When couples start trying to conceive, they can be like hound dogs looking for an early sign of pregnant. The “two week wait” can seem longer than the wait for the next Star Wars sequel! But some lucky women get a sign before they even get that BFP on that home pregnancy test. It’s called implantation bleeding and the process can look different for each woman and each pregnancy.

For this reason, it can be tricky to identify a true implantation bleed versus some other kind of spotting. In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about implantation bleeding (with photos!) so that you’ll know if you may be pregnant, or may have something else going on.

What Came First? The Implantation or the Egg?

To explain the biology of implantation, we need to rewind the tape. When two people love each other…

Just kidding. We don’t need to rewind that far. At a conception, a male sperm swims to meet a female egg, or ovum, in the fallopian tube where one lucky swimmer enters the egg and fertilizes it. The parents’ genetic material fuses together to create an embryo with its own unique DNA.

The embryo divides into two cells to become a zygote. The zygote continues to grow and subdivide to become what we’ve been waiting for: a blastocyst. At the blastocyst stage, baby is ready to implant. Throughout this time of subdivision and cell growth, baby has been multitasking. Not only is baby growing, but he or she is journeying down the fallopian tube toward the uterus.

And the uterus can’t wait. After each and every monthly ovulation, the uterus has been hoping for this by preparing the uterine wall. To prepare, the uterine lining gets thick, spongy, and vascular to make it an ideal cushion for a potential, burrowing blastocyst.

Finally the long-awaited day arrives and the uterus receives chemical signals that its monthly project was not in vain again and it’s time to fluff the pillows.

The blastocyst reaches the cushy uterine destination, is accepted by it, and attaches to it. Boom. Implantation.

The baby implants in the uterus by way of blood vessels and a stalk that will become the umbilical cord.

The implantation process can be accompanied with vaginal bleeding or spotting, and maybe a little cramping.

When Does Implantation Occur?

Implantation bleeding isn’t necessarily the exact day of implantation. Bleeding can occur anytime within a week after implantation. Think of it as the afterparty, or even the after-after party.

Implantation typically occurs 6-12 days after ovulation/fertilization, although some sources give it a wider range of 5-14 days.

The average is 8 or 9 days after ovulation/fertilization. This puts the implantation bleeding window just a day or so before a woman would otherwise expect her period.

The Difference Between Implantation Bleeding and Menstrual Bleeding

For some women, implantation bleeding and the expected onset of her menstrual period may overlap. For this reason, it is important to differentiate implantation bleeding from a typical first day menstrual cycle by color, consistency, and intensity. Here are some key differences to look for:

  • Implantation bleeding is pinkish/brownish in color. Period blood is redder. Wearing a white pantyliner or white underwear can help accurately determine the shade.
  • Implantation bleeding has a thinner, “waterier” consistency and does not contain clots.
  • Implantation bleeding is more like spotting or discharge. It does not turn into a heavy, bloody flow like periods do.
  • Implantation bleeding can be accompanied by light cramping, which many women find less painful and/or different from their typical period cramps.
  • Implantation bleeding typically lasts only 1-2 days, versus 5-7 days of bleeding with a normal menstrual cycle

Stress or a change in medication can cause changes in menstrual patterns, it’s true, but those changes are generally foreseeable and recognizable. A woman with a fairly regular cycle will be quick to notice a seemingly unexplained pinker/lighter/milder period when a pregnancy is possible.

I Am Confused Whether This Is Implantation Bleeding or the Beginning of My Period?

You wouldn’t be alone. In some cases, women have mistaken their implantation bleeding for a period, resulting in an inaccurate due date estimate.

In other cases, women have mistaken their spotting for implantation bleeding, only to get their period a day or so later. These mix-ups are common and since the evidence is not conclusive until you take an actual pregnancy test, there’s no practical way to guarantee it.

Over the counter pregnancy tests detect the pregnancy hormone Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG), which the placenta produces after the fertilized egg implants into the lining of the uterus. Implantation bleeding occurs before or at the time of the very first positive pregnancy hCG test reading, so if you aren’t sure yet, you will be soon. You’re just going to have a wait a couple extra days. (Darn it!)

Implantation Bleeding Photos

When it comes to pregnancy, waiting is hard! A couple Mama Natural readers shared implantation bleeding photos to help you spot the difference between implantation and the onset of your period.

How Long Does Implantation Bleeding Last?

It varies. Implantation bleeding can last anywhere from from a couple hours to a couple days. It could be something you see once while wiping with a square of toilet paper, a few times on a pantyliner, or it could be a light flow for one, two, or even three days. It is likely to be longer for first time mothers and shorter for mothers whose bodies have had children before and are “used to” implanting.

What If I Don’t Have Implantation Bleeding?

According to the ACOG, only about 25 percent of women experience the “phenomenon” of implantation bleeding. (I didn’t have it with any of my pregnancies.) If you don’t notice any spotting, you’re in the majority. Be sure to look out for other early signs of pregnancy, such as breast tenderness, nausea, bloating, and fatigue.

It’s Too Early for Implantation. Why Am I Bleeding?

When trying to piece together a pregnancy timeline, it is important to remember that a fertilized egg isn’t capable of implanting until at least five days after fertilization. It simply isn’t developed enough before then.

Early bleeding within 4-5 days after intercourse likely has a different origin. It could be caused by:

  • A hormonal withdrawal bleed after a failed ovulation attempt due to a confirmed ovarian cyst rupture.
  • Breastfeeding and irregular postpartum cycles resulting in pinkish discharge.
  • Mid-cycle spotting occurs due to high estrogen levels.
  • Leftover blood from your last period dislodged by sex.
  • Cervical irritation from sex or a pelvic exam.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

Implantation bleeding poses no risk to the mother or baby. There is no need to call a healthcare provider for light spotting and mild cramping before or at the time of the woman’s normal period.

However, bleeding after a women’s missed period is concerning. You should call a healthcare provider if:

  • There is substantial bleeding after a positive pregnancy test or after a missed period. This could be a sign of miscarriage, molar pregnancy, or ectopic pregnancy.
  • There is noticeable clotting.
  • Bleeding is accompanied by pelvic, abdominal, and/or shoulder pain. This could be caused by an ectopic pregnancy, which is a medical emergency.
  • Bleeding is heavier than a period and is accompanied by fever, chills, and cramps that increase in severity.

Remember: Many women experience light spotting throughout the first trimester to no negative effect. Your healthcare provider should be able to run the appropriate blood, urine, and ultrasound tests to safely monitor mother and child’s development.

Does Your Spotting or Bleeding Concern You?

If you are ever concerned with any kind of vaginal bleeding before, during, or after pregnancy, never hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider. They are very useful at sorting things out, dispelling fears, and reading the signs.

We Want to Hear About Your Experience!

Even from the first day of pregnancy, motherhood is full of surprises. If you have experienced implantation bleeding, we want to hear from you. When did you notice it? How long did it last? What tipped you off? Did any other symptoms accompany it?

If you recently discovered you are pregnant, congratulations from all of us! Please continue to visit MamaNatural.com for your motherhood questions and concerns.