When Should I Take a Pregnancy Test?

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Wallis, MS, APRN, CNM, IBCLC
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Taking a pregnancy test may be a source of anxiety. The anxiety can tempt you to take a test early. However, this can give you a negative result even if you are pregnant. There is a time to take a test that gives the most accurate results. This article will discuss the best time to take a pregnancy test. It will also talk about how accurate the tests are, how they work, when to get a blood test, and the early symptoms of pregnancy.

When is the best time to take a pregnancy test?

An image of four pregnancy tests
Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines/Stocksy United

If you think you may be pregnant, waiting to take a test might often be difficult. It can cause worry and anxiety. However, waiting until the right time to take a test can give you the most accurate results.

The best time to take a pregnancy test is the first day after you miss a period.

There are pregnancy tests that claim they can tell if you are pregnant before you miss your period. However, these tests may not be as accurate. Taking a pregnancy test before you miss a period gives you a greater chance of getting a negative result, even if you are pregnant.

If you have irregular periods or do not chart your periods, then the best time to take a test is 21 days after you last had sex without using a condom or another barrier method.

You may also increase your chances of getting an accurate result if you take the test first thing in the morning with your first urine of the day. This is because the hormone levels tend to be higher first thing in the morning.

Learn about ways to get pregnant.

How accurate are pregnancy tests?

Most home pregnancy tests claim to be 99% accurate. However, research from 2014 showed that many of them are around 95% accurate at detecting pregnancy.

The accuracy of a test largely depends on:

  • when you use it
  • how you use
  • who uses it
  • the brand of the test

When you use a test properly, the results are typically very accurate. Be sure to follow all the instructions that come with the test carefully to ensure the best chance of accuracy.

How do pregnancy tests work?

At-home pregnancy tests measure human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in your urine. This is a hormone that your body only produces during pregnancy.

Your placenta produces hCG when you are pregnant. The production of this hormone begins a short time after the embryo attaches to the uterus’s wall. During pregnancy, the levels of hCG increase quickly. In a typical 28-day menstrual cycle, you can typically find hCG in your urine within 12–15 days of ovulation.

How to use a pregnancy test

Many at-home pregnancy tests come with a dipstick. Some will either come with a cup or instruct you to urinate into a cup or container. Manufacturers often design a cup or dipstick for you to hold directly under your urine stream.

For many pregnancy tests, the steps are as follows:

  1. Use your first urine of the morning, if possible.
  2. Hold the dipstick in your stream of urine for 5–10 seconds.
  3. If it is the type of test that uses a cup, urinate into the cup, then place the stick in the urine for 5–10 seconds.
  4. Wait a few minutes for the results to show. Each brand may have a different wait time, so check the instructions that come with the test.

The test will generally have a window or another area that shows the test results. The instructions with the test will tell you how to read the results. Typical pregnancy test results include:

  • a plus or minus sign
  • the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant”
  • a single or double line

If you receive a positive test result, contact your doctor or nurse midwife for verification and to discuss your next steps and options. If you receive a negative test but still believe you may be pregnant, take another test in a few days.

You can purchase at-home pregnancy tests at most stores and pharmacies. The cost depends largely on the type of test and brand. Digital pregnancy tests are typically more expensive than basic dipstick tests.

When would I need a blood test?

A blood test for pregnancy is typically done by your nurse midwife, doctor, or at a medical office. These tests are more sensitive than urine tests and can read lower hCG levels.

There are two types of blood tests used to determine if someone is pregnant:

  • Quantitative test: This type of test measures the exact levels of hCG in your body. It is a very accurate test and can even tell you approximately how far you are in the gestation cycle.
  • Qualitative test: This test only checks to see if there is a presence of the hCG hormone in your body. It cannot estimate gestation and is about as accurate as a home pregnancy test.

Healthcare professionals may order a blood test to verify the results of an at-home pregnancy test. They may also use a blood test if you missed a period and still received a negative test result at home.

The cost of blood tests typically depends on where you have them done and what type of insurance you have. You can discuss the cost of these tests with your medical team.

What are early symptoms of pregnancy?

If you do not know if you missed a period, you may decide to take a pregnancy test if you begin to notice changes in your body. Certain symptoms of early pregnancy besides a missed period can indicate that you may want to consider taking a test.

Early symptoms of pregnancy

Learn more about the first month of pregnancy.

Summary

If you believe you may be pregnant, it can be tempting to take a test right away. Taking a test too early can increase your chances of getting a negative result even if you are pregnant.

The best time to take a pregnancy test is the first day after you miss a period or 21 days after having sex without using a condom or another barrier method. There are early detection pregnancy tests. However, they are typically not as accurate.

If possible, try to take a pregnancy test with your first urine in the morning, as the hCG hormone levels are higher during this time.

If you receive a positive test result, or miss a period and receive a negative result, contact your nurse midwife or doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Meredith Wallis, MS, APRN, CNM, IBCLC
Last Review Date: 2022 Jul 6
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