Pregnant or PMS?

When you’re trying to conceive, waiting to find out if you’re pregnant can feel like torture. Throw in Mother Nature’s way of making early pregnancy symptoms eerily similar to the signs that your period is on its way and you have a recipe for total confusion, with a little dash of anxiety thrown in for good measure. Especially if your period is late, knowing whether your body is displaying signs of pregnancy or premenstrual symptoms can be a challenge. Use this guide to decipher the symptoms and save your sanity.


PMS: Since PMS typically occurs in the week or two leading up to your period, you shouldn’t experience any bleeding. That is unless you are spotting. While spotting is usually more common in women who have just started their periods or are reaching menopause, it’s possible -but not normal - to experience spotting during your most reproductive years.

Pregnancy: If you become pregnant, the embryo travels to the uterus and attaches which can cause light spotting. This is called implantation bleeding and usually occurs 6 to 12 days after conception and should be much lighter than your normal menstrual flow.


PMS: If your period is late due to stress, a change of eating or exercise habits, or another non-pregnancy related event, you shouldn’t experience any nausea.

Pregnancy: Morning sickness (ahem - all day sickness) is one of the most indicative signs of pregnancy. Nausea can begin as little as 3 weeks into a pregnancy and isn’t always accompanied by vomiting.

Breast Pain

PMS: Due to rising progesterone levels during the second half of your menstrual cycle, an upcoming period could leave your breasts feeling sore or tender. This pain is often described as heavy and dull and should subside during or right after your period.

Pregnancy: The same hormone, progesterone, that causes breast pain when you’re PMSing is to blame for pregnancy-induced breast discomfort. Your breasts may feel swollen, tender, and full, starting around 2 weeks after you conceive. Unlike when you start your period, this breast pain isn’t going to go away. In fact, since progesterone is required to support a healthy baby, the tenderness of your breasts is likely to increase over the length of your pregnancy.


PMS: Dysmenorrhea, or premenstrual cramps, is common in women who are about to start their period. They often begin a day or two before your flow starts and ease as you begin to bleed.

Pregnancy: Pregnancy cramps, like other symptoms, are similar to PMS cramps. However, instead of being felt for only a couple of days, they will likely be lighter, more concentrated in your lower abdomen and back, and last for a few weeks to a few months.

Food Cravings

PMS: Carbs, sweets, and salty treats may be calling your name when you’re close to starting your period. These cravings are your bodies response to hormonal changes like lower serotonin, a magnesium deficiency, or fluctuating blood sugar.

Pregnancy: You may have food cravings when you’re pregnant but they are probably going to be a lot more specific than when you’re menstruating. Additionally, it’s not uncommon to have aversions to foods that you normally enjoy - this can be the telltale sign that this symptom is pregnancy related.

Identical Symptoms

There are some symptoms that are so identical to each other that it’s virtually impossible to tell whether they are due to pregnancy or your menstrual cycle. These includes:

  • Mood swings
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Acne and breakouts

Other Signs that You’re Pregnant, Not PMSing

While symptoms alone are not enough to verify a pregnancy, there are certain traits that lean towards the baby-making side of things. If you are experiencing any of these, you might want to go ahead and take that pregnancy test.

  • Missed period - You can miss your period due to a number of reasons and pregnancy is one of them.
  • Darkening of the areola - Fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone can cause darkening of the skin, especially around your nipples. This can happen early on in pregnancy and the color may darken as your belly grows.
  • Increased sensitivity to odors - You can thank estrogen for this fun pregnancy indication. You might be able to smell your partner’s gym socks before they even open the front door or catch wafts of your neighbor's barbecue that makes your stomach turn. Classic pregnancy sign.
  • Frequent urination - The extra blood flow you experience when you’re pregnant can make your kidney’s produce up to 25% more urine. The need to pee every 5 minutes only gets more intense when your baby starts pressing on your bladder.
  • Increased basal body temperature - Naturally, if you’re trying to get pregnant tracking your BBT is a key sign of pregnancy. If it’s elevated, you could be pregnant.

Determining whether your symptoms point to pregnancy or PMS can be easier to do on paper than in real life. If you’re trying to conceive, tracking your symptoms can help you notice when there are changes in your body that could point to pregnancy but your best bet is to take a pregnancy test.

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