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How to Take a Pregnancy Test

Asking yourself, “Am I pregnant?” Find out when to take a home pregnancy test, how to read the results and what to do next.

Once you start trying to conceive, time seems to slow down. Days feel like weeks as you wait for it to be time to take a pregnancy test. But before you head to the pharmacy to stock up on pee sticks, read this primer on everything you ever wanted to know about home pregnancy tests and how they work.

How Home Pregnancy Tests Work

All home pregnancy tests, available over the counter, basically work the same way, by detecting pregnancy hormones in your urine. The chemical strip on the dipstick detects human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which the body starts producing after an embryo implants. Some tests also detect a variation of this hormone, known as hyperglycosylated hCG (H-hCG), which starts being released some time after fertilization and can be detected before hCG, indicating a pregnancy even earlier.

How Soon Can You Take a Pregnancy Test

You’ve seen those commercials that promise a particular test can tell you five or even six days before your missed period. However, most pregnant women will not see a positive result that early. Also, a “test may pick up a chemical pregnancy, where the hormones started but the pregnancy didn’t take,” says Teresa Hoffman, M.D., an ob-gyn and director of Teresa Hoffman & Associates in Baltimore, MD. “Knowing isn’t better” in that case, she adds.

If you want a more accurate result (and to avoid plunking down money for multiple tests), wait at least until the day after you miss your period. For the most accurate results, it’s best to wait until a week after your missed period.

If You Test Early

Going to ignore our advice because you just can’t stand the suspense a second longer? If you must test before you miss a period, First Response Early Results has been shown in laboratory tests to be the most sensitive home pregnancy test on the market.

How to Take a Pregnancy Test

The best time of day to take the test is with your first morning pee. Many tests instruct you to hold the stick in your urine stream and then place it on a flat surface for a certain number of minutes, although some may ask you to place the stick in a cup of your pee instead. Read the instructions for your test carefully, and follow the instructions exactly. Dr. Hoffman suggests walking away and doing something else while you wait, since it can feel like forever to sit and wait.

Also, make sure the test has not expired, since that may affect the accuracy of its results.

A Negative Pregnancy Test After a Positive One

Miscarriage fears lead some women to take a repeat pregnancy test, even if they’ve already had a positive one, just to reassure themselves. If you get a minus sign after you just had a plus sign a few days earlier, it’s a good idea to get in to see your OB/GYN right away.

If the Results are Faint

What does a barely-there line or plus sign mean? Since false-positives are rare, even a light positive means you are most likely expecting. Wait two or three days, and test again to see if you get a darker positive.

What To Do if It’s Positive

Looks like you’re pregnant, mama—biggest news ever! Calculate your estimated due date, and then call your OB/GYN or midwife to find out if you need to come in for a blood test to confirm the results, and to make your first prenatal appointment. Also, if you’re not already, start popping some prenatal vitamins with folic acid. And start thinking of a cute way to tell your husband and family.

What To Do If It’s Negative

If you got a negative result but still don’t get your period when you expect it, wait a few days and test again. It could just be that your body wasn’t making enough hCG for the test to detect yet, or that you ovulated later than you thought. And if you do get your period, hang in there and try our tips for getting pregnant faster.