If you think you might be pregnant, you can take a pregnancy test to find out for sure. You do this by seeing your doctor or buying a home pregnancy test kit from a pharmacy or supermarket.
How pregnancy tests work
Pregnancy tests check your urine or blood for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This hormone is produced during pregnancy and can be detected as early as 10 days after conception, when a fertilised egg attaches to your womb.
If hCG is found in your blood or urine, it is highly likely that you are pregnant.
Home pregnancy tests
Home pregnancy tests detect hCG in your urine. There are different types of home pregnancy tests, which you can buy over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket. Some digital kits are more accurate than traditional test kits.
With most tests, you either hold the end of a chemical dipstick in your urine stream, or collect the urine in a container and test it. The dipstick tests for hCG and uses colours or symbols to show whether or not you are pregnant. For example, they may show a pink or blue line, or a plus or a minus sign to show a pregnancy. Digital dipsticks may state the words ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’ and can be easier to read.
Most pregnancy tests can detect hCG in your urine on the first day your period is due. But to get the most reliable results, wait until at least a week after your expected period before testing. Then the amount of hCG should have built up in your body if you are pregnant.
Read the instructions carefully before doing a home pregnancy test. It is best to collect the urine sample first thing in the morning, before you have drunk a lot of fluid, or there might not be enough hCG to give a positive result.
If the test is negative but your period still doesn’t come, you could try re-testing in a few days. If the test is positive, it is most likely that you are pregnant. It will only be in very rare circumstances that you will get a positive result that is incorrect or false.
Pregnancy tests performed by a doctor
Nurses, doctors or specialists confirm a pregnancy with either urine or blood tests. The urine tests are similar to the home ones.
The blood tests for pregnancy are more sensitive and accurate than urine tests. They can detect whether the hormone is present in your blood and how much hCG there is.
Testing the level of hCG and the rate at which it increases is one way your doctor can tell if your pregnancy is normal. For example, an extremely high hCG level may be a sign you are expecting twins or have some disorder.
What if I’m pregnant?
If your home pregnancy test shows you are pregnant, always consult your doctor.
Your doctor will confirm the pregnancy, work out your estimated due date, and check your overall health. They will talk to you about any previous pregnancies, your medical history, and any changes you should make to your lifestyle to ensure a healthy pregnancy for yourself and the baby. They will also talk to you about how you would like to be cared for during the pregnancy and where you would like to have the baby.
If the pregnancy was unplanned and you’re not sure what to do, it’s best to take some time to think about your decision. Your doctor can help you work through the options.
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Last reviewed: March 2021