You've been taking prenatal vitamins and tracking your cycles, and now you've decided you're ready to start trying to conceive (TTC). It's baby time! You've ovulated and had lots of sex, and now you are anxiously waiting two weeks until you can pee on a stick.
What is the two-week wait?
Also known as 2WW, the two-week wait is the period between ovulation and when you expect your menstrual period to arrive. In the two weeks that follow ovulation, if your egg has been fertilized by sperm, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels should be high enough to be detected by a pregnancy test. It's often a time of increased anxiety for those who are waiting to find out if they're pregnant this month or not.
But what's actually going on during that seemingly endless two-week wait (2WW)?
Here's what's happening in your body (and with your newly fertilized egg) during the two weeks between ovulation and when you can take a pregnancy test.
1. Ovulation occurs
Around day 14 of the menstrual cycle (though this may vary depending on your unique cycle), the ovary releases an egg that is captured by the fallopian tube, known as ovulation. Picture the fallopian tube like a long tube with fingers at the end, which sweep around the ovary to grab the egg when it's released.
2. The egg becomes fertilized
Once it's in the upper end of the fallopian tube, called the ampulla, the egg meets the sperm for fertilization, usually within 24 hours of being released.
3. The egg travels to the uterus, and starts growing
The fertilized egg then hangs out in the ampulla for about three days before making the three-day trip down the tube to the uterus. These first six days, however, aren't just about traveling from the ampulla to the uterus. While the egg is making this epic journey, it's also preparing for implantation by growing and dividing, dividing and growing. This allows the fertilized egg to become two cells, then four, and so on until becoming the 64-cell blastocyst, which is already starting to differentiate into what will become the placenta and what will become baby!
4. The egg implants into the uterine lining
Over the next week, a complex series of events matures the blastocyst into an embryo while implanting it into the uterine lining. You may or may not notice some light spotting during this time as a result of implantation, known as implantation bleeding.
5. Hormones start circulating
It is also around this time that the outer layer of cells of the blastocyst start secreting hCG. This is the hormone you've been waiting for, because hCG is what makes your home pregnancy test turn positive. hCG is detectable in the blood as early as eight days after conception, and the level keeps rising until it's high enough to be picked up in the urine by a home pregnancy test around the time of your missed period, 10 to 14 days after fertilization.
Even though that building anticipation during the 2WW can sometimes border on torture, keep this in mind: The pregnancy hasn't “stuck" until six to eight days after sperm meets egg, and it takes an extra week for the pregnancy hormone hCG to rise to detectable levels.
What to do during the 2WW
Hopefully, understanding what's happening during these two weeks will help you take things one day at a time as your pregnancy potentially begins. But here are more things to do during this time to help you stay positive and stop the worry spiral.
- Keep taking your prenatal vitamins
- Talk with a friend who's also trying to conceive (TTC)
- Get plenty of rest
- Focus on gentle movement, like yoga, stretching, walking or swimming
- Stay busy with a productive hobby you enjoy, like cooking, crafting or gardening
- Incorporate mindfulness into each day, whether that's through a gratitude journal or a guided meditation
A version of this post was originally published on October 27, 2016. It has been updated.