As you navigate the rough waters of trying to conceive the appearance of a faint second line on a pregnancy test can take your breath away. If you have been trying to conceive for some time your first instinct is often to write it off as a fluke, throw the test away and try again later. You can fear expecting the best only to have your hopes dashed yet again, until you are finally confirmed pregnant.
Unfortunately, the truth is that many women go through this same struggle, as faint positive pregnancy tests are quite common. As the faint second line begins to appear and falters, time stretches on and on while stress levels increase. With the two week wait already making days feel like weeks, these extra nerve-wracking moments can push nearly anyone to their breaking point.
While gazing down at the two lines on the stick — one dark, one faint — hope and despair agonizingly bubble to the surface. When the faint line never seems to darken, only continued uncertainty remains.
If you know this situation all too well, please let me begin by letting you know that you are not alone. Both online and in person, thousands of women all over the world share their anguish and questions with each other after receiving a very faint positive pregnancy test result. While trying to conceive, many women will eventually experience this phenomenon at least once in their lives. When taking the pregnancy test on day 14 of the two week wait, for example, 22% receive a faint positive, while 12% see a dreaded very faint positive result. When combined, these stats even outnumber the standard positive results by 2% 1.
Understanding the reasons why this happens, what it means and how to proceed can help you remain grounded and optimistic until you have your official pregnancy performed at the doctor’s office. In this article we will tell you exactly what you should do if you get a faint pregnancy test result so that you can ensure the highest possible accuracy the next time you test…
Looking at Faint Lines on Pregnancy Tests
All pregnancy tests have a control line and an indicator line. If the pregnancy test is working correctly, the control line will appear dark and solid across the pregnancy test window. The indicator line, however, can show up extremely faint or just slightly lighter than the control line.
When you take each pregnancy test, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions exactly as they are written to eliminate any questions about the accuracy of the test. In most cases, if the test is performed correctly, a faint line is a sure fire sign that you are indeed pregnant.
Understanding How Pregnancy Test Lines Appear
Pregnancy tests work by creating a chemical reaction between the human chorionic gonadotrophin, or hCG hormones in your urine and the chemicals in the pregnancy test that will indicate whether or not you are pregnant. This video explains how they work in a fun way if you want to learn more.
The slightest appearance of the indicator line is a good sign you are pregnant because it is actually measuring the human chorionic gonadotrophin, or hCG, hormones in your urine. The hCG hormones usually only circulate through your body and excrete in your urine when you are pregnant. The chemicals used for the indicator line light up – sometimes faintly, sometimes magnificently – upon direct contact with these hormones. The strength of the line depends on the amount of hCG excreted in your urine. When you take a pregnancy test at the very end of your two week wait, your body has only begun to make these hormones. Your hormone production quickly starts to ramp up, doubling each day, until it peaks in the 10th week of your pregnancy. From there, the hormones slowly decrease.
Every pregnancy is different, however, and the hCG measurements found for each pregnancy vary across the board. Furthermore, the amount of time it takes for the fertilized egg, or embryo, to implant in your uterus actually affects hCG production as well 2. With so many variables, it’s no wonder the home test strips cannot always provide a standard result.
Since home pregnancy tests are a qualitative test, the strips can only indicate if the hormones are present or not. Although the tests do not measure or reveal the amount of hCG in your urine, a low level can fail to interact with the chemicals enough to light up the indicator line brightly. Blood tests performed at the doctor’s office, however, are quantitative in that they provide an exact measurement of the hCG in your blood. In most cases, the results are used to confirm a pregnancy, though high levels can also indicate the presence of more than one implanted embryos, which could mean you are expecting twins!
If you use pregnancy tests designed for early detection of pregnancy, you may expect results by the fifth or sixth day after your suspected ovulation date. These tests actually measure hyperglycosylated hCG, which appears immediately after fertilization and before detectable hCG levels appear. Unfortunately, these early detection tests are problematic, as they can provide a positive result for a chemical pregnancy that has already spontaneously terminated. As a result, these early detection tests can muddy the waters further and cause undue anguish.
Thankfully, if you used a regular pregnancy test, and completed the procedure as instructed, it is probably safe to assume that the results are correct. The faint pregnancy test line is more than likely due to the naturally low hormone levels that occur early on in the process.
The Other Reasons for Faint Lines on Pregnancy Tests
Although the faint indicator line on the test likely provides an accurate positive result, there is some room for doubt, unfortunately. When not pregnant, the presence of hCG in your urine can indicate the development of ovarian cancer or a growth in the uterus, or hydatidiform mole. Surprisingly, the hCG hormone can even show up in a man’s urine after he develops testicular cancer 3. You can rest assured, however, that these conditions are exceedingly rare and unlikely to be the cause of the faint line on the pregnancy test.
Fortunately, the faint pregnancy test line can also just mean that you tested too early or used a faulty product. Therefore, it is often wise to retest after waiting for your hCG levels to rise a bit or upon acquiring a new pregnancy test stick.
What to Do If You Get a Very Faint Line?
If you see the faint line appear on your pregnancy test, take a breather and banish negative thoughts. The best thing to do in this situation is to stay calm and relaxed until you can confirm or refute the test results. Although immediate confirmation can set your mind at ease, you will need to prepare to wait a few days before retesting. If you tested too early, you will not benefit from retaking the test the same day.
Instead, take a few days to pamper yourself and prepare for the next set of test results. You can go to the movies with friends, head over to the spa or just read a quiet book at home to calm your nerves and prepare to take the next pregnancy test.
Ensure the Accuracy of Your Next Pregnancy Test
Without knowing it, the tests you have been taking mightn’t have been 100% accurate. Follow these guidelines to ensure you get the correct results!
- Faulty Tests – You should throw out any old pregnancy tests you have at home, as the indicator strip can lose its effectiveness over time. Every pregnancy test has a “best before date” as if you use the test past this date the results mightn’t be accurate. Before you buy, check the date on the box to confirm it was manufactured recently. Before you take a test, you should double check the use best before dates on the packaging and check for any damage to the test.
- Where to Buy Your Pregnancy Test – To ensure the tests you are using are in date and accurate you should buy them from a popular store in your area that is likely to sell a lot of pregnancy tests to avoid picking up an out of date test.
- Pregnancy Test Sensitivity – All pregnancy tests aren’t made equal. Every pregnancy test has a rated sensitivity to indicate how sensitive it is to the presence of hCG in your urine. The lower the number to more sensitive it is. When picking a pregnancy test you should read the test sensitivity on the boxes to find the one with the lowest milli-international units per millilitre, or mIU/L, number. You may notice multiple tests showing a sensitivity to 50 mIU/mL and others listing 20 mIU/mL as their sensitivity level. Select the one showing the lower number of 20 IU/L since that shows a greater sensitivity to low levels of HCG. Do not be afraid to pay more for a high quality, sensitive pregnancy test since the higher cost reflects better materials, manufacturing processes and quality testing procedures, designed to ensure its accuracy. The listed sensitivities for the five leading pregnancy tests are:
|First Response Pregnancy Tests||6.3 mIU/mL|
|One Step Pregnancy Tests||10 mIU/mL|
|New Choice Pregnancy Tests||25 mIU/mL|
|Clearblue Easy Pregnancy Tests||25 mIU/mL|
|ClinicalGuard Pregnancy Tests||25mIU/mL|
- Double Check Your Ovulation Date – Although early detection tests are more sensitive than normal pregnancy testing products, you will only benefit if you wait an adequate amount of time from the date of your missed period. To ensure your next test is as accurate as possible, double check your ovulation date and count out the days to your suspected missed period. Although you can test on the exact day of your missed period, better results are often obtained by waiting one week from that date. Testing too early can increase your chances of receiving a false negative result, which can add even more confusion and heartache to this already difficult process.
- Take the Pregnancy Test in the Morning – Plan to take the test in the morning since your urine will have a higher concentration of hormones in it at that time. Right before testing, read through the instructions twice to make sure you take the test exactly as directed. Depending on the test instructions, you will either need to urinate directly on the stick or pee in a cup and dip the test stick into the container. Use an accurate timer, not just your wall clock, to wait the directed amount of time for the test to show the results.
Handling the Prospect of Seeing a Negative Test Result
Even if you wait an adequate amount of time, and perform the test exactly as instructed, you may still see a faint pregnancy test line or receive a negative result. Preparing yourself for these prospects ahead of time can help ease the pain and reduce the amount of time you need to recoup and begin again.
Decide if you will fare better taking the test alone or having a supportive individual around while you wait for the results. The choice is yours, of course, but having someone around to talk to while you wait can help pass the time without stressing out. If no one is available to come over, consider arranging a phone call with your support person to wait out the test results together.
If the test comes up negative, do not get discouraged. You may have experienced a chemical pregnancy that spontaneously miscarriage. Over half of all first pregnancies are chemical pregnancies that end in spontaneous miscarriage. If this is the case, I want to stress that you did not do anything wrong to cause the occurrence and it is not likely to recur for subsequent pregnancies. Heading into the doctor is not necessary if this happens, though you certainly can for peace of mind. You should wait until your period has arrived and ended to renew your efforts in trying for a baby.
If you are pregnant and only saw faint line positive pregnancy results that never resolved into a standard result, do not worry. Low levels of hCG in the urine are not indicative of a problem. In fact, many women have had low hCG levels at every stage of pregnancy and ended up giving birth to a healthy baby on schedule 4. Studies show that hCG levels are typically significantly higher when pregnant with female babies, though interesting, this finding cannot be used to predict the gender of your baby 5.
With diligence and a calm state of mind, you can work through this process to achieve the results you seek. Remember to give yourself and your partner the care and attention you deserve to remain healthy and happy as you try for your baby. Best of luck to you on your journey.
- Pregnancy Test Results for 14 Days Past Ovulation | Countdown to Pregnancy. ↩
- Nepomnaschy PA, Weinberg CR, Wilcox AJ, Baird DD. Urinary hCG patterns during the week following implantation. Hum Reprod 2008;23:271-277 ↩
- Blood Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) Assays: What Laboratorians Should Know about False-Positive Results. 2016. Blood Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) Assays: What Laboratorians Should Know about False-Positive Results ↩
- Slow Rising hCG Levels in Early Pregnancy – New Kids Center. 2016. Slow Rising hCG Levels in Early Pregnancy – New Kids Center. ↩
- Yaron Y, Lehavi O, Orr-Urtreger A, et al. Maternal serum HCG is higher in the presence of a female fetus as early as week 3 post-fertilization. Hum Reprod 2002;17:485–9. ↩