The unknown often overshadows the excitement of pregnancy and preparing for a life-changing event. Once you discover what you expect, it’s natural to have many questions about what comes next. For many women, understanding their body’s physical signs and symptoms can be one of the most overwhelming parts of pregnancy.
This blog post aims to provide practical advice on recognizing early signs and symptoms from those more common ones experienced in late trimesters. By arming yourself with knowledge about your body’s response through each stage of pregnancy, we hope you feel empowered—reinforcing that no question or concern should go unanswered concerning both mother and baby’s health.
Table of Contents
Classification of Pregnancy
Pregnancy is classified into three trimesters:
- The first trimester: [1-12 weeks]
- The second trimester: [13 to 26 weeks]
- The third trimester: [27 to up to the pregnancy]
Fetal maturation and development can also be separated into three time periods:
- Pre-embryonic stage (first two weeks, beginning with fertilization)
- Embryonic (weeks 3 through 8)
- Fetal (from week 8 through birth)
Categories of Pregnancy Symptoms
Indicators or early symptoms of pregnancy can be broken down as follows:
- Presumptive signs — the possibility of pregnancy
- Probable signs — the most likelihood of indicating pregnancy
- Positive signs — confirmation of pregnancy
Presumptive signs of pregnancy
Probable signs of pregnancy
Positive signs of pregnancy
|Amenorrhea (no period)
|Increased frequency of urination
|Nausea — with or without vomiting
|Visualization of the fetus (ultrasound)
|Breast enlargement and tenderness
|Positive hCG urine or blood
|Mild uterine cramping/discomfort without bleeding
|Increased skin pigmentation in the face, stomach, and areola
|Food cravings and aversions
|Mood changes or “mood swings.”
|Shortness of breath
|Elevated basal body temperature (BBT)
|Reddening of the palms
Early Signs of Pregnancy in the First 15 Days
These are some of the earliest indicators of pregnancy. They are known to professionals as presumptive signs and can be what first leads a woman to believe she may be pregnant. These physical changes are common in all people, though pregnancy isn’t always the source.
Such symptoms usually present themselves in the first week of pregnancy, coincidentally around three weeks after the last menstrual period. To help clear any confusion, here is a list of early signs that could indicate pregnancy:
1. Missed Period (with exceptions)
No missed period or Amenorrhoea is typically the initial indication of pregnancy. For women with regular menstrual cycles, when their period is roughly one week late, it can be a sign that they are pregnant.
Women with irregular cycles may find it more challenging to detect. In some cases, even those with regular cycles may experience periods that are either delayed or absent during a given month – this is often due to travel, emotional stressors, illnesses, or other disruptions.
There are instances where it’s natural for a woman’s period to be absent – such as in younger adolescents and children, breastfeeding mothers, and women in the early stages of menopause – so its lacking could be considered normal rather than pointing towards pregnancy.
An expected menstrual period is often the first sign of pregnancy, but in some cases, a missed period can be caused by other factors, such as stress or changes to your diet.
2. Implantation Bleeding: short and superficial
Implantation bleeding can occur one to two weeks after conception and is usually light, with a pinkish or brownish color. This type of bleeding is caused by the egg embedding itself into the lining of the uterus. It’s important to understand that implantation bleeding differs from regular menstrual cycles in timing and intensity; it tends to be lighter than usual. It also usually lasts for a shorter period compared to normal cycles, typically lasting only one day.
3. Nausea or Morning Sickness
Nausea (or “morning sickness”) is a classic pregnancy symptom often occurring in the first few weeks. This type of nausea tends to be more intense in the morning but can sometimes last throughout the day.
4. Changes in Appetite and Food Cravings
Some women experience changes to their appetite or taste, often craving specific foods and even feeling nauseous at seeing others. Hormonal changes usually cause this during pregnancy, though it’s important to note that not all pregnant women have this symptom.
5. Breast Tenderness
It’s common for breasts to become tender or swollen early on in pregnancy due to increased levels of hormones circulating in the body. Women may also notice increased cup size and darkening around the nipples and areola area – all signs that help confirm a pregnancy.
6. Abdominal Pain: “Am I pregnant or about to have my period?”
Women may have abdominal pain or cramping similar to menstrual cramps. While this could be a sign of pregnancy, it can also be caused by other conditions and should not be used as the only indication that you are pregnant. Contact your healthcare provider for more information if you are concerned about abdominal discomfort.
7. Increased Urination
Frequent trips to the restroom tend to be another standard indicator of early pregnancy – triggered by hormonal changes that increase blood flow to the pelvic region and cause an increased need to use the bathroom. This symptom usually starts within four to six weeks after conception and is considered one of the most reliable indicators of pregnancy.
Feeling tired all the time can be an early sign of pregnancy and is often experienced in the first trimester. This symptom can also indicate other health conditions, so it’s essential to contact your healthcare provider if you find yourself exhausted more than usual.
9. Change in Smell and Taste
Pregnant women may experience heightened sensitivity to certain smells and tastes, making certain foods unappealing or even causing some nausea. This is caused by the increased levels of hormones in the body during pregnancy and typically subsides after the first trimester as hormone levels begin to normalize.
10. Dizziness, Vertigo, and Sudden Fainting
The hormonal fluctuations of pregnancy can result in changes to the heart and brain, which are often responsible for feelings of giddiness and occasional fainting spells.
‘Oestrogen‘ and Progesterone slow circulation to the uterus, leading to increased syncopal episodes as the brain is deprived of sufficient blood for a few moments, causing dizziness or lightheadedness.
Fortunately, pregnant women typically recover quickly with no significant issues. To prevent fainting episodes from occurring, it is best to sit with your feet up when feeling faint.
11. Spotting and Pregnancy with No Symptoms
Sometimes a woman may not be aware that she is pregnant due to spotting or a lack of the more common symptoms usually associated with pregnancy, including nausea and vomiting.
Spotting can be easily mistaken for something else, but if it happens in consecutive months and there is no period, this could indicate pregnancy.
Similarly, some pregnancies may go undiagnosed until an ultrasound scan reveals a baby at least 12 weeks developing in the womb. This typically occurs during a visit to a gynecologist’s office.
The Nursing Process For Pregnancy
- Quickening: Ask the patient if they’ve felt any fluttering sensations in their abdomen- this could indicate fetal movement
- Cravings: Inquire about dietary changes or cravings
- Weight gain: Use a scale to measure weight changes since the onset of pregnancy
- Breast tenderness: Ask about any changes in sensitivity or discomfort
- Ballottement: A technique used by an examiner during a physical exam where they insert a finger into the vagina and push on the uterus to feel the movement of the fetus in return.
- Chadwick’s Sign: A discoloration of the cervix, labia, and vagina caused by increased blood flow, which appears purple/blue/violet.
- Hegar’s Sign: Softening at the bottom of the uterus is typically seen around 4-6 weeks gestation.
- Goodell’s Sign: At approximately 4 weeks gestation, the vaginal portion of the cervix is softened due to increased blood vessels.
Nursing Diagnosis For Pregnancy
A nursing diagnosis is a clinical judgment made by a healthcare provider, aimed at identifying the actual, potential or risk problems associated with a client’s health status.
By assessing early pregnancy, midwives or nurses can recognize potential health problems and develop a plan of care that appropriately supports and promotes maternal and fetal health.
In this way, nursing diagnosis can significantly improve pregnancy outcomes, ensuring mother and baby stay healthy throughout this critical period.
Once the nursing diagnosis is identified, a care plan should be developed and implemented to manage potential health risks.
This may include educating the patient on healthy lifestyles, nutrition guidance, or lifestyle changes and providing emotional support to help the mother cope with pregnancy’s physical and mental demands.
Interventions could also include monitoring fetal heart rate using ultrasound technology and conducting regular antenatal visits to assess the mother’s physical condition.
In addition, nurses and midwives need to provide advice on safe labor practices and postnatal care for both mother and baby to ensure a healthy pregnancy outcome.
Once the interventions have been implemented, the nurse or midwife must evaluate the plan’s effectiveness.
This may involve monitoring maternal and fetal health parameters such as blood pressure, weight gain, fetal heart rate, and growth and evaluating any signs or symptoms that could indicate pregnancy complications.
It is also important to assess changes in lifestyle or risk factors that may impact the mother’s health.
By regularly evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, nurses and midwives can identify any issues that need to be addressed to ensure a successful pregnancy outcome.
Mrs. Marie Brown has been a registered nurse for over 25 years. She began her nursing career at a Level I Trauma Center in downtown Chicago, Illinois. There she worked in the Emergency Department and on the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. After several years, she moved to the Midwest and continued her nursing career in a critical care setting. For the last 10 years of her nursing career, Mrs. Brown worked as a flight nurse with an air ambulance service. During this time, she cared for patients throughout the United States.