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What Is Implantation Bleeding?
Updated on
February 22, 2024

What Is Implantation Bleeding?

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What Is Implantation Bleeding?.
What Is Implantation Bleeding?

Noticing some blood in your underwear when you’re not expecting your period can feel a little unnerving, but don’t panic—spotting or light bleeding can be an early sign of pregnancy. It’s called implantation bleeding, and here’s a breakdown of what exactly may be going on down there.

What Is Implantation Bleeding?

The symptom known as “implantation bleeding” is defined as a small amount of spotting or light bleeding that occurs anywhere from 10 to 14 days after fertilization and a few days before your next menstrual cycle. You may experience it; about a quarter of pregnant people say they do, but according to Dr. Cordelia Nwankwo, there’s no real proof of what’s actually happening. “There are no studies that actually confirm early bleeding as being caused by implantation,” Dr. Nwankwo says.

If anything, the term “implantation bleeding” is a bit of a misnomer. There isn’t much research on the topic—one study found no link between implantation and vaginal bleeding, and spotting can occur in cycles that end in both pregnancy and not. In other words, don’t count on it as a sure sign of implantation and pregnancy.

What Are the Symptoms of Implantation Bleeding?

“Implantation usually has no symptoms, but can be associated with light spotting,” Dr. Sarah Yamaguchi says. This means that it can often be confused for a light period. The same is true for a lot of the signs and symptoms that might happen alongside implantation—they’re very similar to those you may experience when you have your period. While these symptoms are associated more with the rise in pregnancy hormones due to the presence of a fertilized egg in your body than with the actual act of implantation (you can’t feel the egg implanting), there are some specific things to pay attention to that could mean you’re pregnant:

  • Light spotting/brown discharge
  • Light cramping (much less severe than a normal period)
  • Nausea
  • Sore or tender breasts
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings

What Does Implantation Bleeding Look Like?

If symptoms of early pregnancy are so similar to menstruation symptoms, how can you tell the difference between the two? You’re not alone if you find this really confusing. There’s no real way to tell which one you’re experiencing until you take a pregnancy test a little later on in your cycle, but there are a few things that could distinguish implantation bleeding from menstrual blood:

  • Blood color: A common question is can implantation bleeding be red? Although the color of your menstrual blood can vary, especially depending on where you are in your cycle, it tends to be a brighter red, especially during the first few days of your period. Implantation bleeding, if it occurs, is usually light pink or dark brown in color.
  • Clots: Menstrual bleeding often contains clots, while implantation bleeding usually does not.
  • Heaviness/amount: Even though every period is different, menstrual blood is often heavier and lasts for a much longer time than implantation bleeding. A good way to visualize it is to think about how much blood it takes to fill a pad or a tampon. If there’s enough blood to do that, it’s usually your period; if you’re noticing something more like light spotting or a trace of blood when you wipe, it could be implantation bleeding.

What’s the Difference Between Implantation Bleeding and Your Period?

Blood color, clots and the heaviness of the bleeding you’re experiencing are all good indicators as to whether you’re dealing with implantation bleeding or your period. But there’s another important thing to consider: the length of time you’re bleeding.

Most menstrual cycles last anywhere from three to seven days. Implantation bleeding, however, “is usually just a little and lasts a few days at the most,” Yamaguchi says. So if you’re only bleeding lightly for a short time and the flow never increases, odds are you’re experiencing some early pregnancy spotting.

When Should You See a Doctor?

If you’re truly experiencing implantation bleeding, there’s no cause for concern. It’s normal, harmless for you and baby and it will go away on its own. However, there are a few occasions you’d want to reach out to your healthcare provider.

If your bleeding is not subsiding, you may be experiencing a miscarriage or an issue such as an ectopic pregnancy. It’s definitely worth a call or a visit to your doctor. And if you’re pregnant and experiencing spotting or bleeding, especially if you’re in your second trimester or third trimester, it’s also important that you speak with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to bleeding and pregnancy. So if you’re ever worried, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider.


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Jen LaBracio

Senior Gear Editor

Jen LaBracio is Babylist’s Senior Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines her love of all things baby gear with her love of (obsessive) research. When she’s not testing out a new high chair or pushing the latest stroller model around her neighborhood, she likes to run, spin, listen to podcasts, read and spend time at the beach. In her past life, she worked for over a decade in children’s publishing. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and their two boys, Will and Ben.

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