Implantation bleeding or period: how long does it last, colour and when does it happen
Implantation bleeding occurs slightly earlier than your period and won't look quite the same. If you're trying to conceive - you'll want to know the difference...
Implantation bleeding, Dr Rob Hicks tells us, is when a blastocyte (what the ball of cells is called before it becomes an embryo) implants itself into the lining of your womb. It can cause irritation and movement to the lining, which you’ll notice as spotting in your knickers.
You may also experience very slight cramping or soreness. It happens at around week 4 of pregnancy, so many mums-to-be mistake it for menstruation.
Is it implantation bleeding or my period?
If you're trying to conceive and find blood on your underwear you might be confused as to whether what you see is implantation bleeding or your period - and there's a LOT of chat on this topic on our forum (see what our mums are saying about implantation bleeding). But how can you tell which is which?
Dr Rob reveals there are 3 main ways you can recognise the difference between implantation bleeding (also known as spotting) and a period. With implantation bleeding:
- there is less blood – unless you occasionally have very light periods
- it should happen a few days earlier than your normal period is due – however, if you have irregular periods, this may be hard to tell
- bleeding doesn’t normally get heavier - whereas periods normally start light and get heavier.
In the case of Catkatze (a mum on our forum), she wasn't sure which she was having - but got a positive pregnancy test a few weeks after bleeding:
"Me and DH had decided then to try for a baby. I was then very regular with af [my period] and according to my calculations then I had no chance to get pregnant on the cycle I was on, so got ready for the next cycle to start trying. We still DTD [did the deed] though without any protection.
"A week later I had what I thought it was af, I did not pay much attention to it, it was probably lighter, but it wasn't completely weird, definitely not only spotting.
"4 weeks later I had nausea that would last for days. I thought it was too early to test for pregnancy, but when af did not show I tested and had a BFP!"
What colour is implantation bleeding?
Although it will vary from person to person, generally your spotting won't be red but brown or black in colour as the blood won't be fresh and as we've mentioned will be lighter (ie less blood) than a normal period.
If the blood turns deep red or becomes heavy, speak to your midwife or GP as soon as possible.
Mum wannanother tells us: “I had bleeding for 3 days and at first I thought it was my period coming. I started to suspect I was pregnant when I didn’t get cramps or anything, and the blood was brown in colour."
When will implantation bleeding happen?
If it's implantation bleeding you're experiencing, this will happen around 6 to 12 days after you had sex, and will come sooner than your period would.
How long does implantation bleeding last?
The bleeding should only last for 1 or 2 days, but every woman is different. Occasionally mums-to-be can continue to have a light period for the first month or 2 after they get pregnant, so it’s worth taking a pregnancy test around the time your first period is due.
“I wouldn’t worry about your bleeding unless it gets painful. I had an implantation bleed and it literally lasted a day, but everyone is different,” Sammy J told us.
Is implantation bleeding painful?
You may experience slight cramping or soreness, says Dr Hicks, and so this and the fact it occurs just before or around 4 weeks of pregnancy (so just before your period would come), is probably why many mums-to-be sometimes mistake it for menstruation.
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Is implantation bleeding common?
Around a third of pregnant women notice some implantation bleeding, so it is fairly common, yes, says Dr Hicks. Don't worry if you haven’t had any spotting, though - that doesn’t mean you’re not pregnant. There are many other early pregnancy signs to look out for.
If I think it's implantation bleeding, when can I take a pregnancy test?
It may take a few days after implantation bleeding for there to be enough hCG in your system to get a positive pregnancy test.
If you think you may be pregnant, of course, it might be worth taking a pregnancy test. But make sure you don't take it too soon.
Mum Lorew on our forum tells us: "I had very light bleeding 10 dpo (Sunday 15th Oct) that got gradually lighter over the next 3 days.
"I assumed it was my period arriving a couple of days early, but it I'd never had my period start and then stop completely.
"I was so suspicious that I brought a test but waited until the bleeding had stopped for a day (Weds 18th Oct and 13 dpo) and got my BFP that morning."
Signs apart from implantation bleeding that could mean you're pregnant
Of course, if you think it could be implantation bleeding you can look out for other early signs and symptoms that you might be pregnant too (see our 39 signs of early pregnancy).
On our forum, KatieZ says: "For the past week I have been experiencing nausea, bloating, hot flushes, some pelvic cramps, but nowhere near as intense as when I'm on my period and have only lasted a minute at most each time, awful back pain really low down and feeling absolutely exhausted no matter how much I sleep.
"I am due on my period on Tues, but yesterday started bleeding. I wouldn't call it spotting, but it's much lighter than my period ever has been, and I have had none of my usual period symptoms (really bad stomach cramps and awful mood swings are my usual)."
If the bleeding becomes painful or particularly uncomfortable, do make sure you should seek medical advice.
Tara is mum to 1 daughter, Bodhi Rae, and has worked as Content Editor and Social Media Producer at MadeForMums since 2015
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