Have you had some light spotting and wonder whether it’s implantation bleeding?
If you do have some light bleeding, how can you tell if it means anything?
When you’re hoping to become pregnant, the two week wait after ovulation feels like it lasts forever.
If you’re like most women, every twinge and craving seems like a sign of early pregnancy.
The sight of blood, however minuscule, can be a real disappointment.
Here’s everything you need to know to help you decide whether spotting is a sign of pregnancy, your period or something else.
What you need to know about implantation bleeding
When your body releases an egg, it has about 24 hours to be fertilised by a sperm. Therefore, it is not uncommon to incur implantation bleeding, multiple studies have shown that bleeding prevalence in early pregnancy can occur in 24% of women.
If fertilisation occurs, the egg sends out signals to your body to prepare for pregnancy.
In response, the uterus lining starts to change. Throughout your menstrual cycle the lining (endometrium) has been thickening. Now the endometrium needs to grow more to nourish a developing baby.
The egg is fertilised in the fallopian tube and then swept down into the uterus. This can take anything from 6 to 12 days.
The fertilised egg, now called a blastocyte, needs nourishment. It burrows into the endometrium and attaches itself there.
This can cause small blood vessels to burst. It’s thought the light spotting you might see after ovulation is implantation bleeding.
When does implantation bleeding occur?
The timing of implantation bleeding depends on a number of factors.
After ovulation, the end of the fallopian tube sweeps over the ovary and picks up the egg, moving it into the tube.
Muscular contractions move the egg down the tube; this takes about 30 hours.
The egg then reaches a certain point of the tube and waits to be fertilised. This has to happen within 24 hours. If sperm are already in the fallopian tube, waiting for the egg, it’s usually the best way to ensure conception will happen.
This stage of ‘resting’ in the tube allows the fertilised egg time to start developing enough to signal to the uterus to prepare for the egg.
After this time, the fertilised egg moves down into the uterus and attaches to the lining.
Knowing when ovulation and conception occur can help you pinpoint the time you might expect to see implantation bleeding.
It usually happens about 5 to 10 days after ovulation. Depending on the length of your normal cycle, this is likely to be in the week between ovulation and the time of your expected period.
Sometimes implantation bleeding can occur closer to the expected date of your menstrual flow.
This can lead you to think your period is beginning.
How long does implantation bleeding last?
Implantation bleeding is usually very short lived, and lasts anything from a few hours to 3 days.
Usually the bleeding ends when the fertilised egg is completely implanted into the wall of the uterus.
If implantation bleeding occurs over several days, and at the time of your expected period, it can be confusing. You might not be sure whether it’s menstrual blood or a possible pregnancy.
What does implantation bleeding look like?
Menstrual cycles and blood flow vary among women.
Some have very predictable and light periods. Others have a heavier flow, less predictable cycles and so on.
So how can you tell the difference between a period and implantation bleeding?
Implantation bleeding looks different from your normal period.
You’re probably quite familiar with the colour of your menstrual blood, from the beginning to the end of your period. It is usually bright red to dark red in colour.
Implantation bleeding is typically light pink to a dark rust colour.
Many women notice some clotting during their menstrual bleed. There should not be any clotting during implantation bleeding.
If your period begins, it might start with some spotting and then develop into a heavier flow. You need to use your chosen menstrual product such as pads or a cup to catch the blood.
Implantation bleeding is more of a discharge, or light flow, rather than a full flow of blood. You might only see it when you wipe, or just notice a light stain on your underwear or panty liner.
This can happen on and off, or more constantly, over a few hours or days.
How do I know it’s implantation bleeding or my period?
Because implantation bleeding is a symptom which can happen just before your expected period it’s difficult to know whether it’s normal spotting or a sign of early pregnancy.
If you experience bleeding around the time of your expected period, it’s unlikely to be implantation bleeding if the bleeding is:
- Bright or dark red in colour
- Lasting longer than 3 days
- Associated with cramps and lower back ache
- A full, heavy flow requiring sanitary products.
However if the bleeding is shorter and lighter than usual, doesn’t require more than a panty liner, and you have less cramping than normal, it’s possible this is implantation bleeding.
Other signs of implantation bleeding are very similar to those of PMS and, on their own, aren’t a good indicator of early pregnancy. They are:
- Light or very dull cramping
- Lower backache
- Breast tenderness
- Mood swings
Heavy implantation bleeding
Implantation bleeding which is light and lasts for a short amount of time is normal and nothing to worry about. It’s a sign of early pregnancy and doesn’t need treatment.
However, if you experience bleeding after ovulation which is heavier than your normal period, this is a cause for concern, and you should check with your doctor for the possibility of:
- Ectopic pregnancy. This is when a fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus. It causes cramps, pain in the pelvis or shoulder, and bleeding. It can be life-threatening, and you need to seek immediate medical attention.
- Infection. Vaginal bleeding can be a sign of an infection of the cervix, vagina, or urinary tract. Fever and chills are signs you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
- Miscarriage. This usually begins as spotting, then turns into a heavy dark red flow with cramping and visible clots.
What Should I Do If I Have Implantation Bleeding?
There isn’t much you can do if you notice some spotting or light bleeding between ovulation and your expected period.
It can be nerve wracking, especially if you’re hoping to be pregnant.
However, stressing or worrying won’t change the outcome either way.
Monitor the amount of bleeding and keep an eye on any other symptoms.
If the bleeding becomes heavier and you’re experiencing pain or other symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
For most women, implantation bleeding settles quickly, and stops after a few hours or days.
It’s normally such a light flow you won’t need to use any sanitary products but a panty liner might help you feel more comfortable.
If the bleeding settles and your period doesn’t arrive properly, an early pregnancy test will tell you whether or not your suspicions are correct.
In some cases your doctor might recommend you have an ultrasound, to make sure the pregnancy is in the right place and developing as it should be.
This is more likely if you’ve experienced significant fertility problems or multiple miscarriages.
It can also provide reassurance to know the bleeding is due to implantation and does not indicate a miscarriage.