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Implantation Bleeding: When It Happens and What It Looks Like

Here’s how to tell if that spotting is just your period or a sign you’re in the early stages of pregnancy.
ByKorin Miller
Updated
June 14, 2021
Woman at home smiling and thinking with her phone in her hand.
Image: Luis Alvarez / Getty Images

When you’re trying to conceive, it’s only natural to obsessively monitor what’s happening with your vagina. But don’t panic and assume you’re not pregnant if you notice a little spotting. Light, brief bleeding that lasts just a day or two can actually be a sign of early pregnancy. It’s known as implantation bleeding, and it can be a tip-off that an egg has successfully nestled into your womb.

It can be unnerving when you see a streak of blood on your underwear or after wiping. Of course, if you’re actively looking for signs of pregnancy, you may feel optimistic or even excited about this sudden symptom. Suffice to say, you probably have a lot of questions—and we’re here to help. Want to learn how to recognize implantation bleeding, when it occurs, what it looks like and how you can tell the difference between this kind of bleeding and menstruation? Read on to get the full lowdown on implantation bleeding and what it may (or may not) mean.

What Is Implantation Bleeding?

Implantation bleeding is a small amount of spotting or bleeding that happens after a newly fertilized egg burrows into the lining of your uterus. Since the uterine lining is rich with blood, some women spot a little at this point. This is totally normal and no cause for concern, but a pregnancy test and doctor’s visit may be order to make sure implantation bleeding is truly the culprit.

So how much do you bleed during implantation? “It’s typically a small amount of spotting or bleeding,” says Laurie MacLeod, APRN, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at ProMedica in Oregon, Ohio. Implantation bleeding is usually much lighter than a regular period; it’s not enough to warrant a feminine pad, but you might consider wearing a pantyliner just in case.

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How common is implantation bleeding?

According to the American Pregnancy Association, approximately one third of women experience implantation bleeding in early pregnancy. All in all, there’s no real way to know whether spotting (or lack thereof) indicates pregnancy—only a test can tell. “Bleeding in the first trimester is common, although I would never say ‘normal,’” says Michael Cackovic, MD, a maternal fetal medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. According to him, about 25 to 30 percent of women will experience some bleeding—including implantation bleeding—in the first trimester.

If you have no implantation bleeding, that’s perfectly normal too. “Don’t worry! It has no bearing on the success of your pregnancy,” says Julie Lamppa, APRN, CNM, a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic.

When does implantation bleeding occur?

If you’re compulsively checking your underwear every few hours in hopeful anticipation, you may be wondering: How soon after conception would you notice spotting? So, when does implantation bleeding occur? “Implantation bleeding may occur right around the time you think you may be getting your period,” Lamppa explains—which is why it can be confusing for women who experience it. “Some women will notice a small amount of spotting or bleeding about 10 to 14 days after fertilization of the egg,” she adds.

If you suspect you’re experiencing implantation bleeding, you may be eager to take a home pregnancy test—and stat. Not so fast, though. While there’s no harm in taking a test at this point, you’re better off waiting a few more days.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, your body starts producing human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) about 10 days after conception, which is around the same time implantation bleeding may occur. At this early stage in a healthy pregnancy, hCG levels double every two days. Still, it takes time for the hormone to build up in your system and reach a volume that can be detected by an over-the-counter urine test. Some tests may be able to detect hCG about 10 days after conception, but waiting until after a missed period can lower the chance of a false negative. Blood tests are more sensitive to hCG and can detect the hormone 9 to 12 days after conception.

How long does implantation bleeding last?

It depends on the woman, but some claim it lasts for one day, while others say three or four. Implantation bleeding can seem like a period, but it doesn’t last as long. “You don’t continue to bleed like a normal period,” Lamppa says.

Implantation Bleeding Vs. Period: How to Tell the Difference

How can you tell if it’s implantation bleeding or your period? Depending on how you typically experience menstruation, this could be a bit of a waiting game. Implantation bleeding is usually lighter than a normal period. “If you experience bleeding that’s considered to be heavy spotting or bleeding, that would be more than implantation bleeding,” Lamppa says. But if you tend to have light periods anyway, you might not notice a huge difference.

Your period will typically last longer than implantation bleeding, Macleod adds. If you bleed for a day or two, it’s more likely to be implantation bleeding. If it stretches beyond that time frame, you may have gotten your period. Still not sure? Wait a few more days and take a pregnancy test.

What Does Implantation Bleeding Look Like?

Now that you understand what it is and when it occurs, you might be left wondering: What does implantation bleeding look like? The truth is, implantation bleeding can resemble a lighter version of your period. The color is usually pink or slightly red when it starts, MacLeod says, although it can be brownish as the bleeding resolves. The texture can vary, but it shouldn’t be overly thick. “It should not contain clots,” Lamppa says. Clots typically form with heavy bleeding, so if you’re truly experiencing implantation bleeding, you shouldn’t have them.

Implantation Bleeding Symptoms

Women can experience implantation bleeding differently. Some may have no additional symptoms besides the light bleeding, while others may start to encounter a few early signs of pregnancy, MacLeod says. According to her, these can include:

• Nausea • Headache • Lower back pain • Light cramping • Breast tenderness • Fatigue

But again, don’t worry if you don’t experience these things. “You may not have any associated pregnancy symptoms at this time because it’s still so early,” Lamppa says.

When to Call the Doctor

There are a lot of things that can cause bleeding during the first few weeks and months of pregnancy. “Causes of bleeding during early pregnancy can range from irritation to the cervix and vagina as blood flow is increased to the area, to threatened miscarriage or even ectopic pregnancy,” Cackovic says. If you experienced bleeding and you’ve gotten a positive pregnancy test, it’s important to see your doctor sooner rather than later to determine what’s going on.

“Your provider will assess how far you are into the pregnancy, the amount of bleeding you’re experiencing, if you’re feeling pain and other possible risk factors,” Lamppa says. “All of this information will help your provider figure out the next best steps for your care.”

When you’re actively trying to get pregnant, it’s natural to scrutinize the inner workings of your reproductive system and even compare your symptoms to those of other women. But remember, you may have implantation bleeding, or you may not, and your experience may be different than others’. The tricky part is determining if the spotting is actually the result of implantation or something else entirely (like your period). If you’re on pins and needles waiting for an answer, take a deep breath, monitor for additional bleeding and consider taking a test in a few days. Of course, never hesitate to reach out to your doctor with any concerns.

About the Experts:

Michael Cackovic, MD, is a maternal fetal medicine physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. He is also an associate professor of medicine at Ohio State University. He received his medical degree from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Julie Lamppa, APRN, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at Mayo Clinic. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Laurie MacLeod, APRN, CNM, is a certified nurse midwife at ProMedica, an integrated healthcare organization in Oregon, Ohio. She received her Master’s of Science in nursing, specializing in midwifery, from The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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