Mother and Baby

Implantation bleeding: What is it and how to tell if it's just a period

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Bleeding, at the very beginning of your pregnancy, known as implantation bleeding, can be a sign that you are pregnant. Light bleeding or spotting doesn't confirm that you are pregnant, but some women do experience it just after they've conceived.

The 'bleed' happens in some women when the embryo lodges itself into the side of the uterus, 'implanting' and causing some light spotting in some women.

Implantation bleeding can also confuse the dates your midwife may give you for your estimate birth date, based on the first day of your last menstrual period. When you do see your midwife they will ask you when your last menstrual period was and also if it was ‘lighter’ than normal. From this, they can deduce whether or not this was an implantation bleed and ‘date’ your pregnancy as 4 weeks earlier.

This is important when it comes to timing your 12 week or ‘dating’ scan; too late and you may miss the window for some of the screening tests that are offered.

However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between implantation bleeding and your period. Dr Sameer Kumar, MBBS., MS (OBS/GYNAE)., FMAS, says that there are many reasons for mid-cycle spotting, but one of the most common is ovulation: "The most common cause of mid-cycle spotting is ovulation bleed which is physiological in most women," he says.

What is implantation?

implantation bleedingOnce your egg has been fertilised it then has to travel through your fallopian tube, into your womb and burrow into the lining of your womb, or ‘implant’. This stage usually takes around seven days from fertilisation.

The rule of thumb is that ovulation occurs around two weeks after the first day of your last period, and fertilisation around 24-36 hours after ovulation. To confuse things a little more, sperm can survive for up to seven days, so the day that you had intercourse may not be the date you conceived. Sperm can easily wait up to a week in your fallopian tube for the egg, which in contrast will usually only live for 24-36 hours.

Because of this, it can be tricky to calculate a due date for your baby. Tracking your menstrual cycle carefully can make things a lot easier, so we've created this guide to early pregnancy for you:

pregnancy menstrual cycle

What does implantation bleeding look like?

The blood is usually brown or pink and is quite light, usually contained in a panty liner, rather than a sanitary pad.

It is different from the darker red blood associated with a period, however, many women begin their period with this type of blood loss and if they’re not expecting to be pregnant may mistake it for a period.

Most women with implantation bleeding will feel that their period was early, very light and use words such as ‘spotting’.

This ‘spotting’ may continue for 2-4 days in some women, and for those not expecting to be pregnant may simply mistake this for a ‘light’ period and think nothing else of it, until they miss their next period.

Ingefleur, a fertility homeopath and YouTube content creator, has a great video explaining what implantation bleeding can look like. She says implantation bleeding can be "any colour of the rainbow...watery pink, red, brownish, cervical mucus that is blood streaked or little red dots."

Video: Implantation bleeding vs period: 5 ways to know the difference

How long does implantation bleeding last?

Implantation bleeding usually lasts around 1-2 days, but can last anything from a few hours to spotting on and off for many days, and be extremely light, and stay light.

As with everything, everyone is different, and a few women may feel that the implantation bleeding lasts as long as their period.

What's the difference between implantation bleeding and a normal period?

You would usually have expected your period a few days to a week after any implantation bleeding.

It’s extremely easy to mistake the implantation bleeding for an ‘early period’ as many of the pre-menstrual symptoms, such as cramps, bloating and mood changes are present with pregnancy too.

The difference with a period and an implantation bleed is the length of the bleeding, the colour of the blood loss and the heaviness of the blood flow.

A period would normally last 4-7 days and be heavier, with a consistent flow of blood and darken to red.

Implantation bleeding usually begins as brown or pink and remains extremely light.

Is implantation bleeding a sign of miscarriage?

miscarriageImplantation bleeding is not a sign that there is anything wrong with the pregnancy and there are no links to implantation bleeding and miscarriage.

If you do think that you may have had a lighter than normal menstrual period it’s probably a good idea to take a pregnancy test one week later.

Not only will this confirm your pregnancy, it also lessens the chances of your midwife incorrectly calculating the date for your first scan and therefore limiting your access to certain screening tests that can be done.

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