Pregnancy Scares: Why Do I Keep Thinking I’m Pregnant?

Many women delay pregnancy and motherhood for a variety of reasons. It could be the wrong time in life for a baby, or you may already feel that your family is complete the way it is now. Pregnancy scares occur when you worry about being pregnant before you take a pregnancy test.

Birth control failure and late or missed periods are common reasons women may experience a pregnancy scare. You have options to help resolve your fears and prevent unintended pregnancy.

What is a pregnancy scare?

A pregnancy scare occurs when you worry you might be pregnant before you take a pregnancy test or see a healthcare provider. Women at all stages of life can experience a pregnancy scare. In 2011, 45% of women reported at least one pregnancy scare throughout their life; most experts believe that number is vastly underreported.

Pregnancy scares occur for a variety of reasons:

  • Unprotected sex (without the desire to conceive)
  • Condom breaks
  • Birth control concerns (forgetting to take a pill, multiple missed days, etc.)
  • Late or missed period

Ease your fears

Pregnancy and motherhood can be overwhelming. Both are life-changing events with serious implications for your future. Having mixed feelings, fear, or anxiety about the unknown is normal. The reason you are scared you might be pregnant doesn't matter as much as what you can do to ease your fears.

Relax

Take a deep breath. Stress and anxiety wreak havoc on your ability to think clearly. They can even cause some symptoms associated with early pregnancy, like nausea, fatigue, or even delay your period.

Talk to a trusted friend or family member

Reach out to someone you trust and tell them your fears. A supportive friend or family member will listen to your fears and can provide a different perspective than what you thought of on your own. They can help you take the next action steps, and you may feel relief just by “getting it off your chest.”

Emergency contraception

You have a few options to prevent pregnancy if the condom broke, you missed a few birth control pills, or you had unprotected sex. Timing matters, so you need to take action quickly for these options to work.

The “morning after” pill

Several “morning after” pills are available over the counter without a prescription. These options contain levonorgestrel, which prevents your ovaries from releasing an egg or keeps it from being fertilized by sperm. Brand names include Plan B One Step, Julie, Take Action, My Way, Option 2, AfterPill, and several others.

Another oral option is Ella (ulipristal acetate), but it requires a prescription. Ella delays or prevents ovulation so that a pregnancy cannot occur.

Intrauterine device (IUD)

Finally, you can choose an IUD. This option requires the most coordination because it has to be inserted by a healthcare professional. IUDs prevent pregnancy if inserted within five days of unprotected sex or birth control failure.

A significant benefit is that IUDs provide 8–12 years of pregnancy prevention. If and when you decide you’re ready for pregnancy, your healthcare provider can easily remove the IUD.

Take a pregnancy test

Taking a pregnancy test may seem obvious, but it's not always that simple. If you're experiencing a pregnancy scare, you may be just as scared to discover the results.

Urine pregnancy tests are cheap and widely available. They measure human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone your body only makes during pregnancy. At-home pregnancy tests can detect HCG as early as 8–10 days after conception.

If you are actively worried about pregnancy, make an appointment with a healthcare provider. Planned Parenthood has locations nationwide that provide reproductive healthcare, counseling, and education.

Can overthinking cause false pregnancy symptoms?

Stress or anxiety can cause non-specific early pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. For some women, high stress levels may even delay ovulation, which in turn delays the start of your period.

There is a very rare medical condition called pseudocyesis, in which a woman experiences significant pregnancy symptoms despite a negative pregnancy test. Pseudocyesis was more common before we had easy ways to diagnose and confirm pregnancy.

Menstrual cycle variation

Everyone's menstrual cycle is unique, and your cycle will also change throughout your lifetime. Experts agree that a regular menstrual cycle is anywhere from 21 to 35 days long, with an average of about 28 days. However, up to 25% of women have irregular periods. Periods can be irregular for many reasons.

Medical causes
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Noncancerous growths in your reproductive system (called fibroids or polyps)
  • Endometriosis
  • Medications
  • Some birth control methods
  • Steroids
  • Blood thinners
  • Lifestyle causes
  • The first few years after your period starts are often irregular
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Illness
  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Pregnancy scares can happen regardless of your menstrual cycle regularity or irregularity. It's a good idea to track the start of your period each month, which can help you identify trends and know when to expect your period. The tracking record also helps your healthcare provider understand your menstrual cycle, which allows them to diagnose and treat reproductive concerns.

    Overall, pregnancy scares are very common. You're not alone if you are worried about an unintended pregnancy. Reach out to a trusted friend or relative, or contact your local healthcare provider to discuss next steps.

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