“Are these end-of-the-month symptoms I’m experiencing pregnancy or regular PMS?” This is a difficult question to answer. Your regular pre-menstrual symptoms are caused by elevated progesterone levels in your body. The same thing happens during early pregnancy, shortly after conception. In a way, these symptoms arise every month after puberty because your body is naturally expecting to get pregnant.
Not being able to tell the difference between PMS and pregnancy symptoms can be extremely frustrating, especially if you and your partner are trying to conceive. The only surefire way to know whether or not you’re pregnant is either to visit a gynecologist or take a pregnancy test after your period is late. However, if you know what to look for you can make a reasonably educated guess about whether or not you’re pregnant this month. Here are a few things you should pay attention to.
Nausea: Almost always a sign of pregnancy
Nausea is typically not something that most women experience during their regular menstrual cycle. There are rare exceptions – some women do experience such intense pain from cramps that it causes them nausea and vomiting.
If you are experiencing nausea or queasiness before your period is due, I’d recommend you pay attention to your regular menstrual cycles from past months. Is nausea a common problem for you every month? If not, this is a good sign that yes you might be pregnant.
Fatigue: 50/50 chance between PMS and pregnancy
Rising levels of progesterone can cause extreme fatigue in both PMS and pregnancy. It can be difficult to use exhaustion as a sign that you are officially pregnant. My best advice would be to pay attention to how late your period is this month. This will be easiest if you have regular cycles.
You should track your cycle every month. It’s easy to do! All you need is a calendar. If you have extreme fatigue and your period is a few days late, the likelihood that you’re pregnant increases. At this point, it will also be much easier to confirm your suspicions with a pregnancy test.
Cramps & Spotting: 50/50 chance between PMS and pregnancy
Cramps are a common PMS symptom. Right before you start bleeding during your period, your uterine lining begins to detach and help slough off the dead (unfertilized) egg for that month. This causes a cramping sensation. Some women experience much more severe cramps than others. Typically the cramps will start to subside 48 hours after your period starts.
Women also experience cramps during pregnancy. It’s common for women to feel abdominal cramps when the fertilized egg embeds into the uterine wall. This can also cause spotting (see below). Unfortunately, both PMS cramps and cramps during early pregnancy are located in the lower abdomen and feel very similar. The cramps of early pregnancy will last many weeks longer than your regular period but you won’t be able to tell the cause of cramping immediately.
If you experience spotting it will be easier to pinpoint pregnancy. During implantation some women notice a few drops of dark brown blood in their underwear. Typically, your period will be bright red and much heavier than implantation spotting. Not all women will have bleeding during implantation. If you see a few drops of blood right before your scheduled period and your full period never arrives you are most likely pregnant.
Sore Breasts: 50/50 chance between PMS and pregnancy
Many women experience tender breasts a day or two before their period begins thanks to a monthly increase in progesterone. To differentiate between pregnancy and PMS you want to pay attention to when your breasts are getting sore. I’m always a big advocate of keeping track of your symptoms during your regular menstrual cycle. You should mark down in your calendar when these symptoms occur each month because our bodies often follow a regular pattern every cycle.
If you experience breast tenderness or swelling 24 to 48 hours before your period regularly begins it’s probably just a symptom of your regular menstrual cycle. However if the breast tenderness begins a week or two after conception, which would be two to three weeks before your regular menstrual cycle is scheduled to start, then there’s an increased chance you might be pregnant.
When your egg is fertilized after conception it causes the increase in progesterone to happen earlier than it normally would on a regular month. You’ll notice that breast tenderness much sooner in this instance.
Mood Swings: 50/50 chance between PMS and pregnancy
Mood swings are difficult indicators of pregnancy. They vary quite a bit from woman to woman. The severity of emotional mood swings that an individual woman experiences each month can also fluctuate based on the things that are happening in her life at that moment.
Mood swings are caused by – you guessed it – a rapid increase in hormones. Some women begin to experience mood swings and unexplained crying a week after conception. Others don’t experience any anxiety or emotional behavior until a few weeks after their missed period. So mood swings can be a good indicator of pregnancy but only on an individual basis. Many symptoms of pregnancy are subjective. It depends on the experience of each woman.
Acne: Subjective; can be a good indicator of pregnancy
Acne can be a very good indicator of pregnancy if you regularly experience some hormonal acne during your regular menstrual cycle. A few days before my period began I always got 3 or 4 large zits on my chin or cheek. Of course, I was horrified that my face looked like a pizza. Little did I know what would happen during my pregnancy…
If you get acne as a response to the monthly increase in progesterone then there is a very high chance you will get much more intense breakouts after conception. Your body will continue to produce high levels of progesterone during the nine months that you’re pregnant and you will react to these hormones intensely during your first trimester, before your body becomes somewhat used to its new chemical makeup.
From the very first week of conception my entire face broke out so intensely it looked like I had been stung by many angry bees. This was the first symptom that led me to believe we had conceived successfully. So if your body breaks out in sync with your hormonal cycles, chances are acne will be a good indicator of pregnancy. Not every woman will experience this though. Some find that their skin improves as the pregnancy progresses. It is a unique experience to each individual woman.
Excessive Bloating: 30/70 chance between PMS and pregnancy
Bloating is a common response to PMS thanks to the sudden increase in progesterone. It’s the reason that you can’t easily fit into your skinny jeans a few days before your period starts. Tight tops might give you a “muffin top” for a day or two. When your period begins the bloating subsides and your weight returns to normal.
A week or two after conception many women experience severe bloating that does not go away. Unlike PMS bloating, which usually affects the thighs, hips and stomach slightly, bloating after conception is often marked and much more intense. If your jeans and tops no longer fit you at all – if it seems like you’ve gone from a small to a medium overnight – chances are you might be pregnant.
The sudden increase in weight gain is due to much higher amounts of progesterone that enter your body shortly after conception. It will go away as your pregnancy develops.
Tell us! When did you first know you were pregnant? What was the symptom that made you go – “yep, this month’s different”? Write about it in the comments section below.