When Should I Take a Pregnancy Test?

A Woman Smiling while Looking Pregnancy Test

Typically, the most accurate time to take a pregnancy test is after your first missed period. However, recent advances in technology have made it possible to get a more accurate result much sooner than that.

Pregnancy occurs when sperm fertilizes an egg. It can take up to five days for that to happen.

Taking a Pregnancy Test

Taking a pregnancy test is the best way to determine whether or not you’re pregnant. You can buy a test at most pharmacies and some supermarkets, or you can get one for free from your GP.

A home pregnancy test looks for the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin, or hCG. This is produced when a fertilised egg implants in your uterus. hCG is present in your urine from 6 days after implantation, and the amount continues to build each day. For the most accurate result, take a test around the time your period is due. If you have an irregular period, you may be able to take the test even earlier.

You can also take a blood test to check for pregnancy, but this is more expensive and takes longer than a urine test. The results can take hours to more than a day to be available.

A pregnancy test usually has two lines that indicate if you’re pregnant or not. The test is most accurate if you use it in the morning when your period should start. If you’re on the pill or other hormonal birth control, it can help to wait a few days before testing to give your body a chance to produce hCG again. It’s best to always follow the instructions on the test you choose.

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Waiting for a Missed Period

Many teens assume that when sperm meets an egg, pregnancy happens immediately after sexual intercourse. However, that is not necessarily true, as there are several factors that can influence the time it takes for an embryo to be created and for a positive result on a pregnancy test to appear.

Depending on the timing of your ovulation and the health of the sperm and the egg, it can take up to five days after sex for fertilization to occur. If you had unprotected sex, it could be even longer before the embryo implants and starts producing the 20 to 25 milliInternational units of HCG most home pregnancy tests require for a positive result.

It’s important to note that your period can be delayed for a variety of reasons, including hormonal birth control, health conditions, stress, and perimenopause. If your period is significantly late, it’s worth noting the dates of the last time you had a menstrual cycle and the first day you noticed light red spotting.

If you’re worried about how long it may be before a negative pregnancy test shows up, there are blood and ultrasound tests available that can give you results much earlier than urine testing, though these tests are not nearly as accurate as the home tests most teens use. Many Planned Parenthood clinics and community centers offer low-cost or free pregnancy tests, as well.

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Using Emergency Contraception

If you use a form of emergency contraception, your period might start a little late or early after you take it. This is normal, but it doesn’t mean you are pregnant. Just make sure you continue to use condoms and foam to protect yourself from STDs until you get your regular period.

The major types of emergency contraception (EC) are hormone-based pills, the copper-bearing IUD and ulipristal acetate. They prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation or causing a chemical change in the sperm and egg. The EC methods do not stop or interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo.

You may need to use EC if you had unprotected sex, a condom broke or slipped, your diaphragm or cervical cap moved, you were late for a birth control injection of depot-medroxyprogesterone acetate (Depo-Provera), or you missed two or more doses of your birth control pill. You can also use EC if you used the rhythm method and made a mistake in figuring out your “fertile window” or a birth control patch, vaginal ring or IUD came out too early.

The hormones in EC pills are most effective when they are taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. They only have a window of effectiveness, typically up to three days after sex. Progestin-only pill options such as Plan B One-Step and generic levonorgestrel, or a ulipristal prescription medication called Ella, will still work within five days after unprotected sex but become less effective as time goes by.

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Talking to Your Doctor

If you’re worried about getting pregnant, your doctor is a good person to talk to. A doctor can answer any questions you may have about when it’s safe to start trying for a baby, and they can also help you decide on birth control options for the future.

In addition, if you had a C-section, your doctor will probably recommend that you don’t have sex for at least six weeks to ensure that the incision has healed. This is important because the most common early pregnancy symptoms are implantation bleeding (which often looks like spotting) and cramping.

When you do have sex, it’s okay to use condoms. You can also ask your doctor about birth control options, and they can walk you through the pros and cons of short-term and long-term contraceptives. If you’re concerned about cost, your local Planned Parenthood or other community health clinic should have sliding-scale options.

When you’re ready to resume sex, it’s important that you listen to your body and feel physically and emotionally prepared. Having a child can be exhausting, and many new parents find that their libido takes a while to return. It’s also normal to have low sex desires after having a baby, especially if you had a c-section or vaginal tear. With time and patience, you’ll find your “new normal.”