Are you waiting to discover if you are pregnant? Perhaps you think you might have unintentionally conceived, or maybe you are trying to add another child to your family. No matter what your story is, you are likely to wonder when to take a pregnancy test.
You might want to run to the store to get a test to take right now, but you think it could be too soon. Do you have to wait until your period is missed before checking for pregnancy? There are so many ideas racing through your mind at this point. Let’s take a look at what you need to know to determine the best time to take a pregnancy test.
How to Count the Weeks of Pregnancy
I know once thing that might confuse you, and that is how to determine how far along you are. When you find out you’re pregnant, you might be surprised to find out that you are considered four weeks pregnant. How in the world can that be when you JUST found out? Four weeks ago was your menstrual cycle. There was no way you were pregnant, right?
You are right! If your menstrual cycles are normal, every 28 days, on average, you have the new cycle. Your period shows up for a few days. Then, 14 days into your cycle, you ovulate, which is when you would typically conceive. The following 14 days are called your luteal phase.
When your period is due, but you discover that you are pregnant, you are considered four weeks pregnant because your cycle started four weeks ago. Conception truly took place two weeks ago, but that is not how doctors count pregnancy. A 4-week pregnancy is two weeks post ovulation. It can be confusing unless you track your cycles.
What if Your Cycles Aren’t Normal?
For a variety of reasons, many women have abnormal cycles, which makes deciding when to take a pregnancy test even harder, unless you track your cycles. If you are intentionally trying to conceive a child, I highly recommend that you learn the method called Natural Family Planning. With this method, you learn how to track your cycle. Therefore, you know when you take a test based on your individual signs. Here is what you track.
- Basal Body Temperature: As you sleep at night, your temperature regulates and settles. When you wake in the morning, you will track your waking temperature, before you start the day. Moving increases your temperature, so it is important to do it before your feet hit the ground. After ovulation, your temperature increases gradually, and it will stay higher until your menstrual cycle returns in two weeks. By tracking your basal body temperature, you will know what date you ovulated.
- Cervical Mucus: Believe it or not, the mucus (or discharge) that comes from your cervix can tell you a lot each cycle. When you are not fertile, you may experience dry, sticky or creamy cervical mucus. As you near ovulation, cervical mucus changes to watery, but the ideal thing to look for is called egg white cervical mucus. This is the prime sign that ovulation is impending. Sperm needs friendly cervical mucus to live. By noting when you experience watery and egg white cervical mucus, you will have a better idea when to try to conceive and when you ovulated.
- Cervical Position: The cervix is a seriously underrated part of the female body. Not only does it produce mucus that aids conception, but it also changes position based on ovulation and pregnancy. As you near ovulation, the cervix moves to a higher position. It will be softer and open when you ovulate. Then, post ovulation, it should stay higher and firm until your menstrual cycle arrives, at which time it will lower and open.
Those women with abnormal cycles or those who are purposefully trying to conceive should learn how to track their cycles. First, it helps with conception. You know when your signs are ideal for conceiving. By using an app or paper to track your signs, you will also have an idea of the date when you ovulated. Knowing your ovulation date allows you to know when to take a pregnancy test.
What Happens After Ovulation
So, you know for sure that you ovulated, but that doesn’t mean you conceived for sure. It also doesn’t mean that you are ready to take a pregnancy test. It is too soon. There is a lot going on inside of your body this early. Let’s take a sneak peek at what is happening. Understanding the conception cycle answers so many questions.
- As you ovulate, your body releases an egg that is waiting to be fertilized. Once you have sexual intercourse, the sperm is racing towards the waiting egg. There is a 24-hour window before ovulation and 12 hours post ovulation when the egg could be fertilized.
- The sperm reached the egg and successfully landed! Your egg is officially fertilized, but that isn’t the ending stop. It also doesn’t mean that you are pregnant just yet. There is still more work to be done.
- The fertilized egg begins to leisurely journey down the fallopian tubes. Most fallopian tubes are between four to five inches long, so you would assume this process wouldn’t take long. Your assumptions would be wrong. It can take seven to nine days for the egg to make this journey and arrive safely inside of your uterus. Now, the fun is starting.
- Implantation is the process in which a fertilized egg implants in the walls of your uterus. Upon arrival, your egg may linger for a few more days before it decides to finally implant. Implantation is the big thing, and it means that you are officially pregnant. It isn’t time to test just yet though! At this time in your cycle, you may notice light cramping, spotting, or absolutely nothing. Some women have no idea that implantation took place.
- After implantation, your body begins to produce the pregnancy hormone, referred to commonly as HCG. The full name is human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone is what home pregnancy tests look for to give you a positive (or negative) result. It isn’t time to test just yet, but that time is nearing closer than ever before.
Understanding the Role of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin
HCG begins to develop once the fertilized egg implants into your uterine wall. Human chorionic gonadotropin is made by cells formed in the placenta, which later nourishes the egg as it grows attached to the uterine wall. HCG is essential to keep a pregnancy going. It maintains the lining of your uterus, which is crucial to sustaining a pregnancy.
Another essential feature of HCG is that it helps to encourage embryonic development. Early in pregnancy, the embryo is fully dependent on the uterine lining for survival until the placenta is fully developed, which doesn’t happen until around the fourth month of pregnancy.
Typically, a blood test can detect HCG in your system around 11 days after conception. A urine test may take 12 to 14 days to detect pregnancy. HCG doubles every 48 to 72 hours, reaching its peak in the first 8 to 11 weeks of pregnancy. After this point, your levels will slowly decline and level off.
Things to Know about Your Level of HCG
Early in pregnancy, most people talk about HCG and discuss it thoroughly. Your doctor may order blood work a few times to determine if your level is properly rising. It can be overwhelming and frustrating, especially if you don’t understand what is and what is not normal. So, let’s take a look so you can have a better idea of what to expect.
- A normal woman has natural levels of HCG between 0 and four mIU/ml. At this level, you are considered not pregnant. Anything above 25 mIU/ml is considered a positive pregnancy test. Some doctors have different guidelines. When I had bloodwork done for my third pregnancy, I received results that were 20 mIU/ml. My doctor said that he wasn’t sure if I had a sustainable pregnancy, and he might not consider me pregnant. Tell that to my lovely 14-month-old child!
- If you are further along in your pregnancy, your HCG levels won’t double every 48 to 72 hours. Instead, it will take closer to 96 hours to double.
- It is so important that you don’t solely focus on your HCG numbers. A normal pregnancy can have a lower level of HCG, leading to a healthy pregnancy and baby. The most important thing is that you get an ultrasound after 5 to 6 weeks of gestation to ensure there is proper development.
- Your doctor may offer you a transvaginal ultrasound to determine if there is a gestational sac. However, your HCG levels need to be 1,000 to 2,000 mIU/ml to see anything. Most doctors won’t do an ultrasound until your blood work shows at least 2,000 to make sure they see something.
- One bloodwork, HCG reading isn’t enough to determine the health of the pregnancy. You have to have multiple levels taken to determine if your levels are properly rising. That is key!
- HCG is NOT used to date your pregnancy.
There is a guideline as to what is normal for HCG at different stages in pregnancy. Normal varies for everyone. Remember, the doubling rate is more important than the actual level of HCG. Let’s take a look at the levels based on your last monthly period (LMP).
- 3 Weeks: 5 to 50 mIU/ml
- 4 Weeks: 5 to 426 mIU/ml
- 5 Weeks: 18 to 7,340 mIU/ml
- 6 Weeks: 1,080 to 56,500 mIU/ml
- 7 to 8 Weeks: 7,650 to 229,000 mIU/ml
- 9 to 12 Weeks: 25,700 to 288,000 mIU/ml
- 13 to 16 Weeks: 13,300 to 254,000 mIU/ml
- 17 to 24 Weeks: 4,060 to 165,400 mIU/ml
- 25 to 40 Weeks: 3,640 to 117,000 mIU/ml
Why Does HCG Matter?
If you are trying to determine when to take a pregnancy test, HCG matters a lot to the process. Home pregnancy tests use your urine to determine the amount of HCG in your system. While each test has its unique sensitivity level, they all look for HCG. If you test too early, you may not have a sufficient amount in your system to get a positive reading, if you are pregnant.
When we look at the process of conception, we see that the entire thing can take a long time. The length varies from woman to woman, pregnancy to pregnancy. During one pregnancy, your fertilized egg might implant early and produce HCG at a fast rate. During the next pregnant, it may take a few extra days for the fertilized egg to implant and start producing HCG. If the HCG is rising slowly, it could take even longer to determine.
Let’s take a look at this example.
- Your egg is successfully fertilized and begins its journey down the fallopian tubes. The journey takes eight long days. Upon arrival in the uterus, it implants nine days post ovulation. At this point, you are officially pregnant, but there is little HCG in your system, around five mIU/ml. No test detects that low yet. It takes a few days to double, so 11 to 12 days post ovulation, your levels are at ten mIU/ml. Even at this level, there is only one type of test that might detect it. It needs to continue to double to detect. So, 48 to 72 hours later, you are now 13 to 14 days post ovulation, with levels of 20 mIU/ml. There is a good chance that a pregnancy test will pick up the positive result. However, you had to wait until your period is nearly due to get a positive!
Is Slow Rising HCG Normal?
Before you get worried that you may be pregnant, but it is rising too slowly, take a breath. Chances are, if the egg is fertilized and working towards its goal, you will soon know that you are pregnant. It just takes some time for the process to take place.
Most HCG levels will double within 48 to 72 hours, but you could just have levels that are on the lower side. If it waits until the 72 hours to double, it could take three days to go from 10 to 20 mIU/ml. That is a long time! That means it would take three more days to reach 40mIU/ml!
Slow rising HCG or lower levels can be totally normal and lead to a healthy pregnancy. Of course, there are some other reasons that could cause this such as:
- Miscalculation of pregnancy dating
- Miscarriage or blighted ovum
- Ectopic pregnancy
Before you worry about any of the negative reasons, you should talk to your doctor. Chances are everything normal, and your levels will continue to rise, even if they stay at the lower end of normal.
Signs of Early Pregnancy
As your HCG levels start to increase, your body may start producing signs of early pregnancy. Between four to five weeks pregnant, you are unlikely to have signs of pregnancy, but they are on their way! These signs happen because of the increase in HCG and progesterone. Let’s take a look at what you may notice happening with your body, even before you take a pregnancy test.
- Acne or Blemishes: One of the first ways that I know I am pregnant is that my skin goes crazy. Overnight, you may notice that you have a rapid growth of acne on your face. You are transported back, in your mind, to your tough teenager years. Rapidly increasing hormones are to blame.
- Cramping: Yes, cramping can be normal. Each pregnancy, for me, has brought cramps on earlier and earlier. Now, I experience cramps between four to five weeks because your uterus starts to stretch early. The cramps shouldn’t be overwhelming. Think of light tugging.
- Sore Breasts: If the stream of water in your shower hits your nipples, it may not be very comfortable. Sore nipples can start quickly.
- Nausea: While this isn’t the earliest sign, it is the one that everyone dreads. 6 weeks tends to be the time when morning sickness takes over your life.
- Constipation: Hormones can also lead to bowel movement problems. Lovely, right? Your body may alternate between constipation and not, leading to ponder what in the world is happening.
- Bloating: Yes, bloating can happen very quickly. You aren’t showing yet, but your body is telling you there is some major work happening inside of here.
This list is far from exhaustive. Everyone is unique, and their symptoms will vary. These are just a few things to look for as the time to take a pregnancy test nears.
Picking the Right Pregnancy Test
There are even more things to consider when determining when to take a pregnancy test. You have to make sure that you pick the right one! Let’s take a look at the most popular choices on the market based on mom reviews.
- First Response Early Results: The first test that we have to list is the First Response Early Results. It is the test that will give you the earliest possible positive on the market, detecting HCG levels as low as 6.5 mIU/ml. First Response claims that you have a 76% chance of discovering pregnancy six days before you miss your period if you are pregnant. So, if you want to know and don’t want to wait the full 14 days, this pregnancy test is the one you want, even if they are a bit pricey.
- Easy @ Home Urine Test Strips: If you want to order pregnancy tests in bulk, one of the highest rated choice on the market is by Easy @ Home. These are budget friendly, so you can take them multiple times a day if you want! These tests detect HCG levels around 25mIU/ml and will display results within 3 to 5 minutes.
- Clinical Guard HCG Pregnancy Test Strips: Here is another choice that you can buy in bulk, saving yourself some money. They come in packs of 20 test strips, with a sensitivity level of 25 mIU/ml. They are easy to use and easy to read. One line indicates a negative result. Two lines mean positive for pregnancy!
- Clear Blue Plus Pregnancy Test: Besides First Response, the second largest brand for pregnancy tests is Clear Blue. You can find these tests at any local grocery store. They are fast and accurate, using blue dye. Some moms don’t like blue dye tests because they claim that they are more likely to give false positives. However, Clear Blue has fantastic reviews, so it is worth a try. Their sensitive rating is close to 20 mIU/ml. Results are displayed with either a + indicating a pregnancy or a – to indicate negative for pregnancy.
- Clear Blue Digital Pregnancy Test with Smart Countdown: Are you sick of staring at the pregnancy tests trying to determine if you see an actual line or if your eyes are playing tricks on you? If so, Clear Blue Digital Pregnancy Tests are the way for you to go. They are 99% accurate from the day of your expected period. Unlike other digital tests, Clear Blue has a smart countdown that lets you know that it is working, as it counts down to your results. Results show up between one and three minutes, displaying either NOT PREGNANT or PREGNANT. There is no way to mess that up!
- E.P.T.: EPT, or Early Pregnancy Test, is a brand that you can find in your local grocery store. They provide easy to read results that are 99% accurate from the day of your expected period. These tests use blue dye to either produce a + or – to indicate your results. Some moms don’t like these types of test and think they can be hard to read. However, they are still easy to use and cost effective.
How to Take a Urine Home Pregnancy Test
Have you ever taken a home pregnancy test before? If not, you will want to make sure that you are doing it properly to get accurate results. While every test may have different requirements, the general directions are all the same. Make sure to take out the instructions before use and read them, especially if you are using different brands. Here are the general steps to follow.
- Cup or Not: First, you have to decide if you want to pee directly on the pregnancy test or if you want to collect a urine sample in a cup. Some tests, such as the bulk strips, only allow you to dip the strip into collected urine. Personally, I think dipping the tests in collected urine gives a more accurate reading, decreasing the risk of oversaturating the test strips. Plus, you are less likely to pee on your hand.
- Collect a Sample: The next step is actually to take the test. Take it out of the package wrap and decide your route. Read the instructions first. It will tell you how long it needs to be submerged in urine. Typically, it is five seconds. No matter the method you picked, the five seconds is the same. Either hold it in the stream or the cup for five seconds. Then, remove and put the cap back on. Leave on a flat surface.
- Wait: The hardest part is that you have to wait! Most pregnancy tests will display results between three and five minutes. Until that time, wash your hands and get a drink as you wait for the results.
- Read the Results: Now the time has arrived. Take a look and see what the results have to say! The results can be displayed in a multitude of ways. If you opted for the digital test, they would say NOT PREGNANT or PREGNANT, both of which are easy to understand. If you picked a line pregnancy test, there will either be just one line (not pregnant) or two lines (pregnant). Even if the second line is light, it still indicates a pregnancy!
- Disregard After 10 Minutes: Once 10 minutes has passed, stop reading the test. As time passes, the test strip inside of the test begins to dry up. Reading a test after 10 minutes could lead to you noticing an evaporation line. These are formed as the strip begins to dry. Sometimes, the test line will show through as it dries. You might think this means positive, but it doesn’t. On the other hand, if you had a positive result within the first ten minutes, the line will continue to get darker, and that’s ok! The test line will naturally darken over time as it sits and dries. That is fine.
To Test Early or Not
When you are waiting those long two weeks, it can feel like an eternity to the final answers. You may be tempted to take a test before your period is due. I will be honest; I almost always test starting between nine and ten days post ovulation. The temptation and curiosity are too much for me to handle, but I’ve learned a few things that you may want to consider.
- If you test early, you may not get a positive result, even if you are pregnant. We have discussed all of the variables and why you might not get an early positive. If you decide to give it a try, don’t get upset or worry yet. You aren’t out of the game yet.
- Testing early is emotional for many women. You don’t want to get upset, but two negative tests in a row can break your heart. Are you willing to accept that?
- You might catch a chemical pregnancy. Have you ever heard of them? You might not have, but they are essentially very early miscarriages. The fertilized egg doesn’t implant properly, so it isn’t able to grow right. I have had three, and I only knew because I tested so early. By the time my period was late, the positive results were gone. It can bring on even more emotions.
- Squinting for a line can consume hours of your life. It seems strange to think something like this can become an obsession, but it is true. It isn’t uncommon for women to buy dozens of tests so that they can test continuously for days. You are always on the lookout for a positive line.
- You are more likely to experience an evaporation line because you’ll want to stare at those test for well after the 10-minute mark.
When is the Best Time to Take a Pregnancy Test?
Most doctors will tell you that you should wait until you have officially missed your period before you pick up a pregnancy test. A later implantation date or slow rising HCG could delay when you get your positive results if you truly conceived.
The longer that you wait, the better and clearer the results will be. When I waited until my period was two days late, I had solid lines. There was no denying the obvious positive pregnancy results in front of my husband and I. Instead of squinting, we knew within minutes the answer to the burning question in our mind.
If you want to know when to take a pregnancy test, it is best to wait until you are 14 days post ovulation. However, I understand that appeal. If you don’t think that you can wait for this longer, I highly recommend that you wait until at least 11 or 12 days post ovulation. At this point, you have a higher chance of receiving an accurate result without having to go cross-eyed looking for a second line.
Taking a pregnancy test should be exciting. Timing it right means that the result you receive is accurate, and you don’t have to wonder if it’s real. Remember, try to wait as long as possible. If you do want to take a test between nine and ten days post ovulation, opt for a First Response test. Finding out six days before missing your period is pretty awesome and lucky!