Can I still be pregnant with a negative test?

woman holding a negative pregnancy test

by Adejumoke Ilori |
Updated on

Being pregnant with a negative test is what's known as a false-negative test. This is when you take a pregnancy test as you may have started to experience pregnancy symptoms but the test result comes out as negative.

You may have been left wondering whether the test can be trusted or not because you’re pretty certain that you are pregnant, so why is the test showing up as negative instead of positive?

"A false negative result, when you are actually pregnant but the test says you are not, can happen for a number of reasons," says Lesley Gilchrist, registered midwife and co-founder of My Expert Midwife.

"When you are pregnant a hormone called HCG is produced as the fertilized egg implants and the placenta is formed. This hormone is produced in small amounts on day one but increases rapidly over a short period of time in early pregnancy. The earlier a test is performed the higher the risk of it not detecting the small amounts of HCG, thus producing a false negative result. Likewise, the later a test is performed the higher the chance of getting a more accurate result."

From taking the test too early to certain pregnancy hormones not being detected properly, scroll down to find out the many reasons you may still be pregnant even with a negative pregnancy test.

Reasons you may feel pregnant with a negative test

It's a faulty test

Lesley says you can absolutely be pregnant when testing negative on a pregnancy test, regardless of whether you have used a cheap pregnancy test or a pricier one. "Pregnancy tests are not 100% accurate and a negative result does not confirm that you are not pregnant," she says.

"You may also get a false negative result from sticks that are out of date, or from those that have not been stored or used correctly.”

Your period is due

As heartbreaking as it can be when you're trying to conceive, menstruation and pregnancy can share very similar symptoms such as fatigue, sore boobs and mild cramping because the same hormones are involved.

In situations like this, you should wait a few days longer, either for your period to arrive if the symptoms are a result of PMS or for a possible positive pregnancy test.

“If you have a late period with a negative pregnancy test, consider repeating the test a few days later and/or seeking medical advice," says Lesley.

You're ovulating

While ovulation and pregnancy don't have as many cross-over symptoms as menstruation does, there are still some. These include cramping, tender breasts and sickness, which is usually around the time that an egg is released from your ovaries every month.

If you're tracking your periods, you should be able to figure out where you are in your cycle and if your symptoms could be a result of pregnancy but if you're not, you'll need to wait a bit longer to find out if you're pregnant for definite.

You're on medication

There are a number of reasons why you might be on medication (e.g. fertility treatment or even contraception) and some of these can cause irregularities in your cycle and even result in side effects such as tender breasts that can mimic pregnancy symptoms.

If you're unsure if your symptoms are a result of a pregnancy or because of your medication, you should contact your GP who will be able to help shed some light.

It's too early

We've all seen those pregnancy tests that promise to give you a result so many days earlier than others do. However, it's worth bearing in mind with these that the accuracy of these tests starts low before increasing the closer you get to your expected period.

“Some tests are so sensitive they can detect the presence of HCG before you have even missed a period," explains Lesley. "Home pregnancy tests can be carried out from the first day of a missed period or from 21 days after unprotected sex.

“There are some extremely sensitive pregnancy tests available that can be used before you even miss a period. However, it is worth noting that HCG may not be at detectable levels in the very early days of pregnancy,  so a later test may be more accurate."

If you tested before a missed period, your HCG hormone levels may be too low to be detected, so consider a repeat test on the first day of your missed period or 21 days after unprotected sex."

You're having a phantom pregnancy

A false or phantom pregnancy is when a woman believes she is pregnant and even experiences some of the symptoms yet the pregnancy test shows a negative result.

This typically affects older women and can last for weeks, months or even years, depending on the severity of the condition. Usually, a phantom pregnancy has a strong emotional and psychological cause and can occur in women who are desperate to conceive, who have undergone fertility treatment or have experienced trauma.

Your hormone levels are too low

If you've noticed that your period is late but your pregnancy test is still showing a negative result, you may be feeling a bit confused.

"It could be that the level of HCG, that unique pregnancy hormone, is too low to be detected when you do the test," explains Lesley. “HCG in urine is often more concentrated in early morning samples during those early days. However, as the hormone increases rapidly, the longer it has been since a missed period the easier the hormone will be detected at any time of day by the test.”

You misused the test

While pregnancy tests are relatively straightforward to use nowadays, it's understandable that things can still go wrong or you perhaps skip over certain instructions. Weeing on the wrong part of the testing strip or not leaving the test for long enough can affect the results of the test.

You're overhydrated

If you're somehow who is well-behaved and makes sure to drink plenty, this could be affecting your pregnancy test results.

“Overhydration may dilute your urine so much that HCG levels become undetectable, hence the advice in early days of testing to use an early morning sample when urine tends to be naturally more concentrated," says Lesley.

This isn't a sign to cut back on water, just don't drink too much the night before or the morning of your test.

You're breastfeeding

If you are currently breastfeeding, your periods may not have returned or may be irregular. This is because your Prolactin levels - the hormones responsible for the secretion of milk - are high while estrogen levels are low. As a result, while your breast milk supply is high, the process of ovulation is suppressed. It is only once a successful ovulation cycle is complete that you will start menstruating again.

You have a separate medical condition

Many medical conditions including thyroid problems or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can cause irregular or missed periods, potentially leading to a false-negative pregnancy test. In these scenarios, you should contact your GP who will be able to run tests to confirm if you are or aren't pregnant.

woman looking confused at pregnancy test

What to do if think you are pregnant but the pregnancy test is negative

“Consider seeking medical advice if you miss more than one period and still test negative, as you are unlikely to be pregnant and may need investigations. It might be a good idea to look at your lifestyle and make positive changes to reduce stress, improve nutrition and your general wellbeing.”

How do pregnancy tests work?

“When you are pregnant and a fertilized egg embeds itself into the lining of the uterus (womb) your body produces a unique hormone called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG)," says Lesley. "HCG is present in your urine and your blood and so all pregnancy tests look for the presence of this hormone to produce a result.

“For a urine-based self-test, you simply pee onto the stick provided and follow the instructions for how long to wait and how to read the result. Some tests are so sensitive they can detect the presence of HCG before you have even missed a period. For a blood test, the lab will be looking for the presence and levels of HCG. Blood tests may be recommended for those women who, for health reasons, need to confirm their pregnancy immediately.”

Adejumoke Ilori is a Commercial Content Writer for Mother&Baby. She is a mum to a little girl and has worked for various digital platform. She has produced content that empowers women from all walks of life by sharing real life stories based on relationships, loving yourself and motherhood. She has also worked for OK! and New Magazine, writing product reviews, covering fashion and beauty, the latest celebrity news and lifestyle. Adejumoke enjoys spending quality time at home with her daughter creating precious memories – doing things like spa nights and grabbing popcorn and cuddling up.

About the expert

Lesley Gilchrist, BSc (Hons) Midwifery Studies, MSc Clinical Research Methods, is the CEO and founder of 'My Expert Midwife' and has been a midwife since 2003, working in some of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. Through this time, Lesley has gained invaluable experience and insight into maternity care, labour and birth.

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