Unintended or Unplanned Pregnancy: Symptoms & Effects

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

An unplanned pregnancy can be a disruptive, surprising, and potentially worrying development in your life, and it happens to thousands of people every year. Since unplanned pregnancies are time-sensitive conditions, it is important to understand the potential signs and symptoms, ways to prevent them, and potential options if they do occur.

What is Unplanned Pregnancy?

Quite simply, an unplanned pregnancy is an unintended or unwanted pregnancy. When it comes to sexual intercourse, there is always the risk of pregnancy and provided a woman hasn’t entered menopause, pregnancy is always possible. There are many safeguards and contraceptive methods that can lower your chances of conceiving a child, but even birth control is not 100% effective. Since the vast majority of the adult population is sexually active in one form or another, unplanned pregnancies are very common.

A large percentage of women will experience an unplanned pregnancy at some point in their lives, which can elicit a mixed bag of feelings, from relief or joy to confusion and fear. Despite any precautions you might take to avoid getting pregnant, if you are having sex, you are at risk of conceiving a child. [1]

A woman holding a pregnancy test and looking worried

All the best! Photo Credit: Shutterstock

How does it Happen?

A common reason for an unplanned pregnancy is when a couple doesn’t use birth control of any kind. This sort of behavior is considered irresponsible or dangerous in some situations, but can also be a form of “freedom” for couples who are monogamous and ready to enter a new stage of life. In many cases, these couples aren’t tracking ovulation cycles and are not actively trying to conceive or prevent. In these situations, an unplanned pregnancy is often welcomed.

In many other situations, birth control methods fail for one reason or another. There are many tried and tested ways to prevent a pregnancy, including the use of condoms, IUDs, and birth control pills, among others, but these are not 100% effective. Some of these can have prevention rates of up to 99%, but there is always a chance that a condom will break or a birth control pill will fail. In these situations, an unplanned pregnancy often comes as a much bigger surprise, because people tend to trust their birth control methods implicitly. [2]

Even some of the more permanent means of birth control, such as a vasectomy, are not 100% guaranteed to prevent pregnancy. The only 100% guaranteed birth control method is abstinence, or a woman entering menopause. [3]

How to Identify an Unplanned Pregnancy?

There are many signs that indicate an unplanned pregnancy – the basic symptoms of early pregnancy – such as a lack of menstruation, appetite changes, nausea, unexpected vaginal bleeding or spotting, vomiting, cramps, back pain, mood swings, fatigue, and frequent urination. The majority of these symptoms are the result of early hormonal fluctuations in the body, the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus, or the beginning of your body’s adjustment to make room for the growing fetus. [4]

While many of these symptoms on their own can be explained away by other factors, if you regularly experience any of these common pregnancy symptoms, it is often a good clue that you may be experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

The most important part of identifying an unplanned pregnancy, of course, is to verify that you are indeed pregnant. This could consist of taking an at-home pregnancy test (urine) or scheduling a visit with a doctor for a more formal and accurate test (blood) or ultrasound. [5]

Unplanned Pregnancy Options

If you suspect that you are pregnant, or if your unplanned pregnancy has been confirmed, you do have various options – parenting, adoption or abortion. This can be a difficult and emotionally taxing decision, so take a proper amount of time before moving forward.


Once you discover that you are pregnant, parenting may seem like the normal outcome for some people. However, depending on how old you are, who the father is, where you are at in your life, how much money you have, or what goals you are currently working towards, parenting may not be the right choice for you. That being said, parenting can be a challenging and rewarding experience that opens a new chapter of responsibility in your life. [6]


Adoption is another option for unplanned pregnancy when a woman does not want to get an abortion but is unable to care for a child. There are thousands of couples who cannot have a child of their own but are looking to open their lives and homes to an unplanned child. Adoption services are readily available for mothers with unplanned pregnancies, as the desire to care for these children is so great. [7]


If you have no interest in being pregnant at that point in your life, terminating the pregnancy is your final option. If you know that birth control failed, or if you didn’t use birth control at all, there are ways to take immediate action – such as the morning-after pill – but this is only viable in the first 48 hours after conception. A formal abortion can also be administered in certain clinics, depending on the legality of abortion in your respective country. [8]

How to Deal with an Unplanned Pregnancy?

If you discover that you have an unplanned pregnancy, some of the best tips on what to do next include talking to your doctor, seeking out a support network, and evaluating your emotions.


Speaking to a doctor to confirm the pregnancy and then discussing your various options can be an excellent first step. [9]


Seek out advice or counsel from an intimate support network, either your friends, partner or other women who have faced a similar decision. [10]


Evaluate your own emotions about parenting and honestly assess your capability to support and provide for a healthy baby in the coming years. [11]


After taking the necessary amount of time to consider your options and analyze your own feelings on this emotional situation, you will need to make a choice that is in the best interest of both you and the unborn baby.

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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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