We're not talking fakes—it's now a thing to "tweak" your pregnancy test with photo editing software that enhances hard-to-see second lines. But is it a good thing?
We all want to know the second our baby is conceived. Although that's not actually possible, there is a new pregnancy test hack, which some women swear by, that could help you know sooner. Called "tweaking," it means running a pic of the test through color and brightness filters in programs like Photoshop, Pic Monkey or even your iPhone's photo app in order to see if it yields a second line that would be otherwise hard to see with the naked eye. It sounds a little crazy, but don't we all go a little insane during the dreaded 2ww (two-week wait) between ovulation and your possible period?
Putting it to the test
Here's how it works: After you ovulate, it takes about a week for the fertilized egg to implant in the lining of your uterus. The embryo starts making the pregnancy hormone HCG, which is what HPTs (home pregnancy tests) pick up on when you POAS (pee on a stick), almost as soon as it implants. "The HCG begins to be produced about 6-12 days after fertilization," Kecia Gaither, M.D., M.P.H., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., tells Fit Pregnancy. "Urine pregnancy tests are able to detect HCG, depending on the brand, at a level of 10-100mlU/ml—the average value being about 25mlU/ml."
Some HPTs, like First Response Early Result, can tell you if you're pregnant with an accuracy of 76% at five days before your expected period (6 days before your missed period). Tweaking, according to women who do it, can help enhance test results even earlier so that a two-week wait turns into a one-week or a one-week-and-maybe-a-couple-of-days wait. "The pro of knowing earlier is that it lessens anxiety," Gaither says. Of course, if you don't see a line at that point, even with tweaking, it just might mean there's not enough HCG in your system for the test to detect yet. Because everyone's body is different, it's impossible to know exactly when there'll be enough to get your BFP (big fat positive).
So is tweaking helpful or just another way that TTC can drive you nuts? Self-proclaimed POAS addict Carriane Wilkins Chavez, a mom in California who went through infertility treatments, says that getting into the habit was actually good for her sanity. "I will never forget getting the call that our first IVF failed. Five rounds of IVF later, I've learned to test early and often—that way if I don't see a line it's too early to panic," she tells Fit Pregnancy. "Day 4 [after the IVF transfer; the equivalent of nine days past ovulation] is when I start testing. It's really early, so a line is super faint and often requires the help of a filter to determine if it's a line or your eyes playing tricks on you."
Avoiding "line eye" is one of the goals of tweaking. All over message boards and forums on pregnancy websites, women can post their tweaked photos, or even hand over their original pics to have tweaking experts do it for them. Other members weigh in to see if they think "a line is a line," or if your test is just messing with you. Either way, this sense of community helps women feel that they're not going through it alone.
Could tweaking tell you too much?
But one of the potential pitfalls of tweaking is finding out about early pregnancy losses that you wouldn't know about otherwise. Called "chemical pregnancies," they account for 50-75 percent of miscarriages, according to the American Pregnancy Association. "This is a fertilized egg that doesn't develop or implant normally, perhaps due to a genetic or underlying maternal medical condition," Gaither says. "The woman generally experiences heavy bleeding shortly thereafter," which she probably thinks is just her period. Finding out through tweaking early tests that it was actually a miscarriage could be emotionally difficult.
Some women, though, would actually prefer to know about these early miscarriages, along with whatever else is going on in there during the two-week wait, because it's more info for herself and her doctor. For Chavez, testing everyday gives her a mix of "something to keep me occupied during the 2ww, and keeping myself up to speed with what is going on with my body so we can potentially learn from the failure."
If you're going to go ahead and tweak, Chavez has some tips. "You can use the 'edit' feature on your iPhone and use the filters right in the photo editing section," she says. "I use the filters on Instagram—I always use X-Pro II because it darkens the picture enough to see if a second line is starting to form. Thankfully I've never accidentally shared a photo to my actual Instagram account!" Also, be aware of evaporation lines, which can happen if the test has been sitting for too long, and indent lines, which are grooves where the second line would appear. Both can cause false hope, so learning how to read your tweaks is crucial. Check out some of the message boards dedicated to the art of tweaking to perfect your skill; or for the tweaking challenged, get the Early HPT+ app. Then tweak away!
Gaither reminds us, though, that any HPT result should always be followed up with your doctor. "The best advice is while it's fine to obtain an over-the-counter pregnancy test, and obtain a result, an expedited visit to the physician's office is a woman's best bet," she says. "Tweaking doesn't compare to the gold standard in medical care."