Make no mistake about it: Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, yes, but it can also be one fraught with worry. It’s natural to be concerned about that little bun in your oven! And one of the most disconcerting things that can happen in early pregnancy is any spotting or bleeding. This can happen for several reasons, among them implantation bleeding — a side effect of conception. But how long does implantation bleeding last? How can you tell it apart from your period? You’ve got questions, and we totally understand.
Before we jump into that, know first that implantation bleeding typically isn’t a cause for concern. You may not even have it or, if you do, you might not notice it. You may not even realize at that point that you’re expecting! If you do experience implantation bleeding, though, here’s everything you should know about this early sign of pregnancy.
What is implantation bleeding?
You start to have some light bleeding and think, Hmm, is my period starting a little early? It could be (more on that in a minute). However, it could also be implantation bleeding, which is defined by the American Pregnancy Association as a small amount of spotting or light bleeding that occurs around 10 to 14 days after conception.
When does it occur?
We’ve already given the specific timeframe — 10 to 14 days after conception — but let’s unpack that a bit more. Implantation bleeding is believed to take place when the fertilized egg attaches to the interior lining of the uterus. The movement of the egg may lead to this light bleeding as it breaks down some blood vessels within the uterine wall.
How long does it last?
Not long, which is why many women tend to chalk it up to pre-menstrual spotting. Although it can vary from person to person, it should last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.
How can you tell if it’s implantation bleeding vs. a period?
Because this takes place close to your expected period, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the two — especially if you’ve never been pregnant before. However, if the bleeding is shorter than your normal period (fewer than three days), it’s possible it’s implantation bleeding. Keep reading for more ways to differentiate.
What are some of the signs and symptoms?
Granted, just having a shorter duration probably isn’t enough for many of us to know whether we’re just spotting or experiencing implantation bleeding. Here are a few more indicators:
- Color: A woman’s flow may be unique to her, so you’re probably pretty familiar with what’s “normal” for you. Generally speaking, the color of period blood is a bright to dark red in the beginning. Implantation bleeding, on the other hand, is typically light pink to dark brown in color.
- Flow: Unlike some women’s periods, implantation bleeding should not fill up a pad, tampon, or menstrual cup. It should be light and free of clots.
- Cramping: You may feel light or faint cramping, but it will likely be less than a normal period.
- Other early pregnancy symptoms: You may notice a few other classic early pregnancy hallmarks like mood swings, headaches, morning sickness, breast tenderness, and lower backaches.
Can you take a pregnancy test during this time?
Maybe you’ve been trying to conceive when you start spotting. Your first instinct may be to run to the bathroom cupboard and pull out the box of pregnancy tests you have stashed there — you need to know what’s up. But if you aren’t sure if it’s just Aunt Flo coming to town early, it’s probably best to hold off until you actually miss your period. Implantation bleeding often takes place too early for tests to offer conclusive results.
When should you worry?
According to the Mayo Clinic, implantation bleeding usually isn’t a red (quite literally) flag. However, it’s best to listen to your body. If the bleeding lasts for more than a few days, is unusually heavy (even for your period), contains clotting, and is accompanied by fever, chills, or worsening cramps, call your obstetrician. They’ll want to rule out more serious issues, such as molar pregnancy or miscarriage.
A good rule of thumb is to alert your health care provider to any unexpected bleeding if you’re pregnant or suspect you’re pregnant.