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Pregnancy scares can be intimidating. You might know you had unprotected sex or you might be worried that your contraception didn't work properly. Maybe your period is late, or maybe you just feel a little bit off. 

If you have recently had unprotected sex or a contraceptive failure (like a broken condom), emergency contraception is available. Although it's commonly called the morning after pill, it can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. It is most effective if taken within 24 hours. It's available over the counter, without a doctor's prescription, at pharmacies. 

If the reason you're worried about pregnancy is because you have been sexually assaulted, there are free, confidential support services who you can talk to about the assault. You can contact these services at any stage, so you don't have to make the decision to seek counselling or support straight away if you have been assaulted. However, it is important to seek medical assistance, including emergency contraception, as soon as possible. You can present to your local hospital, although you should be aware that if the hospital is run by a faith-based organisation they may not provide you with emergency contraception.  

How do I know if I'm pregnant? 

You might be nervous about the result, or worried about what you will do if it comes back positive, but the first step is to take a pregnancy test.

One of the first signs of pregnancy is a missed period, but you might not be sure of when your period is due, or you might not have a regular menstrual cycle. Other symptoms of early pregnancy may include a shorter or lighter period, mood changes, feeling more tired than usual, feeling sick or vomiting, stomach cramps, tender breasts, more frequent urination, and others. Individual women are different and may experience some or none of these symptoms, so the only way to know is to take a pregnancy test if you are at all concerned you may be pregnant. 

It is important not to delay if you think you may be pregnant. Whichever option you decide upon, early care is important: if you are thinking about continuing the pregnancy and parenting or adopting, antenatal care and screening is important early in the pregnancy. If you are considering abortion, it's important to remember that abortion is more expensive and more difficult to access after around 12 weeks gestation, and you will want to allow yourself time to make a considered decision without rushing yourself. Confirming whether or not you are pregnant is the first step.  

Pregnancy tests

Home pregnancy tests can be bought from supermarkets and pharmacies and involve a simple urine test. The instructions on the packet should be carefully followed. You may like to have someone you trust with you when you take the test for extra support. These tests are very accurate and you don't need to take several. 

You don't need a health care card, ID or to be a certain age to buy a pregnancy test. Anyone can buy them, at any time. You may with to have someone you trust with you when you buy or do the test, or you may wish to do it alone. This is your choice.

You can buy a test yourself at supermarkets (self-serve check-out is great for some privacy), pharmacies chemists, doctors, family planning and sexual health clinics, some youth services or community centres, or some school based youth health nurses (some can, some can’t give out pregnancy tests). 

Pregnancy tests measure the hormones in your urine or blood that is made by the developing placenta. This can be traced a few days before your period is due but is more accurately read when your period is actually due.

If you don’t trust the first one, take another. If two say you’re pregnant – two is enough. You can assume you are pregnant. If you can, it's a good idea to buy a box with two tests in it - this will be cheaper than buying two individual test boxes.

It doesn't matter if the pregnancy test is cheap or expensive, it will work. Read instructions carefully, as each test is different.

Check the box is in date and doesn’t look damaged. If it is out of date or looks damaged, get a new test.

A store bought pregnancy test will work 16 days after you had unprotected sex. Some women do not have a regular menstrual cycle and may not be sure if they have missed their period, or know when their period is due, but the best time to test is when your period is due. Testing too early can lead to a false negative. 

Beware of home pregnancy tests which say they can tell you 'how far along' your pregnancy is. These tests can give you a digital read out which estimates how many weeks pregnant you are. This estimate is how many weeks since conception. However, this is not how pregnancy gestation is calculated. 

The gestation of a pregnancy is calculated from the first day of your most recent normal menstrual period (this tells you how many weeks the pregnancy is), not from the date you think the sex which led to the pregnancy took place on. So, for example, you may have had unprotected sex three weeks ago, but your last period started five weeks ago. This means your pregnancy is dated as being five weeks gestation. 

So, if a pregnancy test says

  • 2-3 weeks – you are more likely 4-5 weeks pregnant.
  • 3 + weeks – you are more likely 5 + weeks pregnant.

This method of dating can be confusing and problematic, particularly if you don't have a regular menstrual cycle or you can't remember when your last period started. However, it can be important to calculate the gestation as accurately as possible to ensure timely access to termination services or antenatal visits.  Your GP or Family Planning doctor can assist you to calculate it. 

What next? 

If you are not pregnant and you do not want to fall pregnant, this may be a good opportunity to look at the many options available for contraception

If you are pregnant it is normal to be feeling a mixture of emotions, such as fear, happiness, confusion, guilt, worry, and excitment. It is important that you seek support from someone you trust to help you with what to do next.

Talk to someone you trust. It is a good idea to speak to someone you trust who can support you at this time. 

If you don’t wish to talk to someone you know you can call Children by Choice for support. Children by Choice is a free and confidential service and our counsellors support people to explore their options - including abortion, adoption and parenting.

Last modified on: 04 July 2016
You think you might be pregnant
04 July 2016

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