Early Pregnancy Symptoms and Signs

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

When you start experiencing pregnancy symptoms, it can be an extremely exciting time in your life, but it comes along with thousands of other things to think about. Understanding the scope and scale of pregnancy symptoms can help give you more peace of mind as you begin this important stage of your life.

When do Pregnancy Symptoms begin?

Traditional pregnancy symptoms typically begin at 4 weeks, right around the time when you would be getting your period. That missed period is often the first indication of pregnancy, although some women experience other symptoms earlier on, following the hormonal release of implantation and fertilization. After you realize that you have missed a period, some of the other easily dismissible symptoms, such as tiredness, nausea or irritability, may become more noticeable. [1]

While some women experience very few symptoms of pregnancy, and may not even be aware they are pregnant until a more formal test is administered, 4 weeks is the typical start time for most pregnancy symptoms.

Early Pregnancy Symptoms

Early pregnancy symptoms are those symptoms that occur in the time before your first missed period, some of which will be ongoing throughout your first trimester. Some of these symptoms include fatigue, mood swings, cramping, nausea, vomiting, missed periods, breast tenderness, spotting and food aversions, among others.


One of the first symptoms of pregnancy is also one of the easiest to miss. In our fast-paced world, feeling a bit run down is normal, so the fatigue that strikes after you become pregnant can often go unnoticed. However, in some cases, fatigue can be quite severe as your body starts to adjust and compensate for the baby it is about to grow. [2]

Mood Swings

Irritability and mood swings are a symptom of early pregnancy due to the sudden release of hormones in your body, including progesterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This can cause alterations in your mood, sleep schedule, patience and tolerance for certain activities.


As soon as your body notices that it is present, it will begin the rapid process of changing your body to accommodate a new baby. This can cause cramping in the pelvic area, similar to what you might experience before a menstrual cycle. This cramping may continue throughout the pregnancy and may be hard to identify. For example, getting cramps is often a signal that you are on your period, whereas cramping caused by pregnancy means precisely the opposite thing. [3]

Nausea and Vomiting

Morning sickness is perhaps the most famous and well-known side effect of becoming pregnant. Nausea and vomiting can begin as early as the 4th week and may last throughout the first trimester. While this symptom usually reduces in your second and third trimesters, this uncomfortable part of pregnancy is difficult to avoid – more than 80% of pregnant women experience this particular symptom. [4]

Missed Period

Many women use a missed period as their monthly measuring stick for whether or not they are pregnant. When a period is missed, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant; sometimes, period cycles can be disrupted, and late periods are common. However, if you completely miss a period, and you are typically quite regular, it may be time to take a pregnancy test. [5]

Breast Tenderness

When your body releases its burst of hormones following implantation, the rest of your body begins to react, including the tissues of your breasts. Your breasts will need to begin producing milk, and this can result in soreness, tenderness, and swelling in your breasts. [6]

Changes in Appetite

If you notice a sudden shift in your appetite, either extreme hunger or loss of appetite, it could be an early symptom of pregnancy. Your tastes may also change; strange food cravings will come over you, which typically signals a deficiency in a certain nutrient that your body wants. [7]

Bleeding or Spotting

Early in pregnancy, some bleeding will almost inevitably occur, specifically 5-12 days after conception, when implantation of the fertilized egg occurs. A small amount of spotting or bleeding is nothing to worry about, but consistent bleeding is a cause to speak with your doctor. [8]

Pregnancy Symptoms Week by Week

For many mothers, knowing precisely what to expect can be a major comfort, so a week-by-week guide can be extremely helpful. It is important to note, however, that all women are different, and symptoms may come earlier or later than this brief summary suggests. This represents the average – when most women experience these types of physiological, behavioral, and emotional symptoms.

Weeks 1-2

You are not pregnant yet, but these are the two weeks before ovulation, so there are no obvious symptoms other than a normal menstrual cycle.

Weeks 3-4

At some point here, your egg will be fertilized and then begin moving through your Fallopian tubes to the uterus. There, it will implant in the uterus wall, and you are officially “pregnant”. You may experience some bleeding after implantation occurs.

Weeks 5-8

You will begin to experience changes in your blood pressure, and will also feel some early signs of pregnancy, such as cramping, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.

Weeks 9-12

Your breasts will continue to swell and will remain tender, and your nausea symptoms may worsen. Your nipples may grow in size and change color, and you may gain 2-3 pounds of weight.

Weeks 13-16

Your blood pressure will continue to fluctuate, and you may experience dizziness and additional fatigue. Nausea will likely lessen, but your breasts will remain tender.

Weeks 17-20

You may start to experience constipation, and your breasts will continue to swell. Your nausea should be almost finished by this point, but the aches and pains may be worse, as the fetus is beginning to move in your womb.

Weeks 21-24

Your breasts may start producing small drops of milk that leak out of your nipples, and your shortness of breath, constipation, and dizziness will continue. Some women experience very small contractions during this period, which can be worrying but are quite normal.

Weeks 25-28

As your uterus begins to grow more rapidly, your back aches and pains will likely worsen, as will cramping. You should experience less dizziness as your blood pressure begins to normalize.

Weeks 29-32

You may be urinating much more frequently, and experience small contractions or cramping in your pelvis. Varicose veins and swelling of the ankles and legs is common, due to the excess weight, which will also affect your back pain and inflammation.

Weeks 33-36

You will experience more stretch marks and varicose veins, as well as swollen feet and aches and pains. You will need to rest more, as fatigue is frequent, and your issues with constipation and heartburn will likely continue or worsen until you deliver.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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