Marissa is the writer of "ThePracticalMommy" and owner of Mommy Knows What's Best. She's a former teacher and a stay-at-home mom to four.
When Can I Take a Pregnancy Test?
"Am I pregnant? What are pregnancy symptoms? When can I take a pregnancy test?"
When you are trying to conceive and have a baby, you might constantly imagine you're experiencing pregnancy symptoms. You start to feel the best-known pregnancy symptoms first: nausea, bloated belly, bigger breasts, the urge to use the bathroom every 5 minutes, etc. You may even develop cravings for certain foods. You might look in the mirror and know, just know, that a baby is growing inside.
Truth is, it might be all in your head.
Then How Will I Know?
You won't know for sure until you take a pregnancy test. When you're trying to conceive, one of the hardest things is waiting to take the home pregnancy test (HPT) and see a positive result, but you must wait 2 or 3 weeks from the time of ovulation. This can seem like forever, especially if you have been trying for awhile.
Below, I've gathered some facts and figures to give you something to do while you're waiting. Here, you will learn:
- how early you can expect to take a pregnancy test,
- how pregnancy tests work, and
- when you can expect accurate results based on your menstrual cycles.
When Will I Ovulate?
In order to know when you ovulate, you must know how long your menstrual cycle is. The average cycle lasts about 28 days but of course; there's a wide range of normal (anywhere from 23 to 35 days), so you can find out how long your cycle is by counting from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period.
Most women with regular periods ovulate sometime between the 11th and 16th day of their cycle. That means they may ovulate anywhere between 11 to 16 days after their last period started.
Starting about 4 or 5 days before ovulation, a woman‘s peak fertile time lasts about 5-7 days although there are only 1 or 2 days when she is most likely to become pregnant: the day prior to and the day of ovulation. But since the egg might be viable for 12-24 hours and sperm can live in the woman's body for 3-5 days, her most fertile time is considered to be about 5-7 days. Most ovulation charts stop at ovulation but you should continue trying to fertilize that egg for up to 24 hours after it's been released.
Still Need More Help?
But still, if you're trying to get pregnant, these numbers provide quite a wide and imprecise time frame. Plus, for many women who do not have regular periods, trying to figure out the dates of ovulation can be frustrating. What can you do?
- Take and chart your basal body temperature
- Take careful records of the length of your menstrual cycles
- Track your cervical mucus changes
- Use ovulation urine tests available at many stores to identify the LH surge
Read More From Wehavekids
Do You Track Your Cycles?
Free Android Apps for Tracking Ovulation and Periods
- My Days--Period & Ovulation (Christian Albert Mueller) (this is the one I use)
- Period Tracker (GP International LLC)
- Pink Pad Free (Alt12 Apps)
- Period and Ovulation Tracker (Tom Gustafson)
I Have an Irregular Cycle! Now What?
If you have an irregular cycle, you may need to use an ovulation kit to determine when your best chances for conception are. You can also speak with your doctor about how to determine your ovulation dates and how to help get your cycles on track.
When Is the Best Time to Get Pregnant?
Once you've narrowed down your time of ovulation (see above), then you have a better idea of when your egg is viable and ready to be fertilized by the sperm.
To better your chances of becoming pregnant, it is recommended that you have intercourse every other day around your time of ovulation. (If instead of using the other ovulation tests mentioned above you're relying on just your calendar records to figure out when you're fertile, that means after day 11 of your cycle you should have intercourse every other day, up until the 17th day.)
Why every other day? Why not every day for everyone? Once the sperm is released during intercourse, it takes nearly a full day for the man's body to replenish the sperm supply. If you have intercourse every day, it decreases the chances that there will be enough quality sperm that will be strong enough to reach the egg. This is not true for all, of course, but it should be considered.
Early Pregnancy Symptoms
How Soon Can I Take a Pregnancy Test?
How Soon Can I Take a Pregnancy Test?
After intercourse, many women want to take the pregnancy test immediately. They may even feel all the symptoms I mentioned above, hoping they have a little bun in the oven.
Unfortunately, it is not that easy or quick. Let’s consider the cycle again. You probably ovulated sometime around day 11-16, so that means it will be about two weeks until your next expected period. Two weeks of waiting, wishing, and hoping…
When can you/should you take the test? Here’s the kicker: not for another two to three weeks.
Three weeks? You ask. When did it change to three?!? If you miss your period after waiting two weeks for it to appear, that’s great because the missed period is usually the first sign of pregnancy. Many women, though, who test on that very day will get a negative result on their ever-so-glorious pee stick, a.k.a the home pregnancy test.
What Hormone Do Pregnancy Tests Detect? What are mLUs?
Pregnancy tests detect the hormone hCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin. It is measured in mLus.
An mLu is a measurement of the hormone hCG as it is in urine. It stands for mili International Units. It is the standard way to measure hCG per milliliter of urine. Simply put, it is a measure of the concentration of hCG in the urine.
How Does a Pregnancy Test Work?
Home pregnancy tests, HPTs, rely on one thing: the hormone hCG. HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is the hormone used to detect a pregnancy. It is emitted by an embryo (a ball of cells that becomes a baby) after it attaches or implants itself to the uterine wall (where the baby will grow inside of you). When does that happen? Approximately 6-12 days after the date of conception.
So let’s look at our calendar again. 6 to 12 days after conception, which happened around the date of ovulation, hCG is emitted from the embryo, which should be the date of your expected period. So why wouldn't you get a positive result on that day?
HCG is emitted in small increments which increase as the embryo and its placenta grows. At first, right after conception, these increments of the hormone are so tiny that they will not be detected by a HPT. The amount of hCG grows more and more as days and weeks pass, but still may still not be enough to detect on the day of (or a few days before, as some tests proclaim) your expected period.
HPTs vary in the amount of hCG that can be detected. Some tests boast that they can detect as little as 10mlu of hCG to 25mlu of hCG, which means they might be able to detect a pregnancy as early as 7-10 days after conception. Those tests tend to be the ‘early response’ brands—ones you can use before an expected period—that cost a bit more than the average test. Other tests detect 25mlu-50mlu or more. These tests are better at detecting a pregnancy after a missed period.
So why is it better to wait three weeks to use a HPT? You are more likely to get a positive result from the test if you are indeed pregnant since your hCG levels will be higher.
If you test before your period and it’s negative but you still miss a period, you’ll retest again in a few days, using another test. What is that going to cost? Well, it depends on the brand, type of test, and how they are packaged. For one generic test at a dollar store, you’ll spend—you guessed it—a dollar. For one generic test at a supermarket, pharmacy, or a Target/Walmart, you’ll spend up to $3-$4. For name brand tests, you’ll spend around $5-$6. Sometimes, generic and name brand tests are packaged in twos and threes and cost anywhere from $10-$15. There are even some packages with four or five tests in them, costing upwards of $20-$25. Of course the manufacturers don't mind if you buy more tests so they can make more money.
Bottom line, if you start testing too soon, you’ll go through at least two tests, if not more. Just remember: don’t be obsessive about taking the tests. If you test negative one day, wait a few days and then retest, which will give your body time to build up the hCG if you are pregnant. If you insist on testing every day, you might end up spending a lot of money and causing yourself a lot of unnecessary confusion.
What to Do While Waiting to Take a Pregnancy Test
If you’re trying to conceive, waiting to take the test can seem like a lifetime. But there are some things you can do in the meantime. Until three weeks have passed, act as if you are already pregnant: get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, take your vitamins (especially those with folic acid), stop taking harmful medications (i.e. ibuprofen, etc.), and refrain from drinking alcohol and smoking.
How Many Weeks Do You Have to Wait to Get a Positive Result?
If you've been reading, you'll know that you may not be able to get a positive pregnancy result until you have missed your period. At that point, you may be considered four weeks pregnant, since pregnancy is dated from the first day of your last menstrual period, which is usually four weeks prior.
Some women may not get a positive pregnancy result until after their fourth week or later, depending on how the hCG builds up in their bodies.
Reading a Pregnancy Test
Doctor's Advice on Pregnancy Tests
What if the pregnancy test is false?
False negatives are common with home pregnancy tests, so you should prepare yourself for an incorrect result. If you feel like the result is not accurate, wait a day or so and test again.
My Positive Pregnancy Test
Faint Positive Pregnancy Test
When Can I Get a Positive Pregnancy Test?
Here’s where I can be pleasantly vague and say it’s different for every woman and it’s different with every pregnancy. Knowing when the best time for you to test depends on a few factors:
- Do you have a regular period and have you been tracking everything—periods, ovulation, intercourse—on a calendar? If this is you, you can probably, potentially test the day of your next expected period and get a positive result if you are pregnant. With my first pregnancy, I had been very, very regular with my menstrual cycles—always 25 days for 13+ years—and I had been tracking everything so I knew the day I missed my period that I was pregnant without even having any other symptoms. The moment I used the HPT, I saw a positive result. With my fourth pregnancy, I tested three days early and got a positive result. Is it like that for everybody? No, but it is possible.
- Do you have fairly regular periods but have not been very faithful about tracking everything? If this is you, I would wait until a few days after your missed period to take the test. If you’re not sure exactly when you might expect your period, go back to the last time you had your period and count about 30 days. If it has been more than 30 days, go ahead and take a HPT.
- Do you have irregular cycles? This is a tricky one, since there's no regular pattern to guide you. If this is you, I would suggest waiting for at least 35 days or more after your last period to take a HPT. Why so long? Sometimes women with irregular periods can have longer menstrual cycles, just as they can have really short cycles.
- Have you already taken a test after waiting a week after your missed period, but it’s negative? This is where it might get frustrating for women. If you have missed your period (assuming it’s at least fairly regular) and waited a week but still get a negative result, you may have to wait even longer. Sometimes, it takes longer for the hCG to build up. I know and have read about women who didn’t get positive results until after they were two months along or even further! I myself experienced this with my second pregnancy. I missed my period, took a test after a week, and was disappointed when it was negative. More than two weeks later, still having no period, I took another test, and lo and behold, I was indeed pregnant. At that point, I was nearly two and a half months along!