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What are early pregnancy symptoms?

Find out how to recognize the early pregnancy symptoms.

Women experiencing sluggishness and fatigue should consider visiting their doctor. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
Women experiencing sluggishness and fatigue should consider visiting their doctor.

The symptoms of early pregnancy can be subtle, but if you are planning on making changes to your diet and lifestyle once you become pregnant, it is important to familiarize yourself with these initial signs.

Pregnancy and Menstruation

The most obvious early pregnancy symptom is a missed menstrual period, though signs can start even earlier. Implantation bleeding takes place as the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus, about 10 to 14 days after the egg is fertilized. This bleeding tends to be lighter in color and spottier than a regular menstrual period. Cramping that is similar to normal menstrual cramps also may occur around this time.

Breast Tenderness

Another major early pregnancy symptom is breast tenderness. Breasts become swollen and tender to the touch, and veins in the breast tissue may become more prominent. In many women, the nipples also begin to darken. These breast changes can begin around two weeks after conception and happen due to an increase in the hormones HCG, estrogen and progesterone.


Fatigue is another symptom often reported in early pregnancy. A tired, sluggish feeling can be explained by changing hormones, in addition to the work the pregnant body is doing to produce more blood for the fetus. Fatigue is usually worst at the beginning of the pregnancy but can recede somewhat by the second trimester, after which it returns as the fetus becomes uncomfortably large toward the end of the third trimester.

Nausea and Morning Sickness

One of the most common early pregnancy symptoms is nausea, usually referred to as "morning sickness." Contrary to what its name implies, nausea can strike at any time of the day (or night) and, according to the Mayo Clinic, it can begin as early as two weeks after conception. Not every pregnant woman gets morning sickness, but these tips can help those who do: try eating smaller, more frequent meals; snack on saltines (keep them by the bedside and eat a couple before getting out of bed each morning); avoid greasy or salty foods; increase intake of leafy green vegetables and drink salty liquids like sports drinks and colas. In severe cases, morning sickness may require hospitalization to restore hydration and ensure the health of the fetus.

Food Cravings

Food cravings and aversions are common during the early stages of pregnancy. Aversions can be focused on food -- even foods that the woman used to enjoy -- or on scents. Strong scents like garbage or overpowering perfume can cause queasiness or even vomiting. On the other hand, pregnant women often have strong food cravings. Indulging cravings within reason is fine, and doing so can be particularly helpful for pregnant women suffering from morning sickness. Eating something that is appealing can go a long way toward helping keep it down. 

Most early pregnancy symptoms are caused by the flood of hormones that is particularly strong during the first trimester. The hormones cause physical symptoms like headache, backache, dizziness and frequent urination. They can also cause emotional symptoms such as moodiness and irritability. As such, mood swings are common in early pregnancy; it's easy to ride a surge of hormones from cheery good feelings all the way to weeping over something trivial. 

One final early pregnancy symptom to consider is a rise in basal body temperature (BBT), determined by a reading taken orally first thing in the morning. BBT rises around the time of ovulation, and it stays high until the next menstrual period begins. If BBT remains elevated, that's a good indicator that a woman is in the early stages of pregnancy.

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