The earliest sign of pregnancy and the reason most pregnant women initially see a physician is missing a menstrual period. For sexually active women who are of reproductive age and have regular periods, missing a period for ≥ 1 wk is presumptive evidence of pregnancy.
Pregnancy is considered to last 266 days from the time of conception or 280 days from the first day of the last menstrual period if periods occur regularly every 28 days. Delivery date is estimated based on the last menstrual period. Delivery up to 2 wk earlier or later than the estimated date is normal.
Symptoms and Signs
Pregnancy may cause breasts to be engorged because of increased levels of estrogen (primarily) and progesterone—an extension of premenstrual breast engorgement. Nausea, occasionally with vomiting, may occur because of increased secretion of estrogen and the β subunit of human chorionic gonadotropin (β-hCG) by syncytial cells of the placenta, beginning 10 days after fertilization (see Conception and Prenatal Development). The corpus luteum in the ovary, stimulated by β-hCG, continues secreting large amounts of estrogen and progesterone to maintain the pregnancy. Many women become fatigued at this time, and a few women notice abdominal bloating very early. Women usually begin to feel fetal movement between 16 and 20 wk.
Pelvic examination findings include a softer cervix and an irregularly softened, enlarged uterus. The cervix usually becomes bluish to purple, probably because blood supply to the uterus is increased. Around 12 wk gestation, the uterus extends above the true pelvis into the abdomen; at 20 wk, it reaches the umbilicus; and by 36 wk, the upper pole almost reaches the xiphoid process.
Usually urine and occasionally blood tests are used to confirm or exclude pregnancy; results are usually accurate several days before a missed menstrual period and often as early as several days after conception. Levels of β-hCG, which correlate with gestational age in normal pregnancies, can be used to determine whether a fetus is growing normally. The best approach is to compare 2 serum β-hCG values, obtained 48 to 72 h apart and measured by the same laboratory. In a normal single pregnancy, β-hCG levels double about every 1.4 to 2.1 days during the first 60 days (7.5 wk), then begin to decrease between 10 and 18 wk. Regular doubling of the β-hCG level during the 1st trimester strongly suggests normal growth.
Other accepted signs of pregnancy include the following:
Last full review/revision June 2007 by Haywood L. Brown, MD
Content last modified March 2012