Mother and Baby

How to tell the difference between implantation bleeding and a period

There are many different signs and symptoms of pregnancy and most of them mimic the imminent arrival of your period.

Bleeding, strangely enough, can also be a sign that you are pregnant, and we refer to this as ‘implantation bleeding’.

Although implantation bleeding is not that common it is something that many women have concerns about.

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.

What is implantation?

Once 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.

Your conception date is all to do with when your body released your egg.

As with everything in nature, our bodies never seem to follow the textbook and some of us may well release our eggs days before or after day 14.

Without knowing when the egg was released it is difficult to date pregnancies accurately and it’s for this reason that we use your period and their normal length and cycle as the reference for how far along in pregnancy you are.

The diagram below shows the passage of time for pregnancy in someone with a 28-day menstrual cycle.

What does implantation bleeding look like?

The blood is usually brown or pink and is 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.

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.

The early signs of pregnancy to look out for: 

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1) Tiredness

This is one of the first signs of pregnancy to hit as your body gears up to start supporting your baby and can even start within two weeks of conceiving. If you're feeling extra exhausted and can't work out why, this could be a sign your body is getting ready to grow a baby. 
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2) Nausea

Morning sickness is caused by an increase in the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). For many, this is the first sign of pregnancy. Don’t be misled by its name - while the nauseous feeling is most common in the morning, it can strike at any time of day.
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3) Missed period 

Another common indicator and one of the most concrete signs you're expecting. That said, if you have irregular or light periods, this can be an easy one to miss. What's more, some women still have periods after they conceive.  
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4) Spotting or bleeding

This might sound strange and is another one that can be confused with a period, but around a third of women experience some sort of implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding is when the foetus implants into the lining of your uterus and causes a small amount of blood. This usually happens 6 to 12 days after you've concieved. 

Spotting in early pregnancy can also be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, so it's important to talk to a healthcare professional if you're experiencing unforseen bleeding. 

ectopic pregnancy- earlier diagnosis can save lives and fertility.
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5) More toilet trips

Although your baby won't be pressing on your bladder just yet (a common side effect you'll experience later in your pregnancy), the hormone changes, plus a greater blood volume and your kidneys working harder could mean you find yourself rushing to the toilet more often right now. 
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6) Breast changes

Another extremely common early pregnancy sign is changes in your breasts. For some women, their boobs increase a full cup size within the first six weeks. 
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7) Nipple changes 

Pregnancy hormones cause your body's melanin production to increase temporarly - you might notice this has caused your nipples and the area around them (the areolas) to turn a darker colour.
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8) Bleeding gums

If you've noticed blood when brushing your teeth, it could be that progesterone is to blame. This pregnancy hormone increases the flow of blood to gums, increasing sensitivity and causing them to bleed more easily. 

gum disease has been associated with increased risk of preterm birth

Bleeding gums can be an indicator of gum disease, which has been associated with risk of preterm birth, so always see your healthcare professional if symptoms persist. 
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9) Increased vaginal discharge 

You may notice your body is producing more milky white vaginal discharge - this is your body's way to preventing harmful infections from travelling upwards and harming your baby.
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10) Changes in facial skin colour

A slightly odd sounding symptom, but some women experience changes in facial skin colour during pregnancy. This is medically referred to as melasma, chloasma or 'mask of pregnancy' and is caused by a temporary increase in pigmentation. 
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11) Feeling lightheaded or fainting 

It's thought that the pregnancy hormone progesterone makes your blood vessels relax and widen to increase blood flow around the body, causing low blood pressure. 
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12) Shortness of breath

Feeling out of breath doing your usual exercise routine or walking up the stairs? The surge of progesterone your body produces when you're pregnant expands your lung capacity which means you'll find yourself needing to take more breaths.
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13) Increased sense of smell or taste

If you suddenly can't bear the perfume you've worn for years, or your colleagues choice of tuna sandwich, it could be another early pregnancy sign. This is down to the hormone oestrogen which is heightening your responses to things that might be harmful to your growing baby. 
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14) Back pain

If you're already suffering from back ache, it could be caused by the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which makes your ligaments and joints relax and become looser so your body is ready to give birth. 
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15) Feeling pregnant 

Some women are so in tune with their bodies they report 'feeling' pregnant before taking a pregnancy test. You might have detected those early hormone changes, so it's worth checking! 
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16) Metallic taste in mouth 

Another common early sign of pregnancy, this one even has it's own name: 'dysgeusia'. 
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17) Period-like cramps 

It's the right time of the month and you have the normal period cramps. But wait, these stomach aches could be a sign you've conceived and the egg has implanted into the uterine wall, causing that familiar cramping sensation. 
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18) Excessive saliva 

Medically referred to as ptyalism, this is another one caused by those early hormonal changes. 
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19) Headaches 

Many women experience headaches around the time their period, due to a surge in the hormone oestrogen. After conception, your oestrogen levels also rise, which could be what's causing that pounding head.
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20) Food aversions

If you suddenly can't bear the sight or even idea of a boiled egg, it could be that you are experiencing the first trimester pregnancy food aversions. Whilst the egg aversion is a common one, it can happen with any types of food - even your favourites. 
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21) Cravings

That said, as fast as you'll go off certain foods, you'll start to crave others. A strong desire for something as simple as a fizzy drink, or as unusual as a lump of coal, could be an indicator that you're pregnant. 
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22) Hunger 

Feeling absolutely ravenous all of a sudden? Your body may be feeling low on energy. Make sure you're eating healthy, balanced meals full of micronutrients, but a little bit of what you fancy is good, too! 
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23) Low libido

If you're suddenly experiencing a really low sex drive after all of that baby-making sex, it could be a sign the job has been done! 
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24) Increase in sex drive

We know we mentioned low libido as a potential sign of pregnancy, however on the flipside, pregnancy can cause an increase in sex drive thanks to increased levels of Estrogen!
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25) Spots or acne

If you're blaming your period on those breakouts, you might be wrong. A surge of progesterone can make your glands produce more pore-blocking oily sebum.
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26) More emotional

Have you found yourself weeping on the underground or sobbing at a TV advert you've seen hundreds of time before? Emotions tend to be all over the place during pregnancy (one word - hormones), so if you're on an emotional rollercoaster, it might be time to go and buy a pregnancy test! 
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27) Moodiness

Feeling extremely grumpy and short tempered? A combination of pregnancy symptoms can wreak havoc with your moods.
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28) Constipation and wind 

It might be an embarrasing symptom you'd rather not talk about, but wind could actually mean your digestive system is adapting to those baby hormones. 
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29) Bloating 

If that pre-period puffiness hasn't disappeared, it could actually be the pregnancy hormone progesterone at play. Feeling bloated? It might be worth taking a test! 
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30) Temperature changes

Pregnancy causes an increase in blood volume as your body starts to work harder to support your growing baby. Feeling extra hot? It could be an early sign of pregnancy. Some women also feel excessively cold, too. 
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31) Cold like symptoms 

Another one caused by those pregnancy hormones (get ready to hear about them A LOT over the next nine months), if you're suffering from a blocked nose or cold it could be that those pregnancy hormones are cuasing swelling inside your nose, and increasing the amount and thickness of mucus. 

It's important to remember that viruses are more common and serious in pregnancy (e.g. swine flu) so talk to your healthcare professional if symptoms persist. 
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32) Sudden aversion to coffee

Many women report they suddenly dislike coffee in their first trimester and one explanation for this is the body is attempting to protect the fetus from extraneous substances. 
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33) Tender breasts

Some women find that their boobs feel heavier and more tender than normal when expecting, especially in the first few weeks. 
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34) Hair loss

Some women report losing more hair in the early stages of pregnancy. Not dramatic hair loss but perhaps finding more hair in the plug hole or in your hair brush. This is likely to be down to nutrient deficiencies which should resolve themselves once your hormones regulate.

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?

Implantation 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.

Now read: 

11 surprising facts every woman should know about their periods

34 early signs of pregnancy (for when it's too early to take a test)


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