Image by Nate Grigg (Creative Commons)

Unplanned Pregnancy

Many women are faced with an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy at some time in their life and it is estimated that almost 200,000 unplanned pregnancies occur in Australia every year.

There are three choices available when you have an unplanned pregnancy:

What to do first if you think you might be pregnant.

If you think you are pregnant the first step is to find out if you definitely are. To do this you need to have a pregnancy test. Finding out if you are pregnant is important so that you can get the right care early if you are continuing the pregnancy, access timely abortion if you are not continuing, and give yourself time to make a decision if you are unsure.

You can do a home urine pregnancy test, or you can go to your doctor or a family planning clinic to have a test. Home pregnancy tests are readily available in supermarkets and pharmacies. If you make sure that the test is in date and follow the manufacturer’s instructions correctly, the accuracy of these tests is 97%. Using the first urine sample in the morning makes the test more accurate. You need to do a urine pregnancy test after you have missed your period, or 16 days after the sex you are worried about. If you do a test too early such as before a missed period, it may not be accurate.

If the pregnancy test is positive, you can confirm the pregnancy with your GP, or a nurse or doctor at a family planning clinic. Seeing a nurse or doctor will also allow you to obtain further information, advice, assistance, or referral as needed. They can also do a pregnancy blood test which is more accurate than a urine test and can also give an estimation of how far pregnant you are.

If you have symptoms of pregnancy, and have had at least one positive home pregnancy test and you know that you do not want to continue the pregnancy, then you do not need to see a GP if you do not wish to, you can book into an abortion clinic without a referral.

If the pregnancy test is negative and your period still has not come, repeat the test again in a week. If it is still negative, then you might want to visit your GP or a family planning clinic.

What are the symptoms of pregnancy?

The symptoms of pregnancy vary for individual women. The most common symptom that occurs is no period, or your period being unusually short and light.

Other symptoms include:

  • Swollen and tender breasts
  • Nipple sensitivity
  • Tiredness
  • Urinating more often
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Food aversions (finding the taste and smell of some foods very unpleasant)
  • Food cravings
  • Mild pelvic cramping which may feel like period cramps
  • Feeling more emotional or moody

Some women will get just a few symptoms, some will get many or all of these symptoms, and for some, the only symptom they may have is missing a period.

How will I know how pregnant I am?

A pregnancy is calculated from the first day of your last normal menstrual period. If you see a doctor or nurse, they can help you to work out how pregnant you are from the first day of your last normal menstrual period. They may also use the results of a blood test to work it out, and possibly an ultrasound if you have a very irregular menstrual cycle or don’t know when your last period was. If you have an ultrasound and you are unsure if you are continuing the pregnancy make sure that you tell the doctor and the person doing the ultrasound so that they can approach it sensitively and appropriately.

Pregnancy is counted in weeks and days rather than months, and the length is referred to as ‘gestation’. For example: 8 weeks and 4 days gestation.

 Pregnancy is divided into 3 trimesters:

  • The first trimester is from the beginning to 12 weeks.
  • The second trimester is from 13 weeks to 28 weeks.
  • The third trimester is from 29 weeks to 40 weeks.

Dealing with an unplanned pregnancy                                                                   

Experiencing an unplanned pregnancy can be a very stressful and confusing time. Shock is a common experience when you first realise that you are pregnant, even if it was already suspected. You might find that you feel unable to think clearly and may experience a lot of mixed emotions. This feeling of shock may continue for some days after you first find out.

Feelings of uncertainty and ambivalence are also very common, and this can even occur when a pregnancy has been planned. An unplanned pregnancy can be particularly difficult if you are feeling uncertain about what decision you will make about the pregnancy, or if your thoughts and feelings about what you want to do differ from that of your partner, or the man involved in the pregnancy.

Emotions generally can be quite intense during pregnancy. This is thought to be due to the effect of pregnancy hormones. You may experience mood swings and may become upset more easily. This can make dealing with an unplanned pregnancy and making a very important decision like this more challenging.

Sitting quietly, first notice the thoughts and feelings that you are having and acknowledge that they are there.  Then bring your awareness back into your body, straighten your back, push your feet into the floor, push your fingertips together, move your shoulders, elbows and arms. Then look around you, notice what you can see, then notice what you can hear, what you can smell, what you can feel and what you can taste. Now notice your breathing, then slow and soften your breathing. This exercise can help to ground you and bring you back into the present when you are feeling stressed and caught up in difficult thoughts or feelings.

Using your abdominal muscles inhale to the count of 4, pause and then exhale to the count of 8, repeat. Try to do this for a few minutes and do it regularly throughout the day or when you are feeling stressed.

Inhale to the count of 4, pause to the count of 4, exhale to the count of 4, pause to the count of 4, repeat. Do this for at least a few minutes.

Name and write down the feelings that you are experiencing. This can help to get them out of your head, give you more perspective, and to see them more clearly, especially if you are experiencing very conflicted emotions.

Make time to sit down somewhere quiet and focus on the feelings. Focus on one feeling at a time. Be curious about that feeling, where is it in your body? Is it big or small? Does it have firm edges or soft edges? What shape is it? Does it have a colour? Breathe into the feeling, soften around it, and make room for it to be there. This can help you to be more comfortable with these feelings and allow you to think more clearly, and to then take the action that you need to.

Our minds are very busy, and at times of stress this is particularly so. This is very normal. Learning to notice your thoughts can help you to not become fused or locked in to them. When having a thought, ask yourself it is helpful or unhelpful. If it is helpful you may want to pay attention to it, if it is unhelpful or it is not a good time to have it, then you can use some techniques to lessen the effect of that thought. You can notice a thought and say to yourself ‘I notice I’m having the thought that….’ then bring yourself back into the present moment. Then this just becomes another thought. You can also just notice thoughts like leaves floating past on a stream, or clouds drifting past in the sky, and again bring yourself back into the present.

Self-care: It’s very important to remember to look after yourself during a difficult and stressful time. Take time out from focussing on the decision. Nurture yourself by taking time to relax, to rest and to do some of the things that you enjoy and that nourish you, such as taking a bath, going for a long walk, having a massage or a facial, going to a movie, or catching up with close friends. Practising self-compassion, meaning kindness towards yourself, is also very important.

Talking to someone close who you trust and who you know will support you in whatever decision you might make can also be very helpful.

If you are feeling particularly distressed and don’t have anyone that you can talk to or who you can talk to it’s important that you seek help: see your GP, make an appointment with a known psychologist if you have one, make an appointment to see an unplanned pregnancy counsellor (see details below) or call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If you are concerned about domestic violence and staying safe, call the Domestic Violence Crisis Service on 6280 0900 if you are in the ACT, or call the Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 if you are in NSW.

Making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy

For some women having to make a decision about whether to continue a pregnancy or not can be relatively straightforward. For others it may be a very difficult decision depending on their individual circumstances.

Most women who are considering their options in relation to an unplanned pregnancy consider many factors, including:

  • The state and stability of the relationship with their partner, or the man involved.
  • The level of support they may have from family or friends.
  • Whether or not they feel ready to take on a parenting role.
  • The needs of children they may already have.
  • Career, study, housing, and financial considerations.
  • Their life plans and goals.
  • Their state of physical and emotional health.
  • Their beliefs and values.

Unless you are completely clear about what you are going to do it is usually advisable to take time to make a decision if possible. Remember however that this is a time sensitive decision and you may need to make a decision relatively quickly if your pregnancy is more advanced.

Consider the different options and factors impacting on your decision, and if you are in a relationship talk it through with your partner.

If you find that it is just too difficult and you are unable to make a decision, or you would like to talk it through with somebody to clarify your thoughts and feelings, counselling may be helpful for you.

Making a decision as a couple

While the decision to continue a pregnancy is essentially your decision as the woman, it is a decision that will inevitably affect you as a couple. Talking about an unplanned pregnancy as a couple can be difficult.

Before you do this it might want to think about your own feelings about the pregnancy first so you have some clarity before you involve him. It may also be helpful to think about what you want from him talking to him.

You might want to involve him in the decision; or just tell him about the decision that you have made; or just make time to listen to each other’s views even if you feel he will not support your decision.

When you do talk about it as a couple, make sure that you allow focused time to do this, and agree to taking turns to fully and respectfully listen to each other so you both feel heard.

For more information about making a decision as a couple see Children By Choice: Decision making as a couple.

Unplanned pregnancy counselling

Counselling is really an umbrella term, and can include advice, information, support, education and/or therapy. Counselling can offer a valuable and much-needed resource when making a decision about a pregnancy. Some women may not feel a need for it, while others can find it very helpful.

Counselling can be whatever you need it to be. If you feel you need support with decision making, feel you have already made a decision and just need to talk it through, or simply need someone else to talk to counselling can be helpful.

Many women feel uncomfortable or unable to talk with friends and relatives about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy. In this situation counselling can provide an opportunity to work through your individual situation and your thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment. Counsellors working in a pro-choice setting can also provide accurate unbiased information which may assist you in making the decision which is right for you at this time in your life.

A word of caution

It is important that the counselling you access is pro-choice, non-judgmental and non-directive. Some organisations offering unplanned pregnancy support or counselling may misrepresent their service when advertising or on their websites. Always check that any support or counselling service is a genuine pro-choice, non-directive service. One way of checking is to ask if they will give you information about abortion services if needed. A non-directive service will always do this.

Unplanned pregnancy counselling in the ACT region

Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) provides professional, unbiased, non-directive, respectful and confidential counselling for women who are making a decision whether or not to continue a pregnancy, or who are experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

This is a free service, and the only free non-directive, face to face unplanned pregnancy counselling service in the ACT. The counselling service is staffed by experienced nurse counsellors. They are also able to refer you to external counsellors should you need more complex counselling or if you don’t feel you need counselling but would like information about abortion or pregnancy care and birth options the nurse counsellors can provide this too.

To make an appointment see SHFPACT or call them on 62473077.

Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT logo
children by choice logo

Children by Choice: Making a decision

How do I feel about this pregnancy?
What are my goals, plans or dreams?
Do I need more information on any of these options?
Significant others in your life?
Can I make a decision now?

know4sure logo

Know4Sure: Your decision to adopt/parent/terminate

For young people – in plain speak – about pregnancy: your health, baby’s health, support, relationship, money, housing and education.

family planning nsw reproductive and sexual health logo

Family Planning NSW: Pregnant? Working through your options (booklet)

Finding out you are pregnant
Pregnant tests
Pregnancy options
Choosing to parent
Information about pregnancy care
Continuing the pregnancy and adoption on foster care
Termination of pregnancy – abortion
Information for men
Making a decision
Things to consider

family planning victoria logo