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Pregnancy tests

6-minute read

Key facts

  • Pregnancy tests check your urine or blood for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
  • There are different types of home pregnancy tests.
  • You can buy them over-the-counter from pharmacies or supermarkets.
  • Nurses, doctors, or specialists can confirm a pregnancy with blood tests, which are more sensitive than home pregnancy tests.
  • Always see your doctor if your home pregnancy test shows that you are pregnant.

If you think you might be pregnant, you can take a pregnancy test to find out for sure. You can do this by seeing your doctor or buying a home pregnancy test kit from a pharmacy or supermarket.

What is a pregnancy test?

Pregnancy tests check your urine or blood for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This hormone is made during pregnancy.

How does a pregnancy test work?

If you are pregnant, hCG increases quickly for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

hCG can be detected by a pregnancy test around 4 weeks after conception (when an egg is fertilised by sperm).

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. You can buy these over-the-counter from a pharmacy or supermarket. Some digital kits are more accurate than traditional test kits.

There are 2 common methods for home pregnancy tests:

  • holding the end of a chemical dipstick in your urine stream
  • collecting your urine in a container and then testing it

The dipstick tests for hCG use colours or symbols to show if you are pregnant. For example, they may show a pink or blue line, or a plus sign to show a pregnancy. Digital dipsticks may state the words ‘pregnant’ or ‘not pregnant’ and can be easier to read than symbols.

Home ovulation tests

If you are trying to get pregnant, you can also buy ovulation tests at pharmacies. These tests predict when you are ovulating by measuring your hormones. Having sex in the days leading up to and the day of ovulation will give you the best chance of falling pregnant.

How soon will a pregnancy test read positive?

Most home pregnancy tests can detect hCG in your urine on the day your period is due. Some tests can detect hCG a few days before your period is due.

To get the most reliable results, wait until at least a week after your expected period before testing. By then, the amount of hCG should have increased in your body if you are pregnant.

Read the instructions carefully before doing a home pregnancy test. It’s best to collect your urine sample first thing in the morning, before drinking a lot of fluid.

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 is rare that you will get a positive result that is incorrect or false.

Pregnancy tests performed by a doctor

Nurses, doctors, or specialists can confirm a pregnancy with either urine or blood tests. The urine tests are similar to the home pregnancy tests.

The blood tests for pregnancy are more sensitive and accurate than urine tests. They can measure how much hCG there is in your body.

Your doctor can test your level of hCG. They may also test it again to monitor how quickly it is increasing. This 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 going to have twins. It can also be a sign of some complications.

What should I do if my pregnancy test is positive?

Always see your doctor if your home pregnancy test shows you are pregnant.

Your doctor will:

  • confirm the pregnancy
  • work out your estimated due date
  • check your overall health
  • talk to you about any previous pregnancies and your medical history
  • discuss any changes you should make to your lifestyle to ensure a healthy pregnancy for yourself and the baby
  • talk to you about how you would like to be cared for during your pregnancy
  • talk to you about where you would like to have the baby and give you a referral

Your doctor may also recommend some tests, such as an ultrasound scan.

If your 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.

When should I see my doctor if my pregnancy test is negative?

See your doctor if you:

  • have been trying to get pregnant and have had multiple miscarriages
  • are younger than 35 years and have not gotten pregnant within 12 months of trying
  • are more than 35 years old and have not gotten pregnant within 6 months of trying

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

Resources and support

Getting a negative pregnancy test when you are trying to fall pregnant can be difficult for you, your partner, and your relationship.

At the same time, getting a positive pregnancy test when you were not planning on becoming pregnant can be difficult. It can help to talk to people close to you or a professional counsellor.

You can also get support at:

  • COPE, where you can get information and support when trying to get pregnant
  • Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, for 24-hour support if you are feeling depressed or anxious

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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