Home Pregnancy Tests
In ancient Egyptian times, women who wanted to know if they were expecting a baby had their own version of an at-home pregnancy test. Think you might be pregnant? Learn more about how to take a pregnancy test.
According to a scroll dated 1350 B.C.E., a woman would urinate on wheat and barley seeds for several days in a row. If the wheat began to grow, it meant she was carrying a girl. If barley grew, it meant a boy was on the way. And if nothing sprouted, it meant there was no pregnancy.
The Egyptians may have been on to something. According to an article about the history of pregnancy tests posted on the National Institutes of Health’s website (A Thin Blue Line), “Scientists tested this theory in 1963 and found that 70 percent of the time the urine of a pregnant woman did promote growth, while the urine of non-pregnant women and men did not.”
We don’t have to urinate in a field any more to find out if we’re pregnant, but many of us will urinate into a cup or onto a stick for the same information. The point is we’re all still hungry for information about our reproductive status. Three thousand years after the ancient Egyptians, we can now choose from dozens of brands of easy-to-use, at-home pregnancy tests that can tell us within minutes if we’re expecting a baby. The modern age has also brought us techniques that allow us to pinpoint ovulation (the most fertile phase of a woman’s cycle) by recognizing changes in basal body temperature, urine, sweat, or saliva. And now even men get can in on the home-testing phenomenon by using kits that evaluate sperm concentration to assess fertility.
So many options are now available for at-home fertility and pregnancy testing that it may seem as if a degree in reproductive endocrinology is required to choose and use one. So to help sort through the mass of merchandise, we asked infertility experts to weigh in on how the products work and who would benefit the most from using them. Ultimately, these kits can provide valuable information to help women improve their chances of conceiving.
Pinpointing Your Fertile Phase . . . With Urine
When a woman is about to ovulate, there are many physical changes that occur, including an increase in luteinizing hormone. This hormone is secreted by the pituituary gland and sends a message to the ovaries that it’s time to release an egg. Increased levels of luteinizing hormone (also referred to as the LH-surge) are detectable in a woman’s urine, and high levels are typically an indicator that an egg will be released within the next 24 to 48 hours. The kits that use samples of urine all work essentially the same way by testing for levels of this hormone. What differs most from test to test is how the urine sample is obtained.
Some tests ask that you hold an absorbent stick in your urine stream, while others want you to place a few drops of urine on the stick. Still others have you collect your urine in a cup, and then dip a stick into it. As with most at-home pregnancy tests, a colored line indicates a positive LH-surge.
Urine-based ovulation kits average between $15 and $38 per kit, with most kits containing between 5 and 7 tests—the number to be used during one cycle. While these products all use a technology called monoclonal antibody sensing to measure the LH levels in urine, some products may be more sensitive than others. More than two years ago, Consumer Reports magazine tested nearly a dozen national brands. Top honors were given to Clearblue Easy Ovulation Test Pack, followed by Clearblue Easy Fertility Monitor. These kits are easy to find in any pharmacy, and many drugstore chains even sell their own house brand. Because accuracy varies, if you haven’t gotten a surge using one product, you might want to try another, keeping in mind that there might still be other reasons for not seeing a surge.