If you have been intentionally trying to conceive, chances are you are aware of the variety of early pregnancy tests available now that can sometimes detect pregnancy several days before your period is due. But just because you can use an early pregnancy test, does that mean you should? It's worth considering a few points before you proceed.
Pros of Early Pregnancy Testing
Except for having a doctor order an early hCG blood test, which is usually done only when there are medical reasons to detect pregnancy as early as possible, early home pregnancy tests are the fastest way for you to find out whether or not you are pregnant in a particular menstrual cycle.
The most sensitive tests on the market can potentially give you a positive result four to five days before your period is due, meaning you don't necessarily have to wait for a missed period to find out you are pregnant. This can be appealing if you want to find out about your pregnancy as early as possible, and an early answer can be helpful if your doctor plans for you to start or to discontinue any medications as soon as you discover you are pregnant.
Early pregnancy tests may also be helpful if you were not intending to conceive but had a birth control failure around the middle of your cycle, and you want to know as soon as possible whether you are pregnant so that you can make appropriate plans.
Cons of Early Pregnancy Tests
The package insert for one of the leading brands of early pregnancy test states that, when used four days before the missed menstrual period, the test will detect hCG (the early pregnancy hormone used by most blood and urine pregnancy tests) in about 69% of pregnant women. At three days before the expected menstrual period, the number rises to 83%. And at both one and two days before the menstrual period, 93% of women will have a positive result if they are pregnant -- meaning 7% may not.
So although it is true that these tests can tell you that you are pregnant in a given cycle, they cannot tell you that you are definitely not pregnant, and there is a significant chance of having a false negative result. This may be especially true if your menstrual cycle varies in length or if you are not tracking the exact date to expect your period. Thus, the uncertainty of a negative result may lead you to use multiple early pregnancy tests in each menstrual cycle, and this practice can cost you a considerable amount of money without changing the ultimate answer. (Remember that finding out a few days early is not going to affect whether or not you actually are pregnant, nor will it affect the outcome of your pregnancy.)
Another argument against early pregnancy testing is the increased chances of detecting and subsequently grieving over very early miscarriages that might otherwise be unnoticed. Often termed chemical pregnancies, these miscarriages cause you to get a positive pregnancy test but then have your period arrive on schedule or only a few days late, making the test appear to be a "false" positive. Researchers believe that chemical pregnancies are extremely common and rarely indicate any underlying health concerns in the mother, but that these conceptions are being detected more often because of the sensitive pregnancy tests now on the market.
So if you wait to test until after your period is due, you will have a lower odds of noticing a chemical pregnancy. Depending on your outlook, you may prefer to wait to take an early pregnancy test so as to reduce the risk of being devastated a few days later.
As with all things, everyone's circumstances are different, and you have to make the decisions that work best for you. Whether you test early or later, best wishes to you that you will get the outcome you want when you do take an early pregnancy test.
First Response(R) Early Result Pregnancy Test. Accessed: June 8, 2009. http://www.firstresponse.com/earlyPregTest.asp
Understanding Pregnancy Tests: Urine and Blood. American Pregnancy Association. Accessed: June 8, 2009. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/gettingpregnant/understandpregnancytests.html