The Pregnancy Panic Companion: When a Period Is Late or Missed

This page is part of our Pregnancy Panic Companion. Click here to go back to the beginning.

You said you are scared about a pregnancy, and your menstrual period (or your partner's) is late or missed OR that you (or your partner) have irregular or sporadic periods.

For those in the late or missed group, let's make sure a period is late or missed first. A lot of people think of a period as late when it isn't, especially if they have the idea there's only one date each cycle periods must occur by to be on time. But even "regular" menstrual cycles have a standard deviation -- a difference from cycle to cycle -- of around three or four days. The common medical framework for late periods is also different than some folks think. Plus, a lot of our readers don't even have cycles that have become pretty regular, yet, and some people never do. If you (or your partner) don't have a regular cycle yet, or haven't had one that's been regular lately, this page may be a better fit for you. 

A late period is typically defined as a period which has not arrived five or more days since the very latest someone expected it. So, if a person has a cycle where they expected a period to start sometime between the 14th and 18th (let's say their cycle, from one period to another, is usually between 27 and 30 days), and they have not yet had their period by the 23rd, then their period is late. If it's only the 15th, 18th, or 19th, it's not really late yet, because it's still within the window of the standard cycle deviation.

A missed period is one where someone did not get a period for one or more whole cycles. If someone doesn't get their period one or more whole cycles after they expected, based on their usual cycles, then they're experiencing a missed period. 

If your period, or your partner's, is NOT, in fact, late or missed based on this criteria, then this is the right page for you. 

Watch out for CPCs: Be sure to double-check places advertising pregnancy tests for free: abortion or public health clinics often offer free testing, but CPCs often do too, to get people to come to them, and to fool people into thinking they are qualified healthcare providers (they're not). Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) are fake clinics run by anti-abortion organizations or individuals whose only aim is to convince anyone who comes in for a test not to terminate, often by any means available to them, including with intentional misinformation or emotional bullying or abuse. Because those who run them rarely have education, expertise or equipment needed to provide pregnancy care, even for those who want to choose to remain pregnant, CPCs aren't a good place to go. Sometimes they even don't use real tests for pregnancy, so even if a CPC seems like the only way you can find a way to test for pregnancy, know that they aren't even a reliable place to just get tested. To do your best to be sure that's not where you're going to test, you can call into your local hospital, or ask a general doctor or clinic, for options for free pregnancy testing from a qualified healthcare provider, or check with friends to see if anyone's gone to where you're going.

If your or a partner's period is late or missed, or if periods are irregular, but it has been more than three weeks since a risk, then the next step is to test for pregnancy.

Home pregnancy tests are usually available at pharmacies, supermarkets or grocers or megastores, and typically cost around $10 - $25 USD. They are highly reliable -- just as much as one a healthcare provider does -- when used according to their directions. Healthcare providers such as general practitioners or general clinics, sexual or reproductive healthcare providers or even some school clinics can also do pregnancy tests, some for low or no cost. For information about pregnancy tests before you have that box in your hand, you can check this out: Peeing on a Stick: All About Pregnancy Tests.

In the meantime, here are some things you can do to help yourself:

If you're putting a test off, remember that testing doesn't change reality, it only tells you what it is: The thought of looking the answer a test gives right in the face -- especially if that answer isn't what you want it to be -- can be really scary, and can cause many people to avoid testing and instead, stay stuck in their fear and also limit their options if and when they are pregnant. Whether you're pregnant or not isn't changed by taking a test. What a test gives you is just the answer about the reality of what is happening so that you can take your next steps from there.

If you keep putting a test or exam off, and you are pregnant, you narrow the window or options you have when it comes to affordable access to abortion or important pre-natal care for your health. If you keep putting it off and you aren't, you keep yourself stuck in fear and panic for no reason. 

Ask for a friend's support: Having someone you trust and know is good at giving you support with you when you test or get tested can make the whole experience a lot less intimidating. Just knowing someone is there for you while you wait the longest three minutes in all of history, and there for you to be a friend to you, whatever the answer, makes taking a test much easier.

Take a break from sex until you're on the other side of your scare: If you continue to do the things that are freaking you out, or that you're not yet able to do in a way that reduce real risks of pregnancy, then even if and when a period does arrive, you'll have a whole new cycle of worry start right up from risks you took after the last one, or things you did since that scare you.

Self-care: You'll manage stress and worry like this best by taking good care of yourself, doing things that help you and your body to cope and get centered and more chill, rather than things more likely to keep you stuck in or increase panic. That includes being emotionally kind to yourself. Beating yourself up about any choices you may have made that landed you here is the very opposite of self-care, and only increases stress, helping you in no way whatsoever. Self-care is about being kind to yourself; about literally taking care. That kindness is also more likely to set you up to make choices you feel better about in the future than abusing yourself is. It's harder to assert ourselves and make our own best choices if we feel lousy about ourselves, and are doing things that keep us feeling crummy, or make us feel even more so. Be good to yourself.

Not sure what "self-care" even means, or need some ideas about things you can do?  Check out our big list of ways to care for yourself at Self-Care a La Carte 

P.S. You can be mindful about self-care even with how you test. Pick a time and place to take a test when you've not already got extra stress on your plate, like a test you have to ace, or in your house at a time when you know you don't have any privacy. See if you can't pick a day, time and place to test that supports you being most able to deal, rather than something that sets you up to implode. If you know you'd feel better about a healthcare provider doing your test, go that route. If you know you'd feel better doing a home test, then that's the right choice for you.

Re-evaluate what you're really ready for and want to deal with: When we feel afraid, it's often for good reason, and when it comes to fear and sex, these kinds of fears are often a cue that we're doing something we're either just not ready for, don't really want, or are in a sexual situation or relationship that's not right for us in some way. For example, you may need a reliable method (or a reliable method and a backup method) of contraception to feel okay about sex, a partner who shows a real respect and concern for your limits and boundaries or who is more willing to stick with a sexual pace you're comfortable with, a more committed relationship, more time to be sexual by yourself before hooking up with partners, more ease in your own body and sexuality, or help or support with getting past sexual fears instilled by your community or culture, or managing stress or anxiety. Want some help?  Check out Ready or Not? The Scarleteen Sex Readiness Checklist or Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist for some ideas about what might be the missing readiness pieces for you or your partner.

If you are feeling beyond your capacity, seek out qualified help. Pregnancy scares and the possibility of pregnancy can be terribly stressful and feel terrifying, and not everyone has a set of life circumstances or the emotional resilience to always deal, or manage it with just friends, a partner or family alone. If you just feel like you can't cope with even this next step or what may come after, see if you can't find a counselor or other qualified support person to add to your support team. 

For support specifically with unplanned pregnancy or pregnancy fears:

  • In the United States, here is a list of supportive hotlines
  • In the UK, the hotline for Marie Stopes is: 0845 300 8090 and for BPAS (the British Pregnancy Advisory Serviceis: 08457 30 40 30
  • In Australia, the SHine SA Sexual Healthline is: 1800 188 171
  • In India, Jansankhya Sthirata Kosh (JSK) and the National Population Stabilisation Fund of the health ministry operates this helpline: 1800-11-6555 or 011-6666-5555

If you live in other areas or otherwise want help finding other support or hotlines, feel free to use one of our direct services, and we'll help get you connected with a resource that meets your needs.

Not you who could be pregnant? Then you'll want to put your focus on taking care of your own emotional needs, and then on just being supportive and helpful for the person in this who could, themselves, be pregnant. You can pick up some of the helps and not-helps on this page that relate to things like self-care and stress management, and then just ask the other person, if you contunue to be involved with them, how you can best help them out. Then, you do whatever it is they offer up that is something you can do and you are willing to do, while still caring for yourself. 

What shouldn't you do? Behave like it's you who could be  pregnant, or like because a possible pregnancy is partly due to you and your body, it's yours to manage and make choices with. It's not: the choices for someone pregnant truly belong to that person only, so outside whatever ways they have told you they'd like your help or input, you need to let them be the person who gets to own and freely make those choices.

Here are some things you can avoid or limit that won't help you out:

Dramaholics: Pregnancy scares and the possibility of pregnancy can be a way for people to connect with each other, and by all means, it's helpful to have the company of friends when we're going through this. Some friends, any way: but other kinds of friends -- the kind that just seem to feed on drama, and love to pump it up -- are very much not helpful at all. Stick to leaning on friends right now you know to be calm and low-key in a crisis, not emotional ambulance chasers.

Don't jump any more ahead than you can handle: Instead, start where you truly are. Unless you feel like it serves you to go right into planning mode, you don't have to figure out all, or even any, of your options with a pregnancy before you even test to know if there's a pregnancy to have options and choices about. Stick to only handling what you need to right now, which is getting that test, and what emotional support and self-care you need right now to manage just that piece. You can get to what comes after when you're at what comes after.

Don't seek out information in places where what you're most likely to find is misinformation, other people's panic, or people's stories about pregnancy tests not working for them: Pregnancy tests, when used as directed, are over 99% effective, whether they're home tests or tests done by a healthcare provider.  When people have errors with tests, it almost always is because of user error. And when you use search terms or keywords more likely to find the crap out there around all of this -- like by looking for non-medical terms like "implantation bleeding" or phrases like "pregnancy test fail" -- you're bound to find it, rather than sound information. The information you need about testing comes right with any test.

Trying to get away from the way you feel instead of just being in it and listening to it: It sucks to to live with emotional discomfort and big worry, and to have to just wait it out to some degree. But when we feel emotionally uncomfortable with something we can't control, the only way out is usually through, not around. 

See if you can't give yourself some time to just experience what you are feeling, even though it doesn't feel good. Let yourself have those feelings without trying to push them away or distract yourself from them. If you can just let them be, and really experience them, then start to hear what they might be telling you, it gets easier to manage this, and you get to come out of it with things you didn't have before than can help you out, including access to the feelings, thoughts and information that's going to help you make any choices you'll need to be making after you test, be those choices with a pregnancy, or choices to make when you didn't become pregnant that can help keep you from more scares like this in the future.