Pregnancy happens when an egg is fertilized by sperm in the fallopian tubes. Once fertilized, the cells start to multiply and grow. The zygote, or fertilized egg, travels down into the uterus and becomes what’s called a morula. In the uterus, the morula becomes a blastocyst and eventually burrows into the uterine lining in a process called implantation.
Although some women report feeling cramping or pain during the implantation process, not everyone will experience this symptom. Here’s more about implantation cramping, as well as other early pregnancy signs and when you might want to take a pregnancy test.
The symptoms of early pregnancy can vary greatly from woman to woman. Some women experience mild implantation cramping several days after ovulation, while others do not.
Why might you feel cramping? To achieve pregnancy, the fertilized egg must attach to the uterine lining. Once the egg travels down the fallopian tubes and becomes a blastocyst, it begins the process of implantation in the uterus. Implanting gives the blastocyst a blood supply so that it can start growing into a fetus.
Along with cramping, you may experience what is called implantation bleeding or spotting. This usually happens 10 to 14 days after conception, around the time of your usual period. Implantation bleeding is usually much lighter than your regular menstrual period bleeding.
What other symptoms are possible?
There are many other early pregnancy symptoms you can watch for. It’s important to note that although some women may have all of these and be pregnant, the reverse is also possible. Many of these symptoms can also be caused by hormonal changes or other conditions.
Early pregnancy symptoms can include:
- Missed period: A missed period is one of the most telltale signs of early pregnancy. If yours is relatively regular and you notice it’s late, you may be pregnant.
- Breast tenderness: You may notice that your breasts swell or feel tender as your hormones change.
- Moodiness: If you find yourself more emotional than usual, hormonal changes may be to blame.
- Food aversions: You may become sensitive to different tastes or smells, especially with food.
- Bloating: While bloating is common before starting your period, it’s also a possible sign of pregnancy. Any hormonal change can trigger bloating.
- Nasal congestion: Hormones may make the mucous membranes in your nose swell and feel runny or stuffy. You may also experience nose bleeds.
- Constipation: Hormonal changes can also slow your body’s digestive system down.
There’s only a short window of time in which the blastocyst can implant into your uterine wall. This window usually includes days 6 through 10 after conception.
By this time, your estrogen levels are lowering and your uterine wall is being prepared to accept implantation by the hormone progesterone.
If the blastocyst does implant into the uterine wall, your body will begin forming portions of placenta. Within two weeks, there will be enough of the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone present to trigger a positive pregnancy test result.
Other early pregnancy symptoms may begin to develop shortly after successful implantation.
If pregnancy hasn’t occurred, your estrogen levels will build up again and the uterine wall will prepare to shed itself. The onset of your period will reset your menstrual cycle.
Although you may be tempted to take a pregnancy test at the first sign of pregnancy, you’ll need to wait one to two weeks.
The hormone hCG must build up in your body before it can show up on either a urine or blood test. If you take a pregnancy test before hCG has had time to build up, you may get a false negative.
Urine tests may turn positive between 12 and 15 days after ovulation. You can see your doctor for a urinalysis or pick up an over-the-counter (OTC) test at your local pharmacy. Not all OTC tests are created equally, though, so make sure you read the packaging. Some tests are more sensitive than others, and the symbols tied to each result differ from test to test.
If you want to confirm the results of your urine test — or if you want a faster result — talk to your doctor about getting a blood test. The hormone hCG can be detected in the blood as soon as a week after conception.
See your doctor
Remember, some women will experience implantation cramping and some won’t. In many cases, this cramping is mild, and it may not be accompanied by bleeding or spotting.
There are many signs and symptoms of early pregnancy, so if you suspect you may be pregnant, consider taking a home pregnancy test or calling your doctor to schedule lab testing.
There are many other reasons why you might experience cramping between periods. This includes Mittelschmerz, a German word that describes the cramp that can be felt by some women as the egg is released from the ovary. Cramping from gas or digestive ailments can be sharp and occur in the lower abdomen. This should resolve itself. If your pain persists, or if it’s accompanied by fever or other symptoms, see your doctor.
If your pregnancy test result is positive, schedule an appointment with your doctor. They can walk you through your options and discuss any concerns you may have.
Implantation bleeding or spotting usually goes away on its own. Still, you may want to mention any bleeding or other vaginal discharge to your doctor, especially if the bleeding is heavy or accompanied by cramping. In some cases, bleeding, painful cramping, or passing fluid or tissue from your vagina may be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.