Whichever outcome you’re hoping for, waiting to find out whether you are pregnant can be nerve-racking. While some mothers say that they ‘just knew’ that they have conceived, that’s not the case for the vast majority of women.
The first recorded version of a pregnancy test was used by the Ancient Egyptians, all the way back in 1350 BC. Women who thought they were pregnant would urinate on wheat and barley seeds, and if the seeds grew, it meant that the woman was pregnant – wheat growing meant a boy, while barley indicated a girl. Modern science has even shown that this was a surprisingly effective method, with the urine of a pregnant woman encouraging seed growth in 70% of cases.
These days, most tests promise a 99% accuracy rate, and they take just minutes to return a result. But the earlier you are in your pregnancy, the less accurate the results become. So, when is the best time to take an early pregnancy test? Should you wait until a missed period, or can you find out sooner?
How Pregnancy Tests Work
Every pregnancy test available uses the same method – they detect the presence of the growth hormone called hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin). This hormone is almost always only produced by the body after the fertilized egg has finished implanting in the wall of the uterus. So even if you have actually conceived, taking the test too early will show a negative result.
The majority of tests on the market come in the form of one or two sticks in a box. You simply pee on the stick, and it will show you the result a few minutes later. The box will tell you what to look out for, so make sure you take a look at the instructions to be sure that you’re doing it right.
You don’t need to do the test first thing in the morning, but it is a good idea to avoid drinking a lot of water or other liquids right before taking it. What you drink can dilute your urine and cause a false negative.
When Is the Right Time to Take the Test?
The most reliably accurate time for you to take a pregnancy test is around the first day of a missed period. At this point, your hCG levels should be at a high enough level to be reliably tested. If you’re not sure exactly when your period is due, you should wait at least 21 days after you had unprotected sex to take the test.
Of course, you can always do it sooner. However, if you try it too early, you’re likelier to receive a false negative, because the egg hasn’t had a chance to implant and so the hCG hormone isn’t being produced yet. The earliest that the egg can implant is six days after ovulation, and the latest is generally 12 days after.
In 85% of pregnancies, implantation occurs between the eighth and tenth day after ovulation. While it can technically occur before, this only happens 0.5% of the time. Plus, it still takes time after the fertilized egg has implanted for hCG levels to rise high enough to provide a reliably positive result on most pregnancy tests. That said, some of the most sensitive tests may be able to detect a pregnancy on the eighth day after ovulation, so it can depend on the product that you are using.
How Sure Can You Be?
If the test says that you are pregnant, it is almost definitely correct. Negative results are less reliable though, as there are a number of reasons that a false negative can occur. Either way, the best thing for you to do is to take a second test a few days later to confirm the result. If you’re still waiting on your period but both tests are negative, it’s a good idea to discuss it with your doctor.
While false positives are rare, they can be caused by a so-called chemical pregnancy. A large number of early pregnancies are miscarried before you even miss your period, and this can result in you getting a positive in your first test, and a negative on the second. It’s not actually a false positive, as you technically were pregnant, but it can result in disappointment for those doing early tests.
There are a few other reasons for false positives. If you’re perimenopausal, you may have elevated levels of hCG in your system when you’re not actually pregnant. Women undergoing fertility treatments that involve hCG can also receive false positives if they take a pregnancy test within 10 days of their last treatment. Finally, shortly before ovulation, your pituitary gland may release hCG, which also has a small chance of giving a false positive.
Make Sure You Get the Most Accurate Results
Even though you’re excited or nervous, and you want to know as soon as possible what’s going on, you should be cautious. Testing too early will mean that your hCG levels won’t have risen high enough to show up on all but the most sensitive of pregnancy tests. If you are determined to find out at the earliest possible time, make sure that the test you are using is the most sensitive one you can find.
As previously mentioned, it’s also a good idea to not drink too much water right before you take the test, as this will dilute your pee and potentially cause a false negative result. You should also make sure to test your urine straight away. If you leave it too long before testing it, it can again cause a negative result.
The best way to ensure an accurate result is to wait until at least 12 days after you’ve ovulated, or wait for the first day of your missed period. Even then, you should repeat the test just to be sure. But if you really must know now, the most sensitive test might pick it up on the eighth day after ovulation.
So, when’s the best time to take an early pregnancy test? Around twelve days after you’ve ovulated, or slightly earlier if you have bought a very sensitive test.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that you should try to balance your expectations against the likelihood of an accurate result. If you don’t mind splashing a bit of extra cash to try and find out as soon as possible, then buy the most sensitive kit you can get your hands on, and try it out. Just remember that you could be setting yourself up for an unnecessary disappointment, and waiting a few more days can greatly help to improve the accuracy of the test.