You may think that bleeding or spotting is the last thing you want to see when you're trying to conceive – but in fact this light spotting could be implantation bleeding, which is one of the early signs that you are pregnant. About 25% of women will experience implantation bleeding as an early pregnancy indicator.
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?
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.
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.
Guide to early pregnancy:
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. It tends to occur a few days before your period would be due. A study of 151 pregnant women found that most episodes of bleeding occurred at least 5 days after implantation.
As with everything, everyone is different – some women may find that the implantation bleeding lasts as long as their normal period, some won't see any spotting at all.
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.
What are the other early signs of pregnancy?
With what we know about sperm and their journey; it’s the best swimmers that reach the egg, and of those elite few only one will make it through the egg to fertilise it. 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’, and 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. As with everything in nature, very few of us follow the textbooks and some of us may well release our egg days before or after day 14.
Most home pregnancy tests are extremely sensitive and can be used up to four days before your period is due. If you have a negative test, keep testing every few days until you either have a positive test or your period arrives. If you’ve had a positive test, congratulations! You can now make arrangements to book an appointment with your midwife.
Mother&Baby is the UK's number one pregnancy, baby and toddler magazine, and for over 60 years we have brought you the latest information and trusted advice from a huge range of experts. Our mum journalists work closely with our medical panel of midwives, doctors, paediatricians, child development specialists, parenting experts and many other field specialists to ensure the educational content you find here is up-to-date with the latest evidence-based medical information and accepted health guidelines.
Midwife, and Founder of 'My Expert Midwife'
Lesley Gilchrist is the CEO and founder of 'My Expert Midwife' and has been a midwife since 2003, working in some of the largest teaching hospitals in Europe. Through this time, Lesley has gained invaluable experience and insight into maternity care, labour and birth.
With extensive experience as a labour ward co-ordinator and as a community midwife, Lesley brings her expertise in pregnancy, postnatal, birth and the birth process to Mother&Baby to keep you informed and empowered.
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