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When Should I Take a Pregnancy Test?

Are you, or aren't you?

For moms who are trying to conceive, taking a pregnancy test is kind of “the” moment: am I, or am I not?  But as any mom who’s tried for more than a couple months knows, those tests can get expensive after awhile.  And really disappointing if they’re negative again and again.

Some moms even claim to have a POAS addiction (Pee-On-A-Stick, for those not familiar).  If there’s a test in the house…they’re going to use it.

But when can you realistically take a pregnancy test, both to minimize expense and disappointment?

In a perfect world, all women would wait until they’d missed their periods and felt “pregnancy symptoms,” and they’d use a test just to confirm what they already strongly suspected.  Stop laughing.  I know that’s next to impossible for many!

I can’t count how many tests I wasted when I was trying for my first.  To be fair, the month before I got pregnant, my period was a week late, so I was testing almost everyday.  My husband made me promise to wait until I was at least two days late the next month, so when I woke up Saturday morning still with no period…I immediately took the test, at 6 am.  Positive!  And being late, there was no question if there was a second line or not: it was pretty dark.

Anyway.

A few things have to happen before you can get a positive test.  First, you have to have sex near the time of ovulation (obviously).  Then, it can take sperm a few days, 2 – 5, to travel up and actually fertilize the egg.  The sperm will meet it on its journey.  However, be aware: within 24 hours after ovulation (or less), the egg will begin to disintegrate or “change” and fertilization is no longer possible.  Always err on the side of having sex before ovulation, not after (sperm can live in your body for up to 5 days).

Then, once the egg is fertilized, it has to travel the rest of the way down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it will implant in the prepared lining.  At this point, all your hormones will start to rise, namely progesterone and HCG.  Both are necessary to sustain a pregnancy; some women whose progesterone levels are too low will have early miscarriages (talk to your doctor if you suspect this is happening to you).  This implantation usually occurs 5 – 7 days after ovulation and may, in 20 – 30% of women, be accompanied by slight spotting or cramping.  Then, it’s just waiting for hormone levels to rise high enough to be detected on a test.  HCG, the “pregnancy hormone,” doubles every 48 – 72 hours, so testing every other day is a good idea if you’re unsure.

The earliest that you could possibly test is 7 DPO (Days Past Ovulation).  Any sooner and typically the embryo, if there is one, won’t have had time to implant yet.  A very small number of women will get a positive test at 7 or 8 DPO, although it’s quite rare.  This doesn’t mean you’re not pregnant, though; it also assumes that you are exactly right about which day you ovulated.  Everyday counts when it’s so early!

Some women can get a positive test more like 9 – 11 DPO.  This is within that “5 days before your missed period” window that most tests state they can show a positive for.  Still, some women will not show up at this point.  (I got my positive at 10 DPO with my second pregnancy…I didn’t even try to test until 16 DPO with my first and third.)  Probably 60 – 80% of women can get a positive (the great number being at the later date).

Many women will start to get positive tests from 12 – 14 DPO, or just before or when you expect your period.  At this point the egg should be nicely nestled in and have started to produce the necessary hormones to turn the test positive.  If for any reason the embryo is delayed…or, on the rare chance it should implant outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy) then hormone levels might be too low to detect.

A few women will not get a positive test until 15 – 18 DPO, or after they are late.  And a very, very few will not get a positive test until they are 2 or more weeks late…and I’ve even heard of a small number of women who never get a positive on a home test (a blood test will show an accurate result, of course).  If you are late and still getting negative tests, you may choose to see a doctor for a blood test.  However, most commonly, stress or other factors have delayed ovulation and you are actually not late yet.  If you know you have ovulated (from BBT or a positive OPK) and have not gotten your period, definitely get a blood test!

If you’re really curious, and trying for a baby, you can take your temperature all month long.  If you note the sustained thermal shift that indicates that ovulation did, in fact, take place, then keep taking your temperature.  If, after 18 days, your temperature is still high and you haven’t gotten your period, there’s a very good chance that you are pregnant (almost 100%).  At that point it might be fun to go buy an expensive digital test just so you can get excited to actually see the word “pregnant” come up on the screen.  With my first two babies, although I always used “two pink line” type tests to initially confirm pregnancy, I’d go buy a digital just so I could see the “pregnant” come up.

Somehow I only took one test this time, just to confirm what I already pretty well knew.  (I was probably almost 2 days late, although “officially” I expected my period that day, Sunday after Thanksgiving.)  When we realized this, my husband sent me out to buy a test immediately…at 9 PM.  When he read the box and realized it would be 99% accurate since I was, in fact, late, he told me to just take it immediately.  So we sat in the bathroom, then almost 10 at night, while I took the test.  Naturally, within a short time, the second line showed up.  Then I was too excited to sleep!

Which pregnancy test is right for you? Babble blogger Elizabeth Stark tested the most popular brands so you don’t have to. Check out the results in The Top 10 Pregnancy Tests and How to Use Them.

When do you usually take pregnancy tests?  When do you wish you could?

Top image by Fred Jala

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