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How Late Can a Period Be Before You Know You’re Pregnant?

Reviewed on 1/25/2021

What is a late period?

A late period is when a woman's menstrual cycle doesn't start as expected, with a normal cycle lasting between 24 to 38 days. When a woman's period is seven days late she may be pregnant although other things may cause a late or skipped period.
A late period is when a woman's menstrual cycle doesn't start as expected, with a normal cycle lasting between 24 to 38 days. When a woman's period is seven days late she may be pregnant although other things may cause a late or skipped period.

If your period is late or you’re wondering if you’re pregnant, the days can tick by rather slowly. How long do you have to wait before taking a pregnancy test? The instructions on home pregnancy tests often talk about “your missed period.” What do they mean?

In the world of pregnancy testing, a missed period means you expected your menstrual bleeding to have started yesterday, and it still has not started. The day of your expected period depends on what your normal menstrual cycle looks like and when your last period started. 

The menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of your period to the day before your next period starts. The average cycle is 28 days, with a pattern that looks something like this:

  • Day 1 – The tissue lining your uterus (womb) breaks down and leaves your body through the vagina. This bleeding is your period, and it lasts 4 to 8 days for most women.
  • Day 8 – The lining of the uterus begins building up again to be ready to nourish a fertilized egg. Your body does this every month to prepare for a potential pregnancy.
  • Day 14 – An egg is released from your ovary in a process known as ovulation. You are most likely to get pregnant if you have sex on the day you ovulate or in the three days before. While a man’s sperm can live 3 to 5 days inside you, your egg can only live 1 day if it is not fertilized by a sperm.
  • Days 15 to 24 – The egg travels down a fallopian tube toward the uterus. If the egg joins with a sperm, the fertilized egg will attach to the lining of your uterus. This is called implantation and is the moment pregnancy begins.
  • Day 24 – If the egg has not joined with a sperm, it starts to break apart. Your hormone levels drop, signaling your uterus that it will not need to support a pregnancy this month.

Some women’s menstrual cycles last the same number of days every month. These women can accurately predict the day their period will start. Other women have a menstrual cycle that is a little different each month. Your period is still considered regular as long as it comes every 24 to 38 days.

Symptoms of a late period and pregnancy

The symptoms of a late period will be obvious to many women who menstruate regularly. If you were expecting your period, and it doesn’t begin, you’ll know it’s late. Not all periods arrive like clockwork, and it’s very normal for periods to occur on a slightly different schedule. Pregnancy isn’t the only thing that can cause a late or skipped period. But if you’re wondering whether your missing period might mean you’re pregnant, you can look for other early symptoms of pregnancy. During the first 8 weeks of pregnancy, many women experience:

1. Fatigue

During the first trimester (weeks 0 to 13 of pregnancy), your body produces large amounts of a hormone called progesterone. This can make you feel sleepy. Even during the first week after conception, you may feel more tired than usual.

2. Spotting

Implantation bleeding is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. It is very light bleeding, often called “spotting”, that happens as a result of the fertilized egg implanting (attaching) to the uterine wall. Implantation is usually 6 to 12 days after conception, or the moment the egg is fertilized by a sperm. 

Some women also have mild abdominal cramps during implantation. Other women don’t notice any symptoms with implantation.

3. Breast Changes

You may see changes in your breasts as early as 1 to 2 weeks after conception. Your breasts may be swollen and tender to the touch. You may have soreness or a feeling of fullness in your breasts.

4. Headaches

The rapid rise in hormones and blood flow during pregnancy can lead to mild headaches even before a missed period.

5. Missed Period

This is often the first symptom women notice. If you are pregnant, you will probably not have regular menstrual bleeding. Some women do have spotting during pregnancy, but it would probably be much lighter and shorter than your usual period.

6. Nausea

Morning sickness typically shows up 2 to 8 weeks after conception and goes away by about 14 weeks. Though it is called morning sickness, nausea during pregnancy can happen at any time of the day or night. For many women, symptoms are the worst when they first get up in the morning. Some women experience vomiting with morning sickness, but others do not. 

7. Frequent urination

Around 6-8 weeks after conception, you may start to feel like you have to pee much more often than usual. This symptom is likely to continue for the rest of your pregnancy.

Causes of a late period and pregnancy

Pregnancy happens when an egg is fertilized by a sperm. But pregnancy is not the only reason for missed or late periods. Some other possible causes include:

SLIDESHOW

13 Early Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy See Slideshow

Diagnosis and tests for a late period and pregnancy

Home pregnancy tests check your urine for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) that is only present when you’re pregnant. The body starts making hCG at implantation, and many home pregnancy tests can detect hCG around the day of your expected period.

However, it is common to get a false negative in the first few days after a missed period. The amount of hCG in your body increases daily in early pregnancy. If you test too early, there might not be enough hCG for a positive test. Testing one week after a missed period is most likely to give you accurate results.

If you’ve had two home pregnancy tests come back negative and still think you’re pregnant, check with your doctor. They can order a blood test that looks for the same hormone but can detect it earlier in the pregnancy. Blood tests can give accurate results as soon as 6 to 8 days after ovulation.

If your pregnancy tests come back negative, but you still haven’t had a period, talk to your doctor to determine what might be the cause and if any additional tests or treatment are needed. If you’re trying to conceive, your doctor can perform additional tests or make other suggestions.

Treatments for a late period and pregnancy

In general, if you’ve missed a period and you know you’re not pregnant, you don’t need specific treatment or care. However, if you were having a regular cycle and you’ve stopped, if you’re experiencing bleeding at unexpected times, if it’s been more than 45 days since your last period, and if you have additional symptoms that point to other concerns, your doctor will likely look into treatment options. Depending on the cause, your doctor may prescribe hormone therapy like birth control pills or other medication, or they might be able to suggest lifestyle changes to help you have a regular period cycle. 

If your late period is a sign of pregnancy, your doctor can help you come up with a treatment plan to be sure you receive the proper care and regular checkups throughout your pregnancy.

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References
SOURCES:

American Pregnancy Association: "Early Signs of Pregnancy."

Kids Health: "Irregular Periods."

Office on Women's Health: "Knowing If You are Pregnant."

Office on Women's Health: "Your Menstrual Cycle."

Office on Women's Health: "Prenatal Care and Tests."

National Health Service: "How can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?"

University of Michigan: "Missed or Irregular Periods."

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