How do pregnancy tests work?
Pregnancy tests work by looking for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG). This hormone is usually made in your body when you are pregnant.
A pregnancy test can find hCG (and give a positive result) in your urine when there is enough in your system. Traces of hCG can be found in your urine from 6 days after the fertilised egg implants in your womb (uterus). The amount continues to build each day.
Most pregnancy tests give an accurate result from the first day of your missed period.
If your periods are irregular and you’re not sure when your period is due, do the test at least 21 days after you last had unprotected sex.
Taking a home pregnancy test
You can buy a home pregnancy test from a chemist or supermarket or on the internet. Every pregnancy test is different, so make sure you read the instructions carefully. You can take the test at any time of the day, it doesn’t have to be in the morning.
You need to hold the end of the pregnancy test in a stream of wee (urine), or collect your wee in a clean container and dip it in. Check the instructions to find out what symbol will display on the test if it is positive.
The test will tell you if you are pregnant within minutes. If it says you are pregnant, it is almost certain that you are.
If your pregnancy test was negative
A negative result can be less accurate. It may not be reliable if:
- you don’t follow the instructions properly
- take the test too soon
- you are taking medicines that affect the results.
Ask your pharmacist if your medications may affect the results of a pregnancy test.
If you continue to have symptoms or you still don’t get your period, take another test in a week’s time. Talk to your GP if you continue to get negative results and still don't have a period.
“I had been desperate for this to happen with me for years and when that positive line showed up I expected to be sobbing with joy. But instead I felt numb, then guilty because I felt I should have been more ecstatic. I was in shock and needed time to process. I think it was curse of social media, where women share videos of them finding out and they and their husband are overjoyed and sobbing. Since talking to other mums to be, turns out I was normal after all!”
Pregnancy tests at your doctor or local chemist
Some pharmacists offer pregnancy tests for free, or you may be charged a small fee.
Your GP may offer you a pregnancy test as part of a consultation. For example, if you are not getting your periods but any pregnancy tests you’ve taken at home are negative.
You will need to take a sample of your urine in a clean, soap-free container. If you are going to your GP, you can get pots to put your sample in from the surgery.
You may have to wait up to a few days for the result. But if your urine sample is tested on the spot, you will probably be given the result after just a few minutes.
What to do next after a positive pregnancy test
If you did a test to confirm a pregnancy loss
Sometimes your healthcare professional may ask you to do a pregnancy test after a suspected early miscarriage. This is sometimes needed to make sure that your hCG levels are reducing. If the test shows you're still pregnant, you may need to have further tests.
A miscarriage can be traumatic. Find out what support is available if you or a loved one has experienced pregnancy loss.
If you’re not sure you want to be pregnant
It’s natural to feel a range of different emotions when you find out you’re pregnant. If you’re not sure what you want to do, it's important to take some time to think about your options.
Talking to people you trust and getting information about your options can help you decide. You may want to talk to a partner, family or friends. Other people may give you some helpful advice, but ultimately this is your decision.
If you prefer to speak to someone less close to you, you can talk to your GP or a local community sexual health clinic. These services are confidential.
If you want to continue with the pregnancy
Whether you’ve been planning to get pregnant or not, seeing a positive pregnancy test can be overwhelming. You may need some time to digest the news. You don’t have to tell anyone straight away, unless you want to.
One of the first things you’ll need to do is to let your local midwives know that you’re pregnant so they can organise your antenatal care. You may be able to self-refer to your local maternity unit directly. Visit the hospital website to find out more.
Speak to your GP if you can’t self-refer or if you think your pregnancy may be high-risk (for example, if you have a long-term condition, such as diabetes, or you are over 40). They will tell the midwifery team you are pregnant.
It is very important to tell your GP, midwife or specialist about any medication you may be on. They can make sure you are on the safest medication for you and baby. Do not stop taking any medication without talking to your GP or specialist first.
Find out more about what to do now that you’re pregnant.