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Pregnancy symptoms: early signs, when to take a test and how long it can take to get pregnant - explained

Most couples will get pregnant within a year if they have regular unprotected sex, the NHS says

Pregnancy is a different experience for every woman and there are many factors that can affect the chances of conceiving.

Getting pregnant can happen very quickly for some women, while the process can take much longer for others - but this is completely normal.

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If you are planning on having a baby, here’s what you need to know about the time it typically takes to get pregnant, common early symptoms to look for and when you should take a pregnancy test.

Pregnancy can cause an array of symptoms and can vary from person to person (Composite: Mark Hall / NationalWorld)

How long does it take to get pregnant?

The majority of couples (around 84 out of every 100) will get pregnant within a year if they have regular sex and do not use contraception, according to the NHS.

One study found that among couples having regular unprotected sex (every two to three days throughout the month):

  • 92% of those aged 19 to 26 will conceive after one year and 98% after two years
  • 82% of those aged 35 to 39 will conceive after one year and 90% after two years

However, several factors can affect the chances of conceiving, including age, general health, reproductive health, and how often couples have sex.

Fertility issues affect one in seven couples in the UK and in around 40% of infertile couples, there is a problem with both the man and the woman.

Ovulation failure is the most common cause of infertility, along with sperm disorders, but many factors can cause problems. This may include:

  • hormonal disorders and problems with the thyroid or pituitary glands
  • physical disorders, such as obesity, anorexia nervosa or excessive exercise
  • disorders of the reproductive system, such as infections, blocked fallopian tubes, endometriosis or a low sperm count

In 25% of couples, fertility problems cannot be explained. The NHS recommends seeing a GP for advice if you have been trying for a baby for one to two years without success.

What are the symptoms of pregnancy?

Pregnancy can cause an array of symptoms and will likely vary from person to person. But there are several common signs that could indicate you may be pregnant. These include:

Vomiting and nausea

Nausea and vomiting, also known as morning sickness, are very common in pregnancy, particularly in the early stages.

Morning sickness usually starts when you are around four to six weeks pregnant and, despite the name, it can affect you at any time of the day or night.

Symptoms will usually clear up by weeks 16 to 20 of your pregnancy and it does not put your baby at any increased risk.

Feeling tired

Tiredness and exhaustion is very common during pregnancy, especially during the first 12 weeks.

The hormonal changes in your body at this time can cause you to feel tired, sick, emotional and upset.

Sore breasts

It is common for your breasts to become larger during pregnancy and they may feel tender or tingle, just as they might do before your period.

The veins in your breasts may also become more visible and the nipples may darken and stand out.

Needing to pee

You may feel the need to pee more often than usual if you are pregnant, including during the night.

This usually starts early on in pregnancy and can sometimes continue until the baby is born.

Cutting out drinks later in the evening can help avoid needing the toilet during the night, as well as drinking lots of non-alcoholic, caffeine-free drinks during the day to stay hydrated.

Constipation

Hormonal changes in your body may cause you to become constipated very early on in your pregnancy.

This can be prevented by eating plenty of foods that are high in fibre, such as wholemeal breads and cereals, fruit and vegetables, and pulses, such as beans and lentils.

Exercise can also help, along with drinking lots of water.

More vaginal discharge

It is normal to have some vaginal discharge from puberty until after the menopause, but you may notice more than usual when you are pregnant.

Discharge helps to prevent any infections travelling up from the vagina to the womb and towards the end of pregnancy, the amount will increase further.

Healthy vaginal discharge is usually thin, clear or milky white, and should not smell unpleasant.

Unusual tastes, smells and cravings

It is common to experience cravings for some foods or drinks during early pregnancy, and you may no longer like some of the things you used to enjoy.

If you are pregnant, you may notice:

  • a strange taste in your mouth, which some describe as metallic
  • you crave new foods
  • you lose interest in certain foods or drinks you used to enjoy, such as tea, coffee or fatty food
  • you lose interest in smoking
  • you have a more sensitive sense of smell than usual, such as the smell of food or cooking

When should I take a pregnancy test?

Most pregnancy tests can be taken from the first day of a missed period. If you are unsure when your next period is due, you should take the test at least 21 days after you last had unprotected sex.

Tests can be bought from pharmacists and some supermarkets, and can be taken at any time of the day.

Free pregnancy tests are also available from sexual health services, Brook centres if you are under 25, and from some young people’s services by calling the national sexual health helpline on 0300 123 7123 for details.

It may also be possible to get a pregnancy test free of charge from your GP.

A positive test result is almost certainly correct, but a negative test result is less reliable and may be a result of taking the test too early, or not following the instructions properly. Some medicines can also affect the results.

If you get a negative result and still think you may be pregnant, you should wait a few days and try again.

If you are pregnant and want to continue with the pregnancy, you should contact your GP or a midwife to start your antenatal care.