While there are no true accurate homemade pregnancy tests, there are many ways both historically and in modern times where women have tried to diagnose a pregnacy at home. Women have been conceiving children and giving birth for thousands of years, after all, and it's likely that they (and their husbands) wanted to know whether an addition to the family was on the way. Through the years, different methods of determining whether a woman was expecting or not have been used, with varying degrees of success.
Historical Versions of Homemade Tests
When a woman living in ancient Egypt wanted to find out whether she was pregnant, she would collect a urine sample and put the liquid on either wheat or barley seeds over a number of days. If the seeds grew, then it was taken as a sign that a baby was on the way. However, if the seeds did not germinate, then no baby was coming.
In Medieval times, a sample of urine was collected and the color analyzed to check for pregnancy. In some cases, the urine was mixed with wine before being checked. A clear lemony color or clear urine was thought to indicate pregnancy. These methods were not reliable indications of pregnancy. In both cases, though, these societies had an idea that a woman's urine was different during pregnancy than when she was not carrying a child.
Diagnosing Pregnancy in Medieval Times
Food cravings or aversions to foods the woman has enjoyed in the past may be a sign of pregnancy. Anne Boleyn, wife of Henry VII and mother to Queen Elizabeth I, gave the English court a hint that she was pregnant when she made a point of saying that she was having cravings for apples. As it turned out, she was right and the King and the court had reason to celebrate.
Women in medieval times kept track of their menstrual cycle to get an idea of when conception occurred. Prospective parents had to wait until the fourth month or so until fetal movement could be felt to confirm the pregnancy. The child's "quickening" was an event that they looked forward to and it was used to estimate when the woman would be ready to give birth.
Home Pregnancy Diagnosis in the 19th Century
By this point, women still didn't have a reliable test to determine pregnancy. They would monitor their own symptoms to see if they had conceived. Missing one or more menstrual periods would likely be the first indication of pregnancy.
The woman would also make note of other possible signs of pregnancy, such as morning sickness. Swollen, tender breasts, and a thickening around the midsection would also point to pregnancy.
Pregnancy Hormone in Urine
A pregnant woman's urine contains the hormone HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). It is produced by the placenta during pregnancy and modern pregnancy tests are able to detect it in very small amounts. The hormone wasn't discovered until the 20th century and home pregnancy tests were approved in the mid-1970s. Now women can find out whether they are pregnant in private. Knowing early in pregnancy that they have conceived means it's more likely that the mother-to-be will get proper medical care.
Other Ways to Diagnose Pregnancy
If a woman has already been pregnant at least once, she may determine that she is pregnant by how she feels. Some women claim to know within a few days after conception they are pregnant. "Feeling pregnant" is not a medical symptom, but women who are in touch with how their bodies normally feel may be able to detect when something has changed, no matter how subtle it may be.
Over-the-counter pregnancy tests are relatively inexpensive. Some are so sensitive that they can provide a positive reading before the first day of a missed period, without the need to try to come up with a homemade pregnancy test.