Pregnancy tests are usually simple urine tests that screen for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). HCG is released when a fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus and is only found in the body if you are pregnant.
You can take a home pregnancy test or go to a medical provider to be tested. If you take a home test, it's important to follow all of the instructions carefully. The results will be either positive — meaning pregnant — or negative — meaning not pregnant. When used as directed, home tests have similar results to the urine pregnancy tests used by most medical providers. At-home tests usually cost between about $12-$15 and are available at most drug stores.
Home pregnancy tests (HPTs) can be quite accurate. But accuracy depends on:
- How you use them — Be sure to check the expiration date and follow the instructions. Wait 10 minutes after taking the test to check the results window. Research suggests waiting 10 minutes to get the most accurate result.
- When you use them — The amount of hCG or pregnancy hormone in your urine increases with time. So, the earlier you take the test, the harder it is to spot the hCG. Many HPTs claim to be 99 percent accurate on the first day of your missed period. But research suggests most HPTs don't always detect the low levels of hCG present that early in pregnancy. When they do, the results are often very faint. Most HPTs can accurately detect pregnancy one week after a missed period. Also, testing your urine first thing in the morning may boost accuracy.
- Who uses them — Each woman ovulates at a different time in her menstrual cycle. Plus, the fertilized egg can implant in a woman’s uterus at different times. HCG only is produced once implantation occurs. In up to 10 percent of women, implantation does not occur until after the first day of a missed period. So, HPTs are accurate as soon as one day after a missed period for some women but not for others.
A positive test result means you're likely pregnant. If you've taken a home pregnancy test, it's important to visit a medical provider for another test. Your medical provider can confirm the results, discuss what to do next and options for prenatal care.
A negative result from a home pregnancy test means you're unlikely to be pregnant. Sometimes, it means you've taken the pregnancy test too early to know for sure. If you still think you may be pregnant, wait until a day or two after your missed period and take another test.
Sometimes the results of pregnancy tests are hard to read. If it's unclear whether the home pregnancy test you've taken is positive or negative, visit a medical provider.
It is important to check in with your medical provider regularly. If your medical provider believes you have a low-risk pregnancy, you can expect to visit them at least once a month for the first seven months, every two or three weeks for the eighth month, and weekly during the ninth month until delivery. If you have a high-risk pregnancy, if this is your first baby, or if you have other health issues that need to be monitored, you can expect to see your medical provider more frequently.
A healthy diet is vital for a healthy pregnancy. It's the best thing you can do for your baby's mind and body. It will also make you strong and ready for labor, delivery and breastfeeding. Ask your medical provider about specific nutritional guidelines.
Walking and other aerobic and strength exercises can help strengthen your body for your pregnancy and delivery. Be sure to consult with your medical provider about your exercise plans to be sure you're not overdoing it.
Prescription drugs, alcohol, illegal drugs, caffeine, cigarettes and even over-the-counter drugs can be harmful to the developing fetus. Check with your medical provider before you take any medications or substances, or if you're concerned about something you've already taken during your pregnancy. After a baby is born, you should talk to your medical provider about medications, including birth control options, and their potential impact on breastfeeding.
Certain infections such as bacterial vaginosis and sexually transmitted infections can be more harmful during your pregnancy. Be sure to talk with your medical provider if you think you have an infection, or if you experience recurrent infections, so you can get treatments that are safe for you and your baby.