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When can you take a pregnancy test after sex?

Everything you need to know about at-home pregnancy tests—including the best time to take them and how to get the most accurate results.

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Types of pregnancy tests

There are two main types of pregnancy tests that measure human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a hormone produced during pregnancy, in your body. While humans may have no to very low levels of HCG when not pregnant, these levels will rise dramatically when a placenta starts to form in the body.

At-home tests

At-home pregnancy tests detect the HCG levels in your urine to determine whether or not you may be pregnant. They’re simple to use and very effective, between 98% to 99% accurate, when used as instructed. In general, it takes 14 days for the pregnancy test to show up positive, regardless of the brand or type of test you take. 

At-home tests are available at local retailers including pharmacies, grocery stores, and even many convenience stores. You can often buy them in packs of two or three so you can have a few on hand for when you need them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a test—the dollar store options are just as great as the digital ones and the Hey Jane clinical team recommends them to our patients all the time.

Blood tests

Blood tests also detect the HCG levels in your body, but through your blood, and are performed by a medical professional. They are less commonly used because it requires your provider to order the lab work and draw your blood, versus a urine test which can be completed more quickly and without having to go to a doctor’s office. 

The benefit of a blood test is that it can detect a pregnancy as early as one week after conception. It measures the exact level of HCG with a numerical value instead of just a positive or negative sign, like on an at-home test. These labs can also help determine if a pregnancy is growing appropriately, or if a pregnancy has been lost. These tests are not routinely used to diagnose pregnancy—urine tests are the gold standard. 

When should you take a test?

Whether you’re feeling worried, curious, or hopeful that you could be pregnant, taking an at-home pregnancy test is a good first step to gathering more information. Additionally, you might consider taking a pregnancy test if you are experiencing any of the following:

  • Regular or recent unprotected sex
  • Your period is late
  • Vaginal bleeding that doesn’t line up with your normal menstrual cycle
I always tell patients that no one should spend more than two minutes anxiously wondering if they are pregnant—because that’s how long it takes to get a result from an at-home test! It’s best to have some on hand to be able to take when you want to or need to, and save yourself the stress of not knowing. -Alyssa Wagner (DNP, RN, APRN, WHNP-BC), Medical Director at Hey Jane

What are the very early signs of pregnancy?

The early signs differ for everyone, but usually the first sign is a missed period. 

Some people experience implantation bleeding around conception, which is when the pregnancy implants into the uterus. People may mistake this for a period or spotting, so it often goes unnoticed. However, if it comes with pelvic pain, it should be evaluated by a medical professional. 

Other common signs include fatigue, nausea, breast tenderness, heightened sense of smell, and food aversions.

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How does a pregnancy test work?

Pregnancy tests measure the hormone HCG in blood or urine. The amount of the hormone present indicates whether a person is pregnant or not, and the rate at which the hormone increases gives providers insight into how the pregnancy is developing. 

Which hormones are tested? 

HCG, which increases in pregnancy because it is produced by the placenta. It can be present at very low levels when not pregnant.

Pregnancy test results

There has to be enough HCG in your urine (as low as 20-25 mIU/ml) in order for an at-home test to be positive. If you think you might be pregnant but are getting a negative result, you can try again in a day or two since this hormone tends to double every 48-72 hours in early pregnancy that is growing as expected. 

What time should I test?

The best time to take an at-home pregnancy test is when you first pee in the morning. While some tests are sensitive enough to detect HCG at any time, testing first thing in the morning means your urine will be more concentrated. If you take a test later in the day, try to wait until it’s been three hours since your last pee or confirm your result by taking a second test.

After care

If you receive a positive result on your at-home pregnancy test, take a moment to think about what this means for you—and it is also ok if you don’t know! 

If there is any chance that this could be a pregnancy that you would like to, or are considering, continuing with, then now is a great time to look at some lifestyle change. This might include stopping smoking, stopping drinking alcohol, and adding a prenatal vitamin (which are all crucial to a good pregnancy outcome). Keep in mind that there is also never a bad time to start taking a vitamin (even if you’re not pregnant!) or to stop smoking—regardless of your pregnancy status—as  stopping smoking decreases your risk for cancer. 

If you are not considering continuing the pregnancy, then now is a great time to explore your options for abortion.  

If you are not considering continuing the pregnancy, there are other options, including abortion. Accessing abortion can be very time sensitive—especially depending on the state you live in. If you are considering an abortion, you can get abortion pills delivered discreetly to your door with Hey Jane.

Looking for more resources? Check out our list here.

How soon will a pregnancy test be positive?

An at-home test can detect pregnancy as early as two weeks after unprotected sex, or right before or during your missed period. It usually takes two weeks for your body to develop enough HCG, the hormone indicating pregnancy, for an at-home test to show a positive pregnancy. 

The best thing to do if you get a negative result but think you are pregnant is to be patient. We know this can be hard, but the HCG hormone doubles every two to three days in early pregnancy and waiting a few days and repeating the test will likely give you a more accurate result. 

Will a pregnancy test work if I’m on the pill?

Yes. The hormones in birth control pills will not interfere with the results of a pregnancy test. No method of contraception is completely effective, so it's important to take a pregnancy test if you think you might be pregnant.

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Written by

Alyssa Wagner (DNP, RN, APRN, WHNP-BC), Medical Director at Hey Jane

Alyssa Wagner (she/her) is a board certified women’s health nurse practitioner specializing in reproductive and sexual health care for over 14 years. She’s passionate about increasing access to health care, removing stigma, and spending time with her family.

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