 1% chance of success, but IVF wouldn’t have been much better, at 2%. Sarah was in her mid-forties and we were all dubious about it working, but nevertheless, we calculated the most fertile time to try and gave it a go. We were hopeful, but didn’t really think that we would succeed — certainly not as quickly as we did! After only our second attempt, Sarah sent me a photo of her positive result, via WhatsApp! We were all shocked, but very pleased, and we are now co-parents of a bouncing baby boy. @dominickelly

KATIE: “With our first, we’d been trying for eight months when, irritated and somewhat deflated, we decided to give up trying and just “go with it”. My best friend called to tell me she was pregnant with her second, which only compounded my frustration. I happened to mention that I was really hungover from the Saturday night, and she replied with “…but it’s Wednesday!”. I told her how I’d had to stop and puke on the way to work that morning. She shouted her reply: “take a test FFS!”. So I did…and I was one week pregnant! I rang my husband Karl, who was shocked and delighted, arriving home shortly afterwards with flowers, chocolates and a bottle of white wine in the middle of the day, which needless to say he drank on his own, trying to comprehend the news. We were stunned to say the least, and couldn’t really believe it until we saw the scan weeks later.”

DAVID*: “My wife Orlagh* and I are partners, lovers and friends. We go through everything together, and nothing about having a baby was private to either of us. I remember, on each of the three occasions we’ve had a baby, her saying “I think I’m pregnant” —before she’d even taken a test. She would buy the pregnancy tests and we’d make an occasion out of the big reveal. For our youngest daughter, we were about to go on a planned holiday to Ibiza when my wife mentioned her period was late, so we saved the test, took it with us in our luggage, and waited until we were on the white isle to actually take it. It made it even more special to be away on holiday in our favourite place to find out the good news.”

BEATRICE*: ” I left a letter for my husband on the bed, beside a bag of trash which, even at two weeks pregnant was already setting me off as he was awful at taking it out, despite it being one of his jobs! He always came in from work and went straight to get changed, so he walked in and saw the note, which was basically along the lines of “hey Daddy, if all goes well, I will be meeting you in 9 months time. Until then, please take the trash out as it’s making mummy and me feel very queasy! Love, your baby. p.s starting now, get this bag outta here!” My positive pregnancy test was under the bag. I laughed when I saw his face; such confusion as he read the note, then the quizzical look at the end, and then when he picked up the bag and saw the test, he was over the moon! He dropped the bag, grabbed the test and did a weird happy dance over to me shouting “this is amazing!” So yeah, he loved the surprise!”

MICHAEL*: “My daughter Chloe* came after the unfortunate miscarriage of our first baby. When my wife and I suspected she might be pregnant, I went to the shops and spent a fortune on a bundle of tests, just to be 100% sure. We both sat around impatiently, waiting for the blue lines together, and we were delighted when it showed up as positive. Baby number two, though planned, happened sooner than expected. My wife took that test alone, and our reaction this time was more reserved, solely due to the fact that we found out in the midst of the pandemic, which had dampened our spirits somewhat. Overall I would say that taking the test together was amazing; the nerves and excitement were something I will never forget.”

PETER*: “Our experience was probably quite different to most, as both of our children were conceived through IVF. So the result wasn’t really a surprise as such, but there was a lot of anticipation about whether the process had worked or not. We had to test on a very specific day that was planned ahead by the doctors, so it was more a part of the overall medical process than a private thing between us as a couple. We were over the moon both times though, and have two amazing children now.”

JULIA: “Kim was there both times we took a pregnancy test. He was, in fact, the one who suggested we try testing, even though we knew it was super early. He wasn’t actually in the loo while I was peeing on the stick, but he was waiting outside anxiously. Then we waited for the result together. It was great that we did it that way, as I think Kim always really wanted to be there for the initial reveal.”

NICOLA: “With us, both times, I had picked up a cheap test while out and had done it on my own, and surprised my husband Jorden with it afterwards. We’d then do a more expensive, clearer test together because the cheaper ones weren’t overly easy to read, and we got to have the ‘confirmation’ result together. ” @nikkij_uk

JORDEN (NICOLA’S HUSBAND): “I liked the way we did it. Especially the second time as we’d been trying for a long time. I think it helped that Nicola had used the cheap, less reliable test first, and then I was there for the confirmation, which made it real”. @berryjorden

LOTTIE: “The first time I was pregnant we took the test together, and I waited for my husband Thom to tell me whether it was positive or negative. It was really exciting! I’m glad we did it that way as it was a great experience being the one to be told the news. The second time, we were a bit more laid back, and I just casually suggested taking a test as my period was late. I went off on my own, and came back in disbelief, telling Thom “what the ………! I think I’m pregnant!” We couldn’t believe it and I ended up going out and buying no less than five further tests, and testing again and again over the following two days, just to make sure. We needn’t have, because my bump is very much alive and kicking, and we have a daughter on the way in 2021!” @lottielot13

DIANA*: ” I did the test on my own and then called my husband to surprise him. I didn’t know where he was at the time, but once he’d taken the news on board, he said “babe, I’m going to have to go, I’m at work, standing on a roof!”. He was surrounded by workmates, but somehow managed to climb down safely —and keep the good news to himself!”.

MARGOT*: Many moons go (12 to be exact) I’d been with my partner for a few years and had no success in the baby-making department. Fast forward to a trip to Amsterdam, where I had figured “when in Rome” with regards to sampling the local delicacies. But before I had tried any cookies or cakes, it occurred to me that I hadn’t had my period in a while, and I thought I’d better check, rather than be a ‘stoner mum’ before I’d even got off the starting blocks! Bang, I peed on a stick and we jumped for joy. No ‘cake’ for me in the Dam! I called my auntie first, and she started crying. I thought she was upset because I was unmarried, but no, she was crying with happiness as she’d dreamt only the night before that I was having a baby! I gave birth to my son Oliver*, and we tried for the next eight years to give him a sibling to no avail, in and out of fertility clinics, with more ‘camera crews’ inside me than the BBC! The heartache of not conceiving month after month was too much, so I decided not to try any more, and our marriage ended. Years later I met the most amazing man (my current partner). I happened to call my auntie to see how she was one day, and out of the blue she said “you’re pregnant”. “Not unless you know something I don’t”, I replied. It got me thinking though, and that night I bought a test without my partner knowing, peed on the stick and gazed at it in amazement: it was positive! For a few moments I was a deer in headlights and thought “I can’t tell anyone”, as it was such a shock. But when I went back downstairs, I saw my partner sitting there looking so gorgeous, and thought “there’s no way I can’t tell him”. He was absolutely overjoyed. I’m still in disbelief and can’t believe I’ve been this lucky”.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

Freya and Rob are The Amateur Parents.Follow Freya on Instagram @the_amateur_mama and Rob @theama