When can I take a pregnancy test?
February 3, 2011 8:06 PM   Subscribe

Clueless and confused: when can I take a pregnancy test?

I am youngish, uneducated, and never got sex ed, and I'm afraid all this HcG ovulation talk that I get when I Google this question is way over my head.

- I'm 21.
- I'm not on birth control.
- I've used a condom every time I've had sex; the last time was 3 weeks ago.
- However, we were really drunk so I'm concerned we might have been Doing It Wrong.
- My period should have been here a couple days ago. However, it's always been irregular and I often miss one or two a year.
- I'm exhausted and my head hurts, though I can probably attribute that to stress.
- I have no adult life skills and am thus pretty damn nervous about the possibility of being pregnant.

Can I take a pregnancy test now, or would it be better to take it later? Most of the websites discuss the earliest time you can take it, but I want to wait until when I know it will be accurate. I don't have a lot of money so I don't want to throw down $20 for a test just to do the same again in a week because I can't trust the negative.

I apologize for my cluelessness. Thank you!
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total)
You can take a test when your period is late. Take it with your first pee of the morning, so the hormones are more concentrated.
posted by sugarfish at 8:09 PM on February 3, 2011

From what I've read, you probably won't get an accurate reading of your pregnancy (if you are pregnant) until a week after your period was supposed to start. Also, don't spend $20 on a pregnancy test! The tests you get at the Dollar Store (no kidding) will give an accurate reading.
posted by mylittlehipster at 8:11 PM on February 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

Do you have a Dollar General or Dollar Tree nearby? Last time I was in Dollar Tree they had pregnancy tests (the pee on a stick kind) for $1. I haven't needed a pregnancy test years, but from what I understand, the cheap ones are the exact same thing as the name brand ones.
posted by amyms at 8:14 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Just for future reference, my local version of Planned Parenthood gives away condoms and home pregnancy tests if I ask for them. Even if your test comes up negative, if you have a PP or similar nearby you should consider going in and having a chat with them. They should also carry information booklets about sex ed that you might feel are more trustworthy than internet sources (there's a lot of misinformation out there! All my friend have had sex ed and some of them still believe old wives' tales like "you can't get knocked up the first time") and are written in plain English, no fertility-website jargon.

Good luck :)
posted by jaynewould at 8:18 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've had some issues with irregular periods, and I usually wait a week before freaking out. If I was supposed to start on Monday and I haven't started by the following Monday then I'll take the test.

For the first bit of a pregnancy the hormones are pretty much doubling. If you can wait a few days you'll be more likely to get an accurate test result. I don't know where you are, but around here the dollar stores carry pregnancy tests. Just FYI. I've been told those are just as good except that they use less of the chemical that detects the hormones, so they aren't as accurate as early as some of the more expensive ones. Waiting a week should lessen the gap.
posted by TooFewShoes at 8:20 PM on February 3, 2011

Go to the Dollar Store, get two, and pee on one right away and one next week if your period still hasn't shown up. All bases covered. Make sure you get one that says "early pregnancy test" or something like that on it; they'll usually say on the box that you can pee as soon as you miss your period.

First pee of the morning, yes, and the insert in the box tells you the accuracy rate for various days (they start at around 50% accurate 5 days before your period and approach 100% once you miss it).

Most drug store chains, like Walgreens, also have generic pregnancy tests which aren't as cheap as the dollar store but which cost far less than the brand names (about half). Again, get two. You can always save the spare for later.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:20 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Also, this backs up what mylittlehipster suggests about waiting for a week.
posted by jaynewould at 8:21 PM on February 3, 2011

Again, yes on the Dollar Store pregnancy tests!! That's what I've used, and they are just as good as anything else. Everyone else has it about right. The longer you wait, the more accurate your results, and take it first thing in the morning. I've always gotten good results when I've waited about 5-7 days past when my period was expected.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 8:30 PM on February 3, 2011

The technical answer to your question is that you can take a test a few days after implantation. That's usually 14 days after ovulation. Since your cycle is irregular, the answer is that you can take a test on the day you miss your period. You don't really know when that is, but if it's been three weeks since the sex act, you can take the test now. Do take it first thing in the morning, as has been suggested.

Best of luck. I've been where you are and I know how scary it is. *hug*
posted by goblinbox at 8:36 PM on February 3, 2011

Sometimes the dollar store varieties--Dollar Tree, anyway--are even more sensitive to hormone levels than the namebrand and will detect pregnancy earlier than their spiffier named counterparts. (One of the dollar store brands that's not 'early detection' can do this as well, but the dollar store 'early detection' should be about on par with the drugstore brand 'early detection' too.)

This knowledge is yet another bit of trivia my father (an OB-GYN) conveyed to me over the course of my youth. In retrospect, it is one of the more practical life tips I've ever received. (Note to parents: the practical knowledge I acquired from the conversations and accurate information and sources he provided me over the years whenever I asked, whether for me or for friends or for 'friends,' have turned out to be completely worth all embarrassment, both for me and the many women in anonymous's position who would seek me out even if we were just friendly acquaintances. That is how valuable it is for women to possess accurate information and the ability/confidence to find and navigate sexual health resources.)

And hey, if OB hearsay isn't good enough, here's some not completely scientific charting of brand comparisons. (Lower numbers in the right-hand column=detects hCg at lower levels=the test should detect pregnancy earlier than a test with higher numbers.)
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 8:56 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I feel like some of the previous answers might be a little bit tl;dr so I want to give you one concise response:

A Planned Parenthood/doctor's office pregnancy test should be solid TWO WEEKS AFTER the sex that got you there. In your case, you should be solid now.

Here's my own tl;dr: The test is looking for a hormone you start producing following gettin' knocked up. It takes a minute to build up. If the first one's negative and you're feeling sketchy about it, take another one a week later. Repeat as necessary, and then look into subsidized birth control in your state. Message me with your state and I'd be happy to research your options for birth control and pass them along.
posted by girlstyle at 10:12 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just scanned the above responses so forgive me this has already been mentioned, but call/check your local hospital(s) to see if they do free pregnancy testing. The hospital near me only asks for a name (you can make one up) and the staff are really helpful in answering questions/directing you to where you need to go for help (whatever your choice) in the event of pregnancy.
posted by lovecricket at 11:59 PM on February 3, 2011

You may want to know, you are far more likely to get a false negative than a false positive. False positives are rare.

That said, I personally would not wait. Three weeks after sex is plenty of time for the test to be responsive. If it's positive, you want to know that asap so that you can decide your next steps. If it's negative, take another test in a week to be sure.

Also nthing the advice above to get the cheapie tests.

Not for this incident, maybe, but for future reference--you can get pee strips online for super-cheap. See here for example. (I'm not advocating that particular product, just saying you might want to look into it.) It's very nice, if you're having a pregnancy scare, to have a bunch of tests on hand so you don't even have to worry about waiting a few more days or getting to the drug store.

Good luck.
posted by torticat at 12:53 AM on February 4, 2011

I agree that you could test tomorrow morning at this point and possibly get a positive if you are pregnant.

But I'd also wait and test again a few days later if it is negative just to be sure.

Also, a line is a line is a line. Even if there is the faintest of pink lines, it's a positive test.

Stress can affect periods, too, so it could just be thinking about this has skewed you off a bit. I will admit that I've had a few scares when my period was as much as a week late during months when I was particularly stressed, which then caused me to stress about the possibility of a pregnancy until my period would come. Hard as it may be, try to relax until you know for sure.

I wish you the best.
posted by zizzle at 6:44 AM on February 4, 2011

IANYD, nor an OBGYN. At the hospital where I did my OBGYN rotation pretty much anyone coming in for a pregnancy test less than 2 weeks late was told to come back.
posted by sero_venientibus_ossa at 1:47 PM on February 4, 2011

The insert from the test I had said that if your periods are irregular, wait at least 19 days from the sex to take the test.

(I have very irregular periods.)

That said, there's a reason they come in 2 packs. Take one tomorrow morning; if it's negative, take one a week later.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:08 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like you should head to a Planned Parenthood in a week or two either way,must to have some questions answered.
posted by nerdfish at 12:40 PM on February 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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