Early Pregnancy Symptoms—In the First Month
When exactly does the first month of pregnancy begin? What symptoms should you expect, and when should you expect them?
These are all questions I had myself, and I will provide answers to them in this article. To begin, it's important to define what the "first month of pregnancy" actually means.
Surprisingly, most women (and this included myself!) don't realise exactly when their first month began until they discover that they are pregnant and are sitting in the doctor's office having their due date calculated!
The First Month of Pregnancy
The convention to measure how many weeks pregnant you are is to count the number of weeks that have passed since your last menstrual period. Since you are most likely to conceive two weeks after your period, this means that when people talk about the first month of pregnancy, they are effectively talking about the two weeks before you conceived and the two weeks after you conceived. So although you're officially "one month pregnant," you've only actually been pregnant for two weeks! Is that confusing or what?
This strange convention is used because most people can't be 100 percent sure of their dates of conception, and this method at least provides a standard starting point.
What's surprising is that, though you might only actually be two-weeks pregnant, you may well experience one or more pregnancy symptoms by the end of your first month. However, as many early pregnancy symptoms are very similar to pre-menstrual symptoms, it is sometimes impossible to tell the difference. Though you will want to know sooner, the only sure way to know whether you are pregnant is through a pregnancy test, which you should take on the first day of your missed period.
What Symptoms Might You Expect During That First Month?
The pregnancy symptoms that you may experience during the first month are numerous and varied. In addition to possible spotting and a missed period, they can include any of the symptoms typical of the first trimester, as well as symptoms usually associated with pre-menstruation.
Many of these symptoms are caused by the pregnancy hormones which begin to release in the mother's body when the embryo implants itself into her uterus, and this is why some women feel symptoms so early.
Here is a menu of possible symptoms that you may or may not have during this time:
- Spotting—Light implantation bleeding approximately one week after conception.
- Mood swings—Since these may come when you're expecting your period, they are often not recognised as a pregnancy sign.
- Breast tenderness—This can also be a rather confusing symptom, but it may be more extreme than normal tenderness that develops before your period. You might also notice visible veins on your breasts and your nipples becoming darker.
- Stomach cramps—As with breast tenderness, these might be worse than normal pre-menstrual cramps and last for longer than normal. Together with a late period, this might well signify pregnancy, though it will not be for certain.
- 'Feeling pregnant'—Sometimes you just know!
- Tiredness—You may feel fatigue, as your body is working extremely hard to develop your baby.
- Frequent urination—This is caused by your kidneys working over time to process the extra body fluid a pregnancy accumulates as well as by the hCG pregnancy hormone. Later on, the same symptom will be caused by the baby putting pressure on your bladder.
- Morning sickness or nausea—Contrary to the name, this can actually happen at any time of day.
- Food cravings and aversions—Most people have heard about food cravings in pregnancy; foods you've always loved might also suddenly become repulsive to you.
- Heartburn—In early pregnancy, this is thought to be caused by the hormone progesterone. (Later on it is caused by the baby putting pressure on your abdomen.)
- Constipation—This is also caused by progesterone. Progesterone is a muscle-relaxing hormone that comes in handy when you're giving birth, but it can be a pain when it also acts on intestinal muscles and slows things down a little too much.
- Feeling faint—Faintness is another side effect of progesterone, which can also relax your blood vessels, causing blood pressure to drop and dizziness to occur.
- Increased hunger—Often described as 'incredible' hunger—remember, you're eating for two, even if one of you is very, very small.
- Heightened sense of smell—It's not known for certain why this happens, but one theory is hormones (again!). This time, it's estrogen, which also increases during pregnancy.
- Headaches—There are many reasons for headaches during the first month of pregnancy; stress may be one of them, but hormones and the increased volume of blood caused by pregnancy can also be factors.
- Backache—Back pain, particularly in the lumbar regions, is another possible negative side effect of that pesky progesterone hormone. It can loosen the ligaments around your pelvis, which can result in instability and pain.
- Thrush (AKA yeast infection)—This is an unfortunate symptom, brought about by pregnancy hormones altering the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina. For some women, this is a very early pregnancy sign.
- Missed period—Some women fail to realize that they have missed their periods because they mistake spotting for their menstrual cycles. This can sometimes lead to confusion with their due dates. If the bleeding is very light, you may have missed your period.
When Might You Get Your First Pregnancy Symptom?
Like any month of pregnancy, this first one differs greatly from woman to woman.
The timing of that first pregnancy symptom also varies widely—both between women and between each of their pregnancies. People have reported feeling their pregnancy:
- At conception. Some women claim to have felt conception, either as a pain or as some other sensation. (This is disputed by the medical profession, but who can say for sure?)
- One week after conception. You might notice some very light bleeding, known as "spotting," as early as one week after conception. This is caused by the fertilised egg implanting in the lining of the uterus. Although it is noticeably lighter than a period, people often mistake it for one, especially as spotting can be accompanied by mood swings, cramping, and breast tenderness.
- At the end of month one. Many people start to suspect pregnancy when they miss a period. This is often the first symptom, and by this point, you can verify with a pregnancy test.
- Months (as many as nine) into the pregnancy. Some women may not experience any symptoms at all during the first month. And it is possible, particularly if you have irregular periods, to go several months without realising that you're pregnant! In rare cases, unsuspecting women have been admitted to the emergency ward with mysterious stomach pains—only to learn that they are in labor. This has happened to someone I know, so it's not just something that happens on TV.
What Happens During the First Month of Pregnancy?
Below is a video of how a baby develops during its first month. Knowledge of the biology taking place can help explain many of the symptoms, such as spotting.
The One Sure Way to Tell if You're Pregnant
Although these are common first month pregnancy symptoms, it's important to be aware that they may not necessarily indicate pregnancy. They can also be premenstrual symptoms, signs of other medical conditions, or the result of factors such as a change in a your diet or stress. So if you experience these symptoms at an early stage, it is a sign that you should take a pregnancy test—that's the only way to be certain.
If at the end of month one, you have already experienced some (or many) of these symptoms and discover that you are indeed pregnant, it may be a bit depressing to think that you still have another 36 weeks to go! However, be assured that some of these symptoms, particularly morning sickness, mood swings, and tiredness, will gradually ease off by the beginning of your second trimester. In fact, the second trimester is usually a time of renewed energy and a general feeling of wellbeing!
And even if that's not the case for you, pregnancy doesn't last forever, and it will all be worth it in the end!
If you've been pregnant, when did you have your first pregnancy symptom or know that you were pregnant?
Note on poll (29/11/09):
I find it very interesting that so many women (30 percent of the 366 who have voted so far) realised that they were pregnant or had their first pregnancy symptom just one week after conception. I had expected a much bigger majority to say that they hadn't realised until they had missed their period.
Thanks for voting, and if you haven't voted yet, please do!