Taking a Pregnancy Test: When and What to Do Next

Okay, so you think you may be pregnant. This is a big moment that comes complete with lots and LOTS of feelings. Every emotion from happiness and excitement to anxiety and panic can hit when pregnancy is a very real potential. So ladies, no matter how you’re feeling, just remember that you’re not alone and there are several ways to find out if you’re pregnant for sure.


Home pregnancy tests are the easiest, most accessible way to find out what’s really going on. They’re available for about $10–$20 at grocery and drug stores and come with easy instructions for use. Basically, you pee on a stick—charming, we know—and the test detects amounts of the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) in your urine. Hormone levels rise drastically during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is why it’s so effective as a means of detection. Just keep in mind that no matter what a home test tells you, you should always make an appointment to confirm if you’re pregnant with your health care provider.


Many at-home pregnancy tests out there say that they’re “early detection” and can test positive anywhere from four to five days before your expected period. In fact, the brand First Response advertises that their tests can actually tell you six days before your missed period. But regardless of the brand you choose, they all work the same way.


If you look on the boxes of at-home pregnancy tests, there should be some numbers in front of the unit “mIU/mL.” This measurement indicates how little hCG needs to be in your urine for the test to detect it, so the lower the number, the more sensitive the test. Most home and clinic pregnancy tests detect hCG at 25 mIU/mL, and while there is talk of tests that can detect it at 20 or even 10 mIU/mL, there is little concrete information to support these claims. If you do come across a test with a number lower than 25 mIU/mL, make sure to carefully read the package insert about the possibility of false positives (this is when the test says you are pregnant when you aren’t).


The most important thing to understand is that none of these tests can detect pregnancy the instant that it happens. So if you just had unprotected sex and are worried you may be pregnant, you’ll have to wait up to two weeks for any test to give you the “yes” or “no.” In cases like these, emergency contraception (EC) can be an option for preventing unintended pregnancy if you take it within five days of “the sex,” but the earlier the better.


If you discover that you are indeed pregnant, next steps are key. If you’re pregnant, don’t want to be, it’s time to get talking and make a plan. Talk to your partner, talk to your friends and family and make an appointment with your health care provider or at a clinic to discuss your options. If you’re pregnant and do want to be, first off, congrats! Now you’ll want to make a prenatal appointment with your health care provider and get going on all the important mom-to-be rites of passage like prenatal vitamins, ultrasounds and other necessities.


Oh, and if you’re thinking of trying to get pregnant, take a look-see at our interactive Are You Ready? Quiz. It asks the tough questions that you may not have thought to consider and can help you better understand what becoming a parent might really mean for your future.