Whether you’re trying to make a little version of yourself or wish to avoid that fate, it makes sense that you’d want to know as soon as possible if, to borrow a phrase from “Juno,” your eggo is preggo.
Unfortunately, if you test too early, it’s possible to get a false negative. This could cause you and your partner(s) a false sense of joy, relief, or disappointment.
So when should you take a pregnancy test after unprotected sex, exactly? And what the heck are the next steps once you receive your result? This guide covers it all.
Typically, the phrase “unprotected sex” refers to bareback penis-in-vagina intercourse. But here, we’re using it to refer to sex that took place without proper barrier or proper contraception. That includes any sex that happened with a broken condom, expired condom, or other condom mishap — or with someone using an expired birth control method or not taking their birth control consistently.
What’s the short answer?
If you track your period, and it’s regular, most doctors recommend waiting until your period is late before taking a pregnancy test.
If you don’t know when your period is supposed to be, or if your period is irregular, experts recommend waiting 9 to 12 days after unprotected sex.
About 15 percent of those who menstruate don’t have a regular cycle, estimates Halle Tecco, the founder and chief women’s health officer at Natalist, an online retailer that sells pregnancy and ovulation tests, prenatal supplements, and more.
If it’s been less than 5 days since you had sex
Ultimately, your move here is going to vary based on whether you’re interested in becoming pregnant or not.
If you do not wish to be pregnant, you have two options to consider to reduce the risk of pregnancy.
The first option is to take a morning-after pill, like Plan B or ella.
Despite their name, oral emergency contraceptives can be taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of unwanted pregnancy.
Another option would be to get a copper IUD ASAP. When implanted within 120 hours of having unprotected sex, the copper IUD helps prevent pregnancy from a recent unprotected sexual encounter, as well as any future encounters you have with the IUD in place.
Worth mentioning: Some morning-after pills are less effective for people who weigh more than 155 pounds, so keep that in mind as you decide which emergency contraceptive option is best for you.
If you know when your next period is due
If you’ve been tracking your period *and* have a regular period, it’s going to be easier for you to pick the best time to take a pregnancy test.
To understand why that is, you need to understand a little more about how pregnancy tests work. Ready?
Pregnancy tests measure a hormone known as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which is colloquially known as the pregnancy hormone, explains Mary Jane Minkin, MD, an OB-GYN at Yale University.
Here’s the thing: While the amount of the hormone the tests can detect varies depending on whether it’s a urine or blood test, typically your body doesn’t produce enough of this hormone to be detectable until at least 10 days after the sperm has successfully implanted the egg.
And the sperm does *not* implant the egg immediately.
It takes some time for the egg and sperm to travel together down the fallopian tubes, where they first meet, down to the uterus where it implants, Minkin explains.
Once the fertilized egg implants in the wall of the uterus, it starts dividing. It isn’t until the fertilized egg starts dividing when it starts to develop the placenta, which is where the pregnancy hormone is, she says.
All in all, it usually takes about 9 days after conception for the body to create the 20 to 25 milliInternational units (mIU) per millimeter (mL) of HCG that most urine tests need in order to trigger a positive result.
Blood tests can measure the exact amount of pregnancy hormone in your blood, and they may be able to tell you your pregnancy status sooner. For example:
- under 5 milliInternational units is considered not pregnant
- 6 to 24 milliInternational units is considered undetermined
- 25 or more milliInternational units is considered pregnant
If you don’t know when your next period is due
You might not have tracked your period before, but you have an opportunity to track it now! This time you’re going to track (read: count) the days since you had unprotected sex.
Once you’ve hit 10 days, you can take your first test, says Alan Copperman, the medical director at Progyny and co-founder of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New York.
It’s also a good move to take the test again after 12 days have passed since the sex.
Blood tests offer slightly more accurate results, and can tell you you’re pregnant before your missed period, Copperman says. The downside is that it takes longer to receive the results (usually somewhere between a few hours and 3 days). That said, urine tests are still pretty darn accurate. Urine tests are accurate 95 to 99 percent of the time, compared with the blood tests’ 99 percent.
How to take the test
For the most accurate reading, Copperman recommends taking the test first thing in the morning, which is when your urine is the most concentrated with HCG.
“If you take it later in the day, make sure you don’t drink a lot of liquid in the hours before testing,” Tecco says. “This way, if you’re pregnant, there will be more HCG for the test to detect.”
And please make sure to take the test correctly. That means following the instructions that came with your pregnancy test e-x-a-c-t-l-y as they are written.
An at-home urine test can put you out anywhere from $1 to $20. This can add up if you’re testing multiple times. One option is to buy a 3 to 5 pack, which will save you a little money per test. Or, you can buy the tests from a dollar store. You might also consider reaching out to your local health department. Usually, they’ll be able to put you in touch with a sliding-scale testing center. Many Planned Parenthood centers and community clinics also have lower-cost tests available.
If the result is negative
It *is* possible to get a false-negative, meaning you test negative when you’re actually pregnant.
According to Copperman, a false-negative is most likely to happen if you:
- take the test too early
- check the result window before the test is done developing
- use diluted urine
“Ultimately, if you get a negative test but have missed your period or still think you might be pregnant, take another one,” he says. “Even better would be to talk with your doctor to have a blood pregnancy test or sonogram.”
“If before receiving the negative test you were anxious, because you’re trying not to conceive, moving forward, the best thing is to use reliable contraception,” Minkin says. In other words: Use a long-acting contraceptive or internal or external condoms. “And, if inadvertently you do have unprotected sex, and you don’t want to be pregnant, do get a morning after contraceptive at the pharmacy — no prescription needed,” she says.
If the result is positive
Before you let your emotions take over, keep in mind that “it’s possible [to get] a false-positive result if you have blood or protein in your urine, where the test says you’re pregnant when you actually are not,” Copperman explains.
Some medications can also cause false-positive results, such as:
- fertility medications
If you’re taking any of those and receive a positive result, Copperman recommends taking a blood test to confirm.
That said, urine tests are somewhere between 95 and 99 percent accurate.
Once you’ve confirmed your pregnancy status, know this: You are going to be OK! And that stands, whether you’ve been wanting to become pregnant for a long while, or not.
If you want to continue the pregnancy, it’s best to reach out to a doctor or other healthcare professional to book a prenatal appointment.
If you don’t wish to continue the pregnancy, or if you’re unsure if you want to continue the pregnancy, make an appointment at your local Planned Parenthood or family planning clinic. They’ll have professionals who can answer any questions you have and offer judgment-free, medically accurate advice and information.
The bottom line
It takes time for a pregnancy test to register that you are indeed pregnant. And, unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to make time go faster.
But the good news is that, no matter what the test ends up indicating, you have options. So breathe easy — you will get through this waiting period, and you will know your pregnancy status soon enough.
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