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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.

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. Here’s what you need to know about implantation bleeding and how you can tell the difference between implantation bleeding and your period.

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 is in order to make sure implantation bleeding is truly the culprit of the spotting.

How common is implantation bleeding?

There aren’t reliable stats on how many women actually experience implantation bleeding. Some do, some don’t. 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. “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?

“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.

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, says Laurie MacLeod, a certified nurse midwife at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

However, 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 a few days, you may have gotten your period.

What Does Implantation Bleeding Look Like?

Implantation bleeding can look like 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 have early symptoms of pregnancy, MacLeod says. Those can include:

  • Nausea
  • Light cramping
  • Breast tenderness
  • Fatigue

But again, don’t worry if you don’t have these other symptoms. “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 early 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 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.”

Updated August 2019

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