Why Do I Feel Pregnant When I'm Not?

How Hormones Can Make You Think You're Pregnant

Woman looking at pregnancy test

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Feeling pregnant? If you're trying to conceive, this is cause for excitement. You feel pregnant. You have signs and symptoms of pregnancy—fatigue, cravings, and maybe even nausea. But then, your period arrives or your pregnancy test is negative. What does it all mean?

It's not uncommon to experience pregnancy symptoms in the absence of a positive test. Spend any time on fertility forums or social media sites and you're bound to hear members refer to "imaginary pregnancy symptoms." Are these feelings all in your head? Maybe not.

Imaginary Pregnancy Symptoms

Imaginary pregnancy symptoms (IPS) are exactly what they sound like: symptoms women experience that make them think that they may be pregnant. Don't expect to hear your doctor mention IPS. It's not a technical term. The phrase was invented by the fertility-challenged as a loving way to refer to those obnoxious "symptoms" that haunt you during the two-week wait.

The time between ovulation and your expected period is when you're most likely to be anxious about whether or not this month will be the month. This is also the time when you may be more likely to experience tender breasts, fatigue, bloating, emotional sensitivity, light cramping, and even food cravings. These could be signs of early pregnancy, yes, but also fluctuating premenstrual hormones.

PMS vs. Pregnancy

Sometimes, sensations that seem like pregnancy are actually hormones in your body that are preparing for a possible, if not actual, baby. Women's bodies are optimistic when it comes to pregnancy potential. As soon as ovulation occurs, the body starts preparing for a new life. This occurs even if conception did not take place.

One of the hormones responsible for maintaining a healthy early pregnancy is progesterone. Progesterone levels rise after ovulation, about midway through your menstrual cycle (or halfway between periods). If you become pregnant, progesterone levels will continue to rise as your body gets ready to support a developing baby. If you don't conceive, your progesterone levels will dip back down when your period arrives.

Surging progesterone can make you feel tired and emotional. This hormone is also responsible for tender breasts, constipation, and fluid retention. These symptoms may be quite prominent even if you aren't pregnant, especially if you are sensitive to progesterone. If you have conceived, these symptoms are likely to progress, since progesterone levels climb steadily throughout pregnancy.

Fertility Drug Side Effects

If you are working with a doctor to improve your chances of conceiving, it's important to know that fertility drug side effects can sometimes be mistaken for early pregnancy symptoms. Progesterone supplements can cause nausea and a frequent urination. Controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH) treatments like oral clomiphine citrate drugs or injectable gonadotropin may lead to moodiness, sore breasts, and bloating.

Be sure to keep in close touch with your fertility specialist to understand all possible side effects of any medications you are taking. This is a good idea to not only ensure you are in good health throughout treatments, but to also help temper expectations month to month.

False Pregnancy (Pseudocyesis)

Rarely, someone can have very real physiological manifestations of pregnancy and not be pregnant at all. This psychiatric condition is known as pseudocyesis.

In pseudocyesis, people may have observable symptoms of pregnancy, including missed periods, nausea, breast and belly growth, sensations of baby kicks, and even labor pains. Now rare in developed countries due to wide access to prenatal care, pseudocyesis is still not fully understood by doctors. Recent research suggests that people with pseudocyesis may experience hormonal fluctuations that stem from stress related to pressure to conceive.

Don't pin your hopes on a result of an online pregnancy quiz. By asking a series of questions on pregnancy symptoms, these tools purport to tell you how likely it is that you are pregnant. But no quiz can verify if you really are pregnant. If you are experiencing symptoms and looking for clarity, your best bet is to make an appointment with your ob-gyn.

Lasting Symptoms with a Negative Test

So, you're feeling pregnant, and maybe you have even missed your period. But your over-the-counter pregnancy test is still negative. Are you or are you not pregnant?

The answer is it depends. Feeling pregnant doesn’t mean you are, but a negative pregnancy test can be wrong. A recent study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine revealed that up to 5% of pregnancy tests return results indicating a person is not pregnant when, in reality, they are.

There are a few reasons you receive a false-negative test result. You may have tested too early, so the pregnancy hormones aren't high enough to be detected by the test.

  • There isn’t enough pregnancy hormone hCG in your urine yet.
  • The test has malfunctioned.
  • You’re not pregnant.
  • You are pregnant, but something is wrong.

There are other rare reasons you may get a negative test but actually may be pregnant.

Symptoms With a Period

It is possible to be pregnant and get your period. This leads some women to hold onto hope that they may still be pregnant, even after Aunt Flo knocks at the door. Odds are, if you got your period, you’re not pregnant. Feeling pregnant on your period could happen due to:

  • Normal hormonal fluctuations during menstruation
  • The flu or another illness
  • Fatigue or queasiness for other non-pregnancy reasons

Just like feeling pregnant before your period doesn’t mean you’re pregnant, feeling pregnant on your period also doesn’t indicate you’re expecting.

If your period is very different than your usual, then you may want to take a pregnancy test or call your doctor.

For example, you might consider taking a pregnancy test if your period is:

  • Abnormally light for you
  • More like spotting than a period
  • Much shorter than it usually is

There are non-pregnancy reasons to have an off period. Anything from stress to illness can cause one irregular menstrual cycle.

Symptoms With Spotting

Pregnancy symptoms plus spotting can lead many trying-to-conceive women to worry about early miscarriage. Spotting is a possible early pregnancy symptom. It’s also possible to spot and have a healthy pregnancy. It doesn’t mean you’re going to have an early miscarriage.

Spotting that occurs about 6 to 12 days post ovulation is sometimes called implantation spotting. Whether it's actually caused by an embryo implanting into the uterine lining is questionable.

Spotting can also be caused by things other than pregnancy. It’s possible you are spotting, having “pregnancy symptoms,” but not pregnant.

A Word From Verywell

You probably know at least one person with a "feeling pregnant" story that came true. She just knew that month was different. Maybe one particular symptom was stronger, or she was extra tired, or she was craving some food she never eats otherwise. Or she had a strange cramp or twinge. She may claim women's intuition let her know she was with child before the pregnancy test came back positive.

Here's the thing with these kinds of tales: these women are putting much more weight on the one time they felt pregnant and actually were pregnant over the dozens of times those same feelings didn't indicate pregnancy.

If we could just feel whether we're pregnant or not, it sure would cut down the anxiety of the two-week wait! However, the symptoms of early pregnancy are practically indistinguishable from any normal premenstrual symptoms. 

While your "pregnant feelings" aren't 100% imagined, focusing on these "symptoms" can cause emotional distress. Remind yourself that whether you feel pregnant or not, it doesn't mean anything.

Some women are sure they are pregnant, complete with throwing up in the morning, and then find out they're not. Some women feel absolutely nothing and find out they're pregnant after all.

The only way to know if you're pregnant is to wait until your period is late and take a pregnancy test. If an at-home pregnancy test still leaves you with questions, see your doctor.

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8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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