What Is Implantation Cramping and When Does It Happen?

What Is Implantation Cramping and When Does It Happen?
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Implantation cramping happens when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. Cramps that happen around the time of implantation are one of the first signs of pregnancy along with light spotting (also called implantation bleeding or implantation spotting). Because implantation cramping can happen just before your period, many women mistake the pelvic pain for the start of their period.

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Most women who are trying to conceive are very keen to notice the first signs of pregnancy. Therefore, being able to tell the difference between cramps caused by implantation and the start of menstruation is important. Because both pregnancy and the menstrual cycle cause fluctuation in your hormone levels, you may experience similar symptoms. These symptoms could be light spotting, abdominal cramping, tender breasts, and mood swings.

In this article, you will find out about implantation cramping and what the accompanying symptoms are. The article also answers questions like how long implantation cramping lasts, what implantation cramping feels like, and what are the other early symptoms of pregnancy.

What is Implantation Cramping?

When a sperm lives long enough to get to the fallopian tube and fertilize an egg, the egg needs to implant itself on the lining of the uterus or endometrial lining for pregnancy to occur. When this happens, some women feel some implantation pain or cramping in their pelvic region.

Expert in gynecology, Dr. Trina Pagano says that cramping is sometimes one of the first signs of pregnancy along with implantation spotting.1 However, the American Pregnancy Association says that not all women experience cramping when implantation occurs.2

When does implantation cramping usually happen?

The timing of the pelvic cramps can also be an indication if the abdominal discomfort is caused by implantation. According to a study published by the University of North Carolina, a fertilized egg implants on the uterus lining around 6 to 12 days after ovulation.3 Therefore, some women may notice implantation cramping and pain 6 to 12 days after ovulation.

The change in the wall of your uterus can cause slight pelvic pain that doesn’t last very long. In fact, doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that the uterine cramping in early pregnancy is mild.3  

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What do implantation cramps feel like?

Many women who discover that they are pregnant may not even remember feeling implantation cramping. Dr. Trina Pagano says that the cramping when implantation occurs can feel like menstrual cramps.1 For other women, the pain in the pelvic region may feel like trapped gas or other mild abdominal discomfort.

Other symptoms of implantation and pregnancy

If you have been trying to conceive, occasional abdominal cramps aren’t always a symptom of early pregnancy. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pregnancy symptoms vary from woman to woman. For example, only around 25% of women experience implantation spotting as the first sign of pregnancy.5

If you have noticed some light spotting that is a pink or dark brown color before your period and you have cramping, there is a chance that you may be pregnant. The NIH say that other symptoms that implantation has occurred are:

Breast changes. Along with implantation cramping and spotting, you may feel that your breasts have become tender, swollen, or heavier. You may also notice bumpy areola as your Montgomery glands become enlarged. The changes in your breasts can happen around the same time as implantation. But there are other reasons why women’s breasts are getting larger.

Tiredness. You also may feel that you have less energy and get fatigued easier, especially in the morning. This is caused by fluctuations in your hormones and the fatigue could kick in as early as a week after conception.

Morning sickness. One of the most common early pregnancy symptoms is morning sickness. Many doctors think that this is also caused by changes in your hormone levels. The NIH says that the nausea can start as early as 2 weeks after conception.

Other early pregnancy signs. As well as cramping, spotting, breast changes, and nausea, some of the other first signs that you could be pregnant are:

  • Changes in appetite like food cravings or aversions
  • Mood swings
  • Having a need to urinate frequently

The causes of cramping after period

Dr. Trina Pagano says that implantation will occur around a week or two after the egg is fertilized and implantation can be a cause of cramping after your period. However, because every woman’s monthly cycle is different, cramping after your period can also be associated with other factors related to menstrual cycle.

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For example, the American Pregnancy Association say that, for most women, ovulation occurs 14 days after the start of menstruation. This can cause, among other symptoms, pain and discomfort in the pelvic area.6

Another reason why many women experience cramping after their period that isn’t connected with implantation is due to ovarian cysts. The Center for Menstrual & Reproductive Choice reports that some women develop large ovarian cysts that can cause cramping between periods.7

You can find more information about ovarian cysts in my article about the warning signs of ovarian cysts.

Cramping during pregnancy

Although mild cramping can be a sign of implantation, many women experience abdominal cramping through all their pregnancy trimesters.

According to the American Pregnancy Association mild cramping during pregnancy can happen as the uterus and round ligaments stretch. Women have a pair of ligaments in the pelvis called round ligaments that hold the uterus in place. When round ligament stretch happens, the cramping can resemble anything from a dull abdominal ache to sharp, stabbing pains. However this type of cramping should only happen occasionally.2

Some types of cramping during pregnancy are more serious. A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that abnormal vaginal bleeding and severe lower abdominal cramping during pregnancy could be associated with miscarriage. Therefore, if you have concerns about cramping during pregnancy, you should speak to your healthcare advisor.8

Implantation Cramps vs Period Cramps

Implantation pain can occur around the same time as you may be expecting your period. Therefore, it could be easy to confuse abdominal cramps for the start of your period. The fact that you may also have light spotting just before your period can also confuse matters more.

However, there are two ways to tell the difference between implantation cramping and period pain. This is what Dr. Trina Pagano from WebMD says:1

Intensity of cramps

Unlike cramping associated with period pain, implantation cramping will be very slight and some women man not feel the cramps at all.

Length of cramps

Implantation cramping will not last as long as cramps associated with menstruation. Many women have cramping for a few days during their period whereas implantation cramps will only last a very short time.

The only precise way to know if you are pregnant or not is to take a pregnancy test.

Implantation Cramping and Bleeding

One of the first visible signs of pregnancy is implantation bleeding. However, as with implantation pain, not all women experience spotting when implantation occurs. It can also be difficult to recognize the difference between spotting that occurs just before the period and light bleeding caused by implantation.

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Signs of Implantation Bleeding

There are 4 main ways to recognize the symptoms of implantation spotting when a fertilized egg has implanted itself on the uterus.

Flow. One of the key way to recognize implantation bleeding is the amount of flow. Dr. Trina Pagano from WebMD says that blood flow associated with the first signs of pregnancy is usually very light or, in some cases, not noticeable at all.1

Color. Another sign that spotting on your underwear is most likely from implantation is its color. The American Pregnancy Association says that generally bleeding from implantation is a pinkish or dark brown color. This is in contrast to regular menstrual bleeding which is generally dark red.

Cramping. As this article has pointed out, light cramping is felt by some women when implantation happens. This is generally only very slight and won’t last very long.

Timing. Women who have regular periods and follow their menstrual cycle are usually able to tell if implantation happens. The signs of implantation like light bleeding (or spotting) and cramping usually happen just before your next period is due.

Differences between Implantation Bleeding and Menstrual Bleeding

If you are trying to conceive, then it’s important to know if spotting is a sign of pregnancy or the start of your regular period. Because it can be difficult to tell apart vaginal spotting from implantation spotting, let’s look at some ways that implantation bleeding differs from menstrual bleeding.

Implantation bleeding vs period spotting

According to doctors from WebMD, normal menstrual blood is bright red in color. Sometimes, towards the end of menstruation, the menstrual blood may be a darker color. This is normal because it is just older blood that the body is getting rid of.8

Any spotting associated with implantation will be light pink or a dark brown color. According to Dr. Traci Johnson on WebMD, implantation spotting will last between a few hours and 2 days after implantation.9

Length of time

Doctors from the Cleveland Clinic report that the average time menstrual bleeding occurs is between 3 and 5 days; although anytime between 2 and 6 days is also considered normal.  The bleeding happens because no fertilized egg has implanted on the uterus lining and the lining is shed during menstruation.10

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Any spotting that may occur at the time of implantation will not last very long at all.

Pregnancy cramping or menstrual cramping?

The intensity of cramping is one way to tell implantation cramping apart from cramping that happens before menstruation. According to the Mayo Clinic, premenstrual syndrome can cause cramping that ranges from a mild ache to severe abdominal pain. Menstrual cramping also lasts much longer and can impact on your daily activities.11

Not all women experience implantation cramping and if they do, it is usually very light.

Other Causes of Cramps Between Periods

Stress

Emotional stress can cause you to have cramps with no period. Doctors found a connection between high-stress levels and abdominal pain. For example, the Harvard Medical School found that psychological stress sends signals through the nervous system causing abdominal cramping and pain.13

Emotional stress can also cause you to have irregular periods, white discharge before period, as well as green stools, so higher anxiety levels can cause you to experience cramping without a period.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Another cause of cramping between periods is irritable bowel syndrome. The Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. found that the symptoms of IBS are cramping, abdominal pain, bloatingdiarrhea, and constipation.14 IBS can also cause stomach pain after eating.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

If you suffer from abdominal cramps between periods with a white discharge, this could be due to a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). The Mayo Clinic says that the symptoms of PID are pain in your lower abdomen, pain during intercourse, irregular menstrual bleeding, and a heavy vaginal discharge.15

There are many other causes of cramps between periods – read about them in my article: Cramps but No Period: Causes and Treatments (Based on Research).

When to See a Doctor

Some light cramping and spotting can be some of the first symptoms of pregnancy. These symptoms should only last a very short time and don’t require any treatment. Also, mild, occasional cramping can occur naturally during pregnancy.

However, in some cases, cramping and vaginal bleeding during pregnancy could be symptoms that you or your baby’s life is at risk.  Dr. Nivin Todd on WebMD says that any heavy bleeding and cramping during any part of your pregnancy should be reported to your gynecologist or doctor. Cramping and vaginal bleeding in pregnancy could be symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, preterm labor, or problems with the cervix or placenta.12

Read these related articles:

Article Sources

  1. WebMD. Pregnancy symptoms.
  2. AmericanPregnancy. Cramping during pregnancy.
  3. UNC. New study establishes when pregnancy starts.
  4. MayoClinic. Symptoms of pregnancy.
  5. NIH. What are common signs of pregnancy?
  6. AmericanPregnancy. Understanding ovulation.
  7. CMDRC. Ovarian cysts.
  8. WebMD. Menstrual blood problems.
  9. WebMD. Bleeding during pregnancy.
  10. ClevelandClinic. Menstrual cycle.
  11. MayoClinic. Menstrual cramps.
  12. MayoClinic. Bleeding during pregnancy.
  13. Stress and the sensitive gut.
  14. Irritable bowel syndrome fact sheet.
  15. Pelvic inflammatory disease – symptoms.
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