What To Do If You Think You're Pregnant, According To OB/GYNs
Ask any young woman what it feels like to suspect you may be unexpectedly pregnant, and she’s bound to tell you that it can be a tad anxiety-inducing. Unless you’ve been actively trying to have a baby, the suspicion can trigger some serious questions about how you’re going to deal with this news. But not so fast: After all, you don’t know for sure yet that you’re pregnant. Wondering what to do if you think you're pregnant? According to three board-certified OBGYNs, there are a number of steps you should take (spoiler alert: none of them involve worrying).
As for what you shouldn’t do if you think you’re pregnant — don’t panic. Remember: you might not be pregnant, and even if you are, you have many options for how to proceed. On the other hand, there are some important steps you should consider taking. Like maybe call your BFF — you know, so she can talk you down. Take a few deep breaths. Do some mental math on where you are in your cycle. And then, of course, there are other steps you can take to confirm the pregnancy.
So, whether you missed a period or you just have this inexplicable sneaking feeling that you’re pregnant, here are some key steps to take for the sake of your health — and your sanity.
Take an at-home test.
First thing’s first. Swing by your local pharmacy and pick up an at-home test, which can determine — typically with 97 to 99 percent accuracy — whether or not you’re pregnant. Just in case you need to retake it, it’s a good idea to buy a two-pack rather than a single test.
“If you believe that you may be pregnant because you missed a period, the first thing to do is take a pregnancy test,” says Los-Angeles based OBGYN Dr. Pari Ghodsi. "If your period is still delayed a week later, take another one.”
According to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, OBGYN at at Yale-New Haven Hospital and clinical professor at Yale University School of Medicine, the pregnancy test that has the best early detection is the First Response test, which can actually detect a pregnancy six days before the missed period.
Keep in mind that while some home pregnancy tests can be taken as early as before your missed period, for many tests, you may get a more accurate reading if you wait until the day after your missed period, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. The amount of the pregnancy hormone (human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG) increases in your urine over time, and therefore, the test may not be able to detect its presence too early on in the pregnancy. That’s why Dr. Pari recommends taking another test: If you are, in fact, pregnant, your hCG levels double every 48 hours.
And if you think there's a chance you might have conceived as a result of unprotected sex (and you do not currently wish to be pregnant), you can also purchase an emergency contraceptive at your local pharmacy. The morning after pill can be taken up to three to five days after unprotected sex (depending on the brand). For example, Plan B One-Step can be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex or birth control failure. And taking the morning after pill can lower your chance of getting pregnant by 75 to 89 percent if taken within three days, according to Planned Parenthood.
Call your gynecologist or doctor.
If a pregnancy test indicates that you are pregnant, or if you still haven’t gotten your period but an at-home test says you aren’t pregnant, Dr. Minkin recommends making an appointment with your OBGYN or primary care doctor. And Dr. Janelle Luk, co-founder and medical director of Generation Next Fertility in New York City. advises making sure your health insurance coverage is in place, and finding an OBGYN who accepts your insurance.
If you don't have health insurance, there are a number of steps you can take in order to ensure you still have access to healthcare. If you're under 26 years old, you may qualify for coverage under your parent’s insurance. Additionally, if you qualify as a low-income person, you may be able to enroll for Medicaid. Enrollment for Medicaid is open year round, and maternity insurance coverage can be retroactive, which means it may cover any prenatal care you received before applying. Alternatively, you may look into Community Health Centers, which offer affordable primary and prenatal care to people who are uninsured with fees that are based on your income. And many Planned Parenthood locations provide affordable prenatal services and base their charges on a sliding-scale fee structure for self-pay patients.
A medical professional can administer another test to confirm the pregnancy.
"Pregnancy tests performed at doctors' offices test HCG levels in blood and give a more accurate answer to whether you are pregnant," explains Dr. Luk.
It's worth noting that a blood test can also detect a pregnancy earlier on.
If you are indeed pregnant, the doctor can then discuss next steps with you.
Adjust your habits.
You haven’t quite confirmed that you’re pregnant, so a few cocktails are totally cool, right? Think again. Dr. Pari, Dr. Minkin, and Dr. Luk all agree that it’s a good idea to stop drinking, smoking, and taking any other drugs merely as a precautionary measure if you believe you may be pregnant. Due to a mixed body of research on the subject of how much alcohol consumption on the part of the pregnant mother is problematic for the baby’s development, Dr. Howard LeWine of Harvard Health Publishing advises that women simply avoid alcohol even if they might be pregnant.
“Excellent health habits are key,” adds Dr. Minkin.
It's worth noting that certain prescription medications can be considered risky if you're pregnant. According to UTSouthwestern Medical Center, acne medications that contain retinoic acid and tetracycline have been directly linked to a greater risk of birth defects. And if you're on another prescription medication and unsure about how it might affect a potential pregnancy, you might want to discuss it with your doctor.
Start taking prenatal vitamins.
If you suspect you may be pregnant, you also may want to start taking prenatal vitamins ASAP just to be safe. These vitamins and minerals offer nutrients (such as calcium, iron, and folic acid) which are crucial for the baby’s healthy growth and development and to prevent certain birth defects.
“Folic acid is especially important,” says Dr. Minkin, adding that you ideally want to be taking these vitamins even before you get pregnant if you’re currently trying.
If you discover that you are pregnant and are looking for some resources that can provide reliable, helpful information, Dr. Minkin recommends checking out the website for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as well as The March of Dimes.
And if you went into a full-blown panic when you thought you might be pregnant (but are massively relieved to find you aren’t), Dr. Minkin suggests reevaluating your current birth control method and either seeing your OBGYN or visiting Planned Parenthood to compare your choices.
“There are many excellent contraceptives available, so finding one that is right for you should be doable,” she adds.
Remember: If you think you may be pregnant, the first step is to confirm whether or not this is true. Then, you can figure out, with the help of an OBGYN or doctor, what the right course of action is for you. A pregnancy scare is nothing to be ashamed of. And while it can certainly be stressful, it can also encourage you to reassess your current birth control strategy you, as well as how you plan to handle a potential pregnancy. The point is, don't worry — you have options, and everything is going to be OK!