Is it PMS or early pregnancy?

PMS or pregnancy

If you are trying for a baby then you might already know the frustration and stress of waiting those two long weeks to find out if you are pregnant.

We hear from many of our clients that they often cannot tell during that two week wait whether they are experiencing PMS or early pregnancy signs and that the stress of it makes them feel even worse.

In this blog we are going to break down some typical signs of PMS and some typical signs of early pregnancy and how you can differentiate between them.

A quick recap of the luteal phase (the second half of your cycle)

Ovulation:

The second half of your cycle starts with ovulation. This is the event in which an egg bursts from its follicle. This egg needs to be fertilized within 12-24 hours of being released in order for a pregnancy to occur. If the egg is not fertilized it will begin to break down. The follicle itself turns into the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum is a temporary gland/ organ that is vital for regulating your menstrual cycle and supporting early pregnancy. 

If the egg is fertilized:

If the egg is fertilized then the sperm will likely meet the egg in the fallopian tube and once they connect they transform into a zygote. This zygote starts to multiply into many cells eventually traveling down the fallopian tube to the uterus. Over a couple of days it becomes a blastocyte and eventually an embryo (this takes about 5-6 days from fertilization). 

This embryo then will implant into the uterine wall (typically this occurs on days 6-10 post ovulation).

If the egg is not fertilized:

If the egg is not fertilized this cycle or does not embed in uterus lining (endometrium) then the luteal phase ends with your period.

Common signs of PMS OR early pregnancy:

Spotting

Spotting is one of the symptoms that we get asked about the most. This is because it can be a sign of your period starting but it can also be a sign of implantation bleeding.  Implantation bleeding does not occur for all women and if it does it looks different from woman to woman. 

Implantation bleeding typically looks like a small amount of pink bleeding or spotting for no more than a day or two. As we know from above, implantation typically occurs 6-10 days post ovulation and therefore implantation bleeding can occur a few days before your period is due, making it hard to know if it is the beginning of your period or not. 

If you are experiencing spotting that lasts more than a couple of days or becomes heavy and your period is late then it is worth seeking out some medical advice.

Learn more about how to track. your cycle by signing up to our newsletter to receive your free cycle tracking guide.

Cramping

Cramping is another common symptom that can cause much confusion as to whether it is early pregnancy, ovulation or the beginning of period cramps. 

Ovulation cramps occur at the beginning of your luteal phase, at the time of ovulation, this makes it easier to differentiate ovulation cramps to implantation cramps. 

Light cramping can be a sign of implantation. The confusion can occur here as implantation may occur close to the time when your period is due, therefore period cramping and implantation may occur at a similar time. Alongside the implantation cramping you may also experience some implantation bleeding as mentioned above. Not everyone experiences these symptoms. If you are experiencing cramps when you typically do not experience cramps in advance of your period then this may in fact be an early pregnancy sign. 

If you also experience some of these other symptoms it may be early pregnancy: 

  • Nausea 
  • Swollen and tender breasts 
  • Tiredness 
  • Headaches 
  • Food cravings and / or aversions 
  • A late or missing period

Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure if your cramping is preparation for your period or pregnancy is to wait and see if your period arrives.  

Please also remember if you regularly experience period cramps that it may be common but it is not normal and may be a sign of hormone imbalance and we recommend testing to investigate further.  

Read more about the common causes of period pain.

Tender breasts

Tender breasts are both a common PMS symptom and also a sign of early pregnancy. It is common for one of the first signs of pregnancy to be swollen, tender and heavy feeling breasts. Although once again this can be a common PMS symptom if you have a hormone imbalance such as high unopposed estrogen.  If you continue to feel like your breasts are tender and heavy and your period is late then this is definitely a sign to take a pregnancy test as this is a common sign of early pregnancy. 

If you are experiencing high, unopposed estrogen then it’s a good idea to test your estrogen levels and your Phase 1 and Phase 2 estrogen detoxification. 

Read more about estrogen detoxification here. 

Nausea

Nausea and experiencing certain food aversions can begin in very early pregnancy for some people and therefore can be one of the first signs of early pregnancy. Unfortunately again this symptom can also be a common PMS symptom too. Increasing levels of prostaglandins in the second half of your cycle can lead to nausea, bowel changes and even vomiting in some people with severe PMS.

Low energy

One of the most common signs of early pregnancy can be low energy. This low energy can be caused by changes in the rising hormone levels, especially progesterone. Once again this can easily be confused with PMS or hormone imbalance in the second half of your cycle when progesterone rises naturally. During the luteal phase or second half of your cycle it is common to feel a bit more tired than usual as blood sugar is more likely to be imbalanced, progesterone is high and also due to increased metabolic rate at rest.

What if I experience none of the symptoms above?

Please note that if you do not experience any of the following it does not mean that you are not pregnant. Some people experience many early symptoms and some do not experience any at all.

If I think I am pregnant, when should I test?

These symptoms mentioned above can easily be confused as PMS or early pregnancy so the only way to really know for sure is to take a pregnancy test. A pregnancy test is looking for levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) . HCG takes time to build up in the body. Typically 4-5 days after implantation and 11-14 days after ovulation you will have an increase in hCG. The presence of hCG leads to a positive pregnancy test. This is why it is suggested that you wait until you are a day late for your period to test and it is possible to get a negative test before this and still be pregnant.

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