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The History of the Pregnancy Test

How the Pregnancy Test Began

To some people, the news that they are going to be a mum is welcomed with a lot of joy. To others, it can be a source of anxiety especially when they hadn’t planned for it. Either way, a pregnancy test is one of the tensest moments in a woman’s life and it can be tough surviving the two week wait to find out if you are pregnant.

Nowadays, the process is as simple as peeing on a stick, but have you ever wondered how and when pregnancy testing started? The history of the pregnancy test is certainly a fascinating one.

The History of Pregnancy Testing

Did you know that as early as 1300 BC, the ancient Egyptians carried out pregnancy testing? There is a papyrus described test whereby a woman was supposed to urinate on wheat and barley seeds for several days. The Egyptians believed that if the Barley seeds grew, it was a male child and that if wheat grew, it was a female child. If none of the plants grew, there was no pregnancy. Scientists conducted a study in 1970 in an attempt to approve or refute the theory and it was found to be correct 70 percent of the time.

The Middle Ages

During the middle ages, most people used visual aspects of the urine to test for pregnancy. In the fourteenth century, the major pregnancy tests givers were the piss prophets who claimed that they could diagnose any medical condition by just looking at the color of urine. There were also tests that involved mixing urine with wine. These tests have proved to have some substance – because alcohol does react with certain proteins in urine to elicit particular results.

The 19th Century

This is the period when the biggest steps were taken with regards to unravelling the way the body functions during pregnancy. Towards the end of the century, scientists asserted that the body had chemical messengers that controlled all the functions of the body. These were called hormones. During this time, the only early pregnancy test women had were symptoms such as morning sickness.

The Period Between 1900 and 1970

Studies into the concept of hormones intensified. Doctors were able to identify and isolate one hormone that was very active during pregnancy. They called this progesterone. A test was developed in 1927. It was supposed to detect the presence of a pregnancy by detecting the presence of hCG or progesterone in the urine. In this test, the urine of a woman would be injected into a rat, if the rat showed signs of being on heat; the test was concluded as positive. On the other hand, if the rat did not change its behaviour, the pregnancy tests were concluded to be negative.

1970 to the Present

Studies about hormones intensified during this period. This was due to the fact that abortion had been legalised and both women and doctors wanted to detect a pregnancy as early as possible.

In 1976, US firm Warner-Chilcott sought FDA approval for e.p.t, the “Early Pregnancy Test”. This test was later renamed the “Error Proof Test.”  FDA approval was forthcoming and  e.p.t went on to become the first home pregnancy test kit for sale to the general public in the United States.

The First Digital Pregnancy Test

In 2003, Clearblue released the first digital pregnancy test to show the pregnancy test result with the words ‘Pregnant’ or ‘Not Pregnant’ on a display, replacing the traditional blue line. in 2008 the same company release the Clearblue Digital Pregnancy Test with Weeks Estimator. For women this was a major breakthrough as this was the first pregnancy test that showed the time since ovulation occurred (between 1 and 3 weeks) as well as the “pregnant” or “not pregnant” result.

The Surprising Secret Hidden in a Pregnancy Test

In 2020, a hardware researcher named Foone decided to find out what was inside a digital pregnancy test. This little task was initiated in reply to a tweet from a man who asked whether the digital pregnancy test his wife had purchased was worth the extra money. The BBC picked up on this social media exchange in a story published under the title The Surprising Secret Hidden in a Pregnancy Test.

Foone found that by breaking down the digital test into it’s raw components, it was actually not much different to a traditional pregnancy test as it used a paper test strip to detect a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone is produced by a woman during pregnancy. The test strip is coated with a chemical that changes colour when the hormone is present.

The researcher decided that digital tests were “probably not worth the money” – a very controversial verdict!

Certainly, many people swear by the cheaper pregnancy tests and see no reason to spend money on expensive brand names. On this blog we have looked at this issue a number of times and asked are cheap pregnancy tests reliable? Often they are!

Pregnancy Tests in 2021

As you can see, the concept of pregnancy tests has really come a long way. Starting from the time when a woman had to urinate on seeds to the present where you can get a verdict sitting in your bathroom, it is safe to say that this is one technology that has grown and developed very well.

At zoombaby.co.uk, we have the UK’s best selection of fertility and pre-conception products – including our famous pregnancy and ovulation tests. All orders are posted out on the day we receive them, packaged discreetly to maintain your privacy. Give us a try when you are trying to conceive!


Photo Credit: “Good News!” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by jhayworth

This post first appeared in 2013 and has been updated since.

Zoom Baby is a leading supplier of Pregnancy Tests and Ovulation Test Kits


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