How to Take a Pregnancy Test at Home

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
January 29, 2020

Every year, millions of women in the U.S. take home pregnancy tests. After all, they are quick, inexpensive, private, and easy to use. Yet, how many women are actually taking these tests correctly? Even though they’re marketed as being 99% accurate, that isn’t always the case. New research shows that over the last 10 years, as many as 5% of home pregnancy tests have failed to indicate a pregnancy. Accurate results depend on taking the test correctly and the timing. So, to reduce the chance of human error, we thought it might be useful to review how to take a pregnancy test at home.

How to Take a Pregnancy Test at Home

Here’s what you need to know to ensure that you properly understand how to take a pregnancy test. The first rule of thumb seems like a no-brainer: follow the directions. Read the box and instructions carefully, including the fine print.

There are generally three ways to test your urine.

  • Hold the test stick in your urine stream to catch it midstream.
  • Urinate into a cup and then insert the test stick into it.
  • Urinate in a cup and then use a dropper to collect and transfer your urine into another container.

Once you’ve transferred your urine on to the home pregnancy test, you need to wait the designated amount of time before checking the results. Keep in mind that each test has its own recommended waiting time before the results are ready. Therefore, for accurate results, it’s important to read and follow the instructions, especially regarding the allotted recommended wait time.

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What to Expect From a Pregnancy Test

Today, as with every other product on the market, you can find many different brands of pregnancy tests. Given all the choices, it can be overwhelming to know which type to buy but it doesn’t have to be! The main decision you’ll have to make is between buying a digital or non-digital pregnancy test.

  • Non-digital pregnancy test: Most test in the same way, instructing the woman to pee on the test stick or dip the stick into a cup of urine. After waiting a few minutes, either one line, two lines or a plus symbol will appear in the results window. If you see a positive symbol, no matter how faint the symbol is that appears, it is a positive result.
  • Digital pregnancy test: While pricier than their non-digital counterparts, digital pregnancy tests contain advanced technology that are able to detect lower levels of the pregnancy hormone. This means that they have the advantage of being able to tell you whether you are pregnant sooner than non-digital pregnancy tests. Their results are also more straightforward, showing the words “pregnant” or “not pregnant” in the results window instead of requiring you to decipher the lines and symbols of the non-digital test.

Where to Buy a Home Pregnancy Test

Both types are sold over the counter at most drugstores or convenience stores.

Before you buy either type of pregnancy test, first check that it has FDA approval. As with every other consumer product on the market today, some brands of pregnancy tests have proven to be more accurate than others. FDA requirements are in place to ensure that manufacturers, who must submit their product data to the FDA for approval, are selling safe and effective over-the-counter home pregnancy tests. Those tests cleared by the FDA not only meet its high standards for quality but are also similar to other pregnancy tests that have already proven to be reliable. Sure, accurate results will also depend on how closely you read and follow the instructions, but it also helps to choose an FDA-approved pregnancy test.

How Soon Can I Take a Pregnancy Test

The timing of when you take a home pregnancy test is critical for accurate results. This is because your body needs time to develop detectable levels of the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is only released if you are pregnant. The test stick that comes into contact with your urine contains antibodies that can identify the existence of hCG in your urine. Usually, hCG levels can be detected in a urine test 12-14 days after conception.

Therefore, if you take the urine test too early, before the hCG hormone has been released, results may be inaccurate. If you want to know how soon to take a pregnancy test, here’s the answer: for the most accurate results, wait until one week after your missed period to take the test. Alternatively, if you don’t want to wait that long, you can wait one to two weeks after you last had sex.

When to See a Doctor

Keep in mind that while home pregnancy urine tests are usually accurate, there is room for error. Be sure to follow the instructions and to take it either one week after your missed period or one to two weeks after you last had sex. After a positive home pregnancy test result, you should see your doctor to confirm your results. If your body is telling you something that the home pregnancy test result doesn’t, go see your doctor. This test should be a source of happiness, not anxiety.

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.