If you think you might be pregnant, the first step is usually picking up a home pregnancy test kit. You’ve probably seen them on TV a million times, and they seem pretty straightforward: you pee on a stick, and it tells you if you’re going to have a baby, right? Well, that’s true, but if you don’t use it correctly, a home pregnancy test may not give you the information you need. Let’s go through the facts on home pregnancy tests and how to use them correctly.
How does pregnancy test work?
Pregnancy tests work by measuring levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone secreted by the body during pregnancy. Once a fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining, the developing placenta releases hCG to support the pregnancy. High levels of hCG can be a sign of pregnancy, so testing for hCG levels allows you to confirm if you’re pregnant long before you start to show.
A home pregnancy test measures the concentration of hCG in urine. The sensitivity can vary a lot from brand to brand, but in general, a level above 25mIU/mL is considered a positive, and below 5mIU/mL is considered a negative.
How to take a pregnancy test at the right time
When used correctly and at the right timing, home pregnancy tests are up to 99% accurate. Some test brands advertise that they can be used as soon as a week before your next period. However, most experts would recommend that you hold off on testing until a week after the first day of your missed period.
The time it takes for a fertilized egg to implant and begin developing can vary from person to person. Waiting until your next expected menstrual cycle eliminates some of this ambiguity by giving hCG levels a proper chance to rise. If you test too soon, your hCG levels might not have gotten to the detection threshold of more than 25mIU/mL. Therefore, testing too early increases the chances of a false negative.
It’s understandable to want to know if you’re pregnant as soon as possible, but the most accurate results come from testing at the right time. Even if you use a high-end test that claims accuracy earlier than this, if you get a negative, it’s a good idea to re-test yourself a week after your period’s due date to be sure.
How to use a pregnancy test correctly
Home pregnancy test come in all forms: strips, cassettes, plastic sticks and ones with a digital read-out. Whichever brand you choose, most pregnancy tests rely on the same basic principle.
1. Expose the test to urine
This part is pretty self-explanatory: you pee on the sensitive part of the test strip. Most brands are now sensitive enough to pick up on hCG at any time of the day, so you can use it anytime you want.
2. Wait at least one minute
Once the test has been exposed to urine, you’ll need to wait for the result that indicates hCG levels. This can take a while to complete, so wait at least one minute (or longer, if called for by the package insert). Some research suggests that 10 minutes is the best time to wait for the most accurate result.
3. Check the results
Once the test is ready, check the result. Make sure you know what you’re looking for – whether it’s a color change, double lines, or another mark. In all the excitement it’s not uncommon to do a double-take at first!
This is general advice for over-the-counter pregnancy tests, but each brand is different. Make sure you read the instructions on the box and follow them carefully. If there is any ambiguity in the results, see your doctor for a more accurate blood test.
The key to taking a pregnancy test is patience
Taking a pregnancy test can be a downright nail-biting experience for anyone, so it’s no surprise if you want to find out the result as soon as possible. However, misleading results can happen in your checking too early – whether that’s taking the test too soon after ovulation, or not waiting long enough for the reaction.
Make sure you get the most reliable results by taking pregnancy tests according to the package instructions and testing at the right time. Otherwise, consider seeing your doctor for a more accurate blood test.