What Implantation Bleeding Is and How it Differs From Normal Period

What Is Implantation Bleeding?
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Implantation bleeding or spotting can be one of the first signs of pregnancy, however spotting could also be a sign that your period is about to start. It’s important to know when implantation bleeding occurs and how it looks like, as unusual bleeding may be a cause for concern.

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Knowing what to look for with implantation bleeding can help determine if the cramping, breast changes, and discharge are related to pregnancy or your normal monthly cycle. Of course, a pregnancy test is the only way to confirm that you are pregnant. However, most women who are planning a baby are keen to look for the first signs of pregnancy, especially when there is evidence of implantation bleeding and no period.

This article explores all you need to know about implantation bleeding. You will learn how long implantation bleeding lasts, what are the other signs of pregnancy along with implantation bleeding, and how to differentiate between regular menstrual bleeding and implantation bleeding.

What is Implantation Bleeding?

Implantation bleeding happens when a fertilized egg implants itself on the wall of the uterus and starts growing. This often results in light spotting or bleeding and is completely normal.

According to the National Institutes of Health, around one-quarter of pregnant women experience some form of implantation bleeding early in their pregnancy. This is usually one of the first visible signs that you may be pregnant.1 The spotting can resemble the start of the menstrual period, however, there are some differences in the amount, color, and accompanying signs of implantation blood.

What does implantation bleeding look like?

 

Obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Nivin Todd says that when the embryo implants into the uterine lining, some bleeding can occur. Implantation spotting looks like small pinkish or dark brown spots and is nothing to worry about. Light spotting that you see on your underwear could happen from 6 to 12 days after ovulation.19

When does implantation bleeding happen?

Dr. Trina Pagano, who is a professional obstetrician, says that implantation bleeding happens between 6 and 12 days after the egg has been fertilized by a sperm. When this happens, the movement of the egg in the uterus causes light bleeding or spotting before your period as a result of the implantation process.2

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The changes in the wall of the uterus during implantation cause not only light spotting but also some pelvic cramping that resembles menstrual cramps. Dr. Pagano says that the difference between cramping and bleeding associated with conception and menstruation is that the bleeding and cramps associated with implantation bleeding are slight.

Length of time implantation spotting occurs

Bleeding caused by implantation will last for up to a few days. Dr. Traci C. Johnson on WebMD says that implantation spotting may last from a few hours to a few days.3

According to Dr. Johnson, around 20% of pregnant women experience some kind of vaginal bleeding during their first trimester. As there is a small risk of miscarriage, it’s best to speak to your obstetrician about your concerns if you have vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Dr. Johnson says that around 90% of women who have vaginal bleeding in the first trimester don’t miscarry.

Discharge and implantation bleeding

Along with spots of blood caused by implantation, you will also have a milky white discharge. The discharge may start to happen even before implantation occurs. Dr. Trina Pagano says that this happens as the lining of the vagina thickens in preparation for pregnancy. This is completely normal and may last for the length of your pregnancy.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that if vaginal discharge during pregnancy has a bad smell, has any color other than milky white, or you have vaginal itching and burning, you should speak to your doctor.4

Implantation Bleeding or Period – 5 Differences Between Implantation Bleeding and Period

For many women, it is difficult to tell the difference between implantation bleeding and their period. Knowing how to tell if spotting is because you are pregnant or because your period is about to start requires knowing your body and the usual color of spotting.

Let’s look in a bit more detail at 5 ways you can tell if light bleeding or spotting is the result of implantation.

1. Flow

One way to tell that bleeding or spotting is due to implantation is the type of flow that you experience. Dr. Trina Pagano states that early pregnancy bleeding associated with implantation is generally light and differs from regular menstruation.2

During menstruation, women usually have a blood flow that gradually gets heavier during the first few days. Some women also experience heavy menstruation. However, if you have become pregnant, the blood flow will be very light and only last up to a couple of days.

Therefore, the difference in flow between implantation bleeding and menstrual bleeding is that the first is lighter and doesn’t last as long.

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2. The color of implementation bleeding vs. the color of period

You can also tell if spotting has been caused by implantation bleeding because of its color. According to the American Pregnancy Association, implantation bleeding looks like pinkish-colored spots or has a dark brown color. This is because the blood is older than regular menstruation bleeding.5

On the other hand, bleeding that occurs during your regular monthly period is generally a red color. Doctors from WebMD say that normal menstrual blood is usually a bright red or dark in color. On occasion, the blood may become dark brown towards the end of your period as the body expels older blood. This is completely normal.7

3. Pelvic cramping intensity

Pelvic cramping is associated with both implantation bleeding and the menstrual cycle. Because abdominal cramping happens just before your period and cramping is associated with implantation, it can be difficult to tell them apart.

Most doctors agree that pelvic cramping caused by implantation (implantation cramping) is relatively light and doesn’t last long. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic explain that the light cramping is the result of the fertilized egg burrowing into the uterus or endometrial lining.This usually causes only a passing cramping feeling.

According to doctors from the Mayo Clinic, menstrual cramps can cause intense abdominal throbbing that can interfere with your daily activities. This can also cause pain to radiate to your lower back and upper legs.This kind of cramping doesn’t happen with implantation. However, if you are pregnant and you experience severe abdominal cramps with vaginal bleeding, you should visit your doctor or gynecologist.

4. Timing

If you have regular periods, then it can be possible to tell if implantation spotting has happened because of a fertilized egg implanting in the uterus. The American Pregnancy Association says that implantation bleeding will take place up to 2 weeks after ovulation. Some women mistake this for early signs of their period starting.5 In fact, implantation bleeding will often happen before other signs of pregnancy.

5. Bleeding duration

Bleeding during the menstrual period can last for up to 7 days whereas implantation bleeding may only last as little as a few hours. The lining of the uterus isn’t shed if implantation has occurred, and the length of time implantation bleeding is relatively short.

Also, implantation bleeding may be more like spotting which comes and goes whereas menstruation bleeding is consistent and continues throughout the full length of your period.

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic say that during the menstrual period, the uterus sheds its lining if no implantation has occurred. The average time that menstrual bleeding occurs is 3 to 5 days during which red blood along with endometrial tissue is expelled from the body,8 however doctors from Mayo Clinic say that period bleeding can last up to 7 days.15

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Implantation bleeding vs. period – the conclusion

Taking into consideration the factors of the blood flow and consistency, its color after implantation, the light pelvic cramping, and the fact that the spotting will occur before your period is due, can usually give you enough indications to identify the signs that implantation has occurred. Unlike menstrual bleeding, implantation spotting looks like pink or dark brown spots on your underwear, the spotting is relatively light and is shorter than your period.

Other Questions about Implantation Bleeding

Every pregnancy is different and you may not always have exactly the same early pregnancy symptoms as other women. Here are answers to some common questions about implantation bleeding.

Does implantation spotting always happen?

No. Spotting or light bleeding doesn’t always happen when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus wall. According to Dr. Yvonne Tobah from the Mayo Clinic, implantation bleeding is not experienced by all pregnant women. Some women don’t have any spotting when they become pregnant or the spotting is so light that they don’t notice it.10

Is implantation bleeding heavy?

No. Implantation bleeding is usually very light or hardly noticeable at all. Dr. Yvonne Tobah says that light implantation spotting stops on its own. However, if vaginal bleeding continues or bleeding starts during pregnancy, you should speak to your healthcare advisor.10

Is vaginal bleeding or spotting during pregnancy a cause for concern?

Some vaginal bleeding can happen during pregnancy and that is normal in some women. For example, certified nurse-midwife, Mary Murry on the Mayo Clinic says that most reasons for vaginal bleeding during pregnancy aren’t life-threatening. Very often, the cause is an increased blood flow to the vagina.11

However, some causes of vaginal bleeding can be very serious. Because bleeding could be a symptom of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, you should always contact your gynecologist if you have any concerns about vaginal bleeding.

Implantation Spotting and Other Early Signs of Pregnancy

When you become pregnant, many changes take place in your body. When the fertilized egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus, you may notice some implantation spotting and feel a twinge in your tummy. However, there are some other noticeable symptoms of the early stages of pregnancy:

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Breast changes. According to Dr. Trina Pagano on WebMD, a week or two after conception, your breasts may become swollen, tender to touch, and feel heavier.2 You may also notice bumpy areola as your Montgomery glands become enlarged. However there are other reasons why women’s breasts are getting larger.

Fatigue. You may also feel more tired as levels of hormones in your body fluctuate, blood sugar levels change, and blood pressure goes down.

Morning sickness. Fluctuating hormones may also be to blame for feeling nauseous in the morning. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that nausea in the morning may start about a month after conception. Some women also experience the dry heaves and don’t vomit anything up.12

Increased urge to pee. Changes to your hormone levels and an increase in your blood volume during pregnancy also make you have more frequent trips to the bathroom.

Other early pregnancy signs include constipation, mood swings, back pain, and dizziness.

Other Reasons for Spotting Before Period

There are other reasons for having spotting before period that are not related to pregnancy, here are some of them.

Stress

Stress can cause spotting before or after period. Stress can interfere with your hormones and cause irregular periods as well discharge before period. You may also notice pinkish or brown spots on your underwear from vaginal bleeding before your period is due. Although extreme stress can be a reason for your menstrual periods to stop,16 doctors say that in some women it can cause irregular bleeding.17

Ovarian cyst

Spotting before your period could be due to an ovarian cyst. Ovarian cysts are small sacs filled with fluid that develop in the ovaries. If they rupture, it can cause lower pelvic pain, bleeding, and severe discomfort.

Dr. Sarah Marshall on eMedicineHealth says that along with spotting between periods, you may experience vaginal pain, nausea, abdominal discomfort, heartburn, and lower back pain during your menstrual cycle.18 For more information, please read my article about the many warning signs of ovarian cysts.

There are other causes of spotting before period – read about them in my article: Why You Should Not Ignore Spotting Before Period.

When to See a Doctor

Although light spotting connected with implantation is normal for many women after conceiving, not all vaginal bleeding is normal. Dr. Nivin Todd on WebMD says that implantation bleeding stops on its own.13

Dr. Todd warns that if you have heavy bleeding at the start of pregnancy or at any other time during your pregnancy you should call a doctor. Some of the serious causes of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy are a miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, problems with the cervix, placenta, or preterm labor.14

Read my other related articles:

Article Sources

  1. NIH. What are some common signs of pregnancy?
  2. WebMD. Pregnancy symptoms.
  3. WebMD. Bleeding during pregnancy.
  4. MayoClinic. Vaginal discharge.
  5. AmericanPregnancy. What is implantation bleeding?
  6. MayoClinic. Fertilization and implantation.
  7. WebMD. Menstrual blood problems.
  8. ClevelandClinic. Menstrual cycle.
  9. MayoClinic. Menstrual cramps.
  10. MayoClinic. Pregnancy week by week.
  11. MayoClinic. Pregnancy week by week.
  12. MayoClinic. Getting pregnant.
  13. WebMD. What is implantation bleeding?
  14. MayoClinic. Bleeding during pregnancy.
  15. Mayo Clinic. Women’s health.
  16. MedicineNet. Vaginal bleeding.
  17. NHS. What causes bleeding between periods?
  18. eMedicineHealth. Ovarian cysts.
  19. WebMD. What is implantation bleeding?
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