During the two-week wait, many who are trying to conceive are on high alert waiting to feel implantation cramps. Implantation is one of the most critical biological steps in a pregnancy. Yet, surprisingly, this step often goes unnoticed.
When people aren’t trying to conceive, they’re unlikely to notice symptoms like cramping. Those actively trying to conceive are more likely to notice subtle symptoms like implantation cramping, because they’re focused on looking for them.
Identifying implantation cramping is even more challenging because the symptoms are very similar to premenstrual cramping and hormonal changes.
Even so, many women do notice twinges, sensations and even implantation cramping. Here are the most common questions about implantation cramps:
What is implantation?
After ovulation, if an egg is successfully fertilised, its cells begin to rapidly divide as it makes its way through the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. While the fertilised egg goes from a simple cell to a zygote and eventually a blastocyst, your body’s hormonal changes cause your uterine lining to thicken.
This all occurs during the luteal phase.
The luteal phase is the last phase in the menstrual cycle. This is the stage which occurs after ovulation and before your period (or positive pregnancy test).
Be sure to read about the Luteal Phase – What Is It And How Long Does It Last? to understand more.
If the fertilised egg becomes a healthy blastocyst, it will continue its rapid growth and get ready to burrow into your uterine lining. This process is called implantation. The blastocyst quite literally implants into the lining of your uterus.
At this point, conception has occurred, and you are pregnant. However, it is still too early for any testing to pick up whether or not implantation has occurred. You will need to wait a few days longer.
What are implantation cramps?
Throughout your menstrual cycle, you might notice twinges, sensations and cramping. Some women notice these quite often; others never have any notable cramping.
Some experience cramping with ovulation and during the time before their period. If you’re prone to PMS, you’re more likely to experience cramping during your luteal phase.
What exactly are implantation cramps? They can be described as cramping felt around the time of implantation. However, because uterine cramping can be caused by a number of things, you can’t be sure, until later, if the cramping is associated with implantation.
If you feel cramping about six or so days after ovulation, it is possible the cramping is associated with implantation. The timing of implantation, however, can vary. Many report ongoing cramping and twinge sensations as the fertilised egg burrows and continues to grow.
It’s hard to know for sure whether cramping is associated with implantation or with typical cyclical changes. Many women, for example, feel cramping around ovulation and again in the days leading up to their period.
If you have cramping around 6-12 days post ovulation and you later have a positive pregnancy test, you can assume it was implantation cramping.
How long do implantation cramps last?
Individuals experience different patterns of cramping and sensations that can vary throughout their cycles. Some women never experience cramping while others experience frequent sporadic cramping.
Some women conceive and do not notice any symptoms until they miss a period or have a positive pregnancy test. Whether there really weren’t any symptoms or they just weren’t as hyperaware of them as someone trying to conceive, we can’t know for sure.
If sensations are implantation cramps and not associated with other things, they are likely to last about 1-3 days. This can vary from person to person and even from pregnancy to pregnancy. If you’ve been pregnant in the past but weren’t actively looking for symptoms, you might not have noticed any cramping.
If you’re actively trying to conceive, you’re likely to notice your first and last twinge between ovulation and missed period or positive pregnancy test.
Implantation cramps can overlap with early pregnancy cramping, which also makes it difficult to know for sure how long they last.
As soon as implantation occurs your body will begin releasing hCG. This is a pregnancy hormone that tells your uterus to prepare for pregnancy. It can trigger stretching and growing cramps throughout early pregnancy.
You can read Cramps During Pregnancy – What You Need To Know to learn more about cramping.
What do implantation cramps feel like?
Every person will feel implantation differently. Some might not feel it at all. Those who notice implantation cramping are likely to experience a few different sensations, such as:
- A light pricking or pulling feeling
- Dull localised aching, felt in the lower abdomen/pelvic area
- Premenstrual-like cramping and tenderness
- A sensation similar to intestinal gas but felt within the pelvic region
The feeling can vary significantly, from absolutely nothing to cramping with a bit of pain. Implantation cramping occurs very early in a pregnancy when the fertilised egg is super tiny – just the size of a pin head. A localised sensation around implantation is rarely a concern.
However, if you continue to have very localised pain early in pregnancy, be sure to get in touch with your midwife or provider. Cramping is very typical, but severe localised cramping could be indicative of an early ectopic pregnancy.
Are implantation bleeding and cramping normal?
If you’re in the ‘trying to conceive’ phase and joining forums and chat groups, you’re likely to be aware of implantation bleeding. As well as looking for implantation cramping, women trying to conceive often look for implantation bleeding.
Like cramping, implantation bleeding isn’t something everyone experiences. Bleeding during the luteal phase can also occur for a variety of reasons.
Bleeding at this time can’t be confirmed as implantation bleeding until after a positive pregnancy test. In fact, some research suggests the bleeding isn’t necessarily from implantation at all and could be coincidental.
Whatever the reason, you can rest assured that light bleeding, or lack of bleeding, doesn’t rule pregnancy in or out. You needn’t worry; these are very early symptoms that only some people experience.
As hard as it is, just wait until you can confirm pregnancy via a test; it’s the only way to know for sure if you’re actually experiencing pregnancy symptoms.
That’s easier said than done. We all know it’s hard not to speculate. Still curious?
You can read Early Signs Of Pregnancy – 9 Signs You May Be Pregnant to learn more.
Implantation cramps or period cramps?
One of the most difficult things about the two week wait is wondering what any twinges or symptoms could mean. During a normal luteal phase, your hormones rise and then slowly drop. In a luteal phase when conception occurs, hormones rise, but don’t drop down; there’s also the added hormone hCG.
Whether you are pregnant or not, the end of your luteal phase will consist of hormonal fluctuations. In both cases you might experience:
- Light to moderate cramping
- Breast tenderness
- Mood changes
- Appetite changes
There might also be other symptoms. How can you tell the difference between implantation cramps and bleeding cramps? Usually, the only way to know is to have a pregnancy test around the time of your expected period.
Women who are very aware of their cycles might chart and track their basal body temperature, and notice some subtle differences.
For example, if cramping occurs in the time frame for implantation (about 6-12 days after ovulation) and there hasn’t been a dip in their basal body temperature, they might assume their cramps are from implantation.
Some women who have never had premenstrual cramping experience cramping during cycles in which they conceive. If you’re very familiar with your body, and your cycle, you might be able to tell the difference between your typical luteal phase symptoms and those that often occur during cycles where you conceive.
There are some who say implantation cramping feels more localised. Their premenstrual and period cramps, on the other hand, are more generalised, and felt all over their uterus, and even include pelvic muscle discomfort.
When Can I Confirm Implantation Cramps?
Unfortunately, at the time you’re experiencing implantation cramps, you won’t be able to know for sure. Once you’re close to your expected period, a pregnancy test is the only way to confirm that the sensations you felt were implantation cramping.
Given that there are many potential causes of cramping, even if it occurs around the time of expected implantation, it’s hard to confirm.
If you have your period and a negative pregnancy test, chances are all the twinges and cramps you felt were typical of the hormonal changes during your luteal phase. If you’re trying to conceive and feel like you’ve noticed a lot of signs and symptoms, a negative test can be a bit upsetting.
Rest assured that it takes a healthy couple up to 6-12 cycles to conceive. Although that might sound daunting, it’s typically your body just waiting for the perfect fertilised egg to implant properly.
Wondering how soon you can take a pregnancy test? Be sure to read When To Take A Pregnancy Test For An Accurate Result to learn more.
Harville, E.W., et al. “Vaginal Bleeding in Very Early Pregnancy.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Sept. 2003, academic.oup.com/humrep/article/18/9/1944/708284.
Hasan, Reem, et al. “Patterns and Predictors of Vaginal Bleeding in the First Trimester of Pregnancy.” Annals of Epidemiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2884141/.