What Is Implantation Bleeding and How Long Can Spotting Last?
In the very early stages of pregnancy, a woman might begin to notice some bleeding that she may mistake for her regular period. This is known as implantation bleeding or spotting. It differs from the bleeding that occurs during menstruation and is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy for some women.
What is it exactly, how long will it last, and what can you learn from it?
What Is Implantation Bleeding?
Implantation bleeding occurs after a fertilized egg (blastocyst) travels through the fallopian tubes and implants into the walls of the womb, or uterus. As tissues form around the egg, it can irritate the walls of the uterus and cause some bleeding. Blood can leak from the cervix and cause pink or brown spotting.
How Long Does Implantation Bleeding Last?
Reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Mark Trolice explains that "light bleeding/spotting in the seven to 10 days following ovulation is considered a benign occurrence and attributed to embryo implantation." Spotting should only last a few hours or up to three days, and it is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy in 30% of women.
If bleeding continues for more than three days and/or gets heavier, then you are either experiencing a normal period, or it indicates potentially dangerous causes of bleeding in early pregnancy, including cervical polyps (common), or something more serious, such as an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
Women with irregular menstrual cycles or PCOS may experience irregular bleeding. Please consult a physician or other healthcare specialist in these cases, especially if there is an excessive amount of pain accompanying the bleeding.
What Are the Signs of Implantation?
- Blood is light red or pink, or it is brown because the blood is not fresh.
- You will feel lighter cramping than your period. It usually occurs in your back and lower abdomen and should only last a few days. The pain should not be unbearable. If it is, call a doctor immediately.
- It is not as heavy as your period.
- It occurs about a week before your normal period.
- After bleeding, your breasts will be sore, tender, and/or swollen.
- You'll have a higher basal body temperature (BBT) during implantation.
- You might experience mood swings, headaches, and nausea (morning sickness).
- A week after implantation, you might have the frequent urge to urinate. This is because your body increases blood supply to the pelvic area, which puts pressure on your bladder.
- You'll notice your taste in food changes. You may find yourself craving foods you used to hate and disliking foods you used to love.
Are you experiencing these 14 early signs of pregnancy? If you experience several of these symptoms, then you are probably pregnant!
Implantation Bleeding or Normal Period?
If you usually have a light flow, you may confuse what is actually implantation bleeding for your regular period. Here's how to tell the difference between the two:
- Starts off light and gets heavier. May contain clots.
- Fresh, bright red and watery blood for 2-4 days.
- Menstrual bleeding flows continuously for 3-7 days.
- Cramping is much more intense.
- Starts off light and remains light. Doesn't fill up an entire pad or tampon.
- Light pink to brown or black blood, although red blood can occasionally occur. Most women report dark blood that is not as fresh as their period blood.
- Implantation spotting can come and go. You may see some spotting for a few hours or on and off for 1-3 days.
- You should only experience mild cramping.
Can Implantation Bleeding Be Heavy?
Dr. Michael Dimattina, MD states that "heavy bleeding is rare, and if there is bleeding, it should be just a few spots." He explains that most women don't even experience it at all, and any blood associated with implantation is just gentle sloughing of the uterine lining when the embryo implants itself, so the flow is very light and should not fill up a whole pad or tampon.
Can Implantation Spotting Be Bright Red?
According to Dr. Serena Chen, Director for the Division of Reproductive Medicine at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, "Implantation can range from nothing to pink to spotting to bright red." Most women report spotting that is light pink or brown blood, which means it's old blood. Red blood indicates that the blood was able to pass through the cervix before it could turn brown, and it should not be a concern unless it is heavy and lasts for more than three days.
If there is excessive pain or deep red blood that is heavy, you should consult a healthcare specialist immediately.
How Long Does Implantation Cramping Last?
Implantation cramping should not be painful and should last only 1-3 days. It happens when the fertilized egg burrows itself into the lining of the uterus wall, and it is a very healthy and natural part of early pregnancy. If cramping continues for more than 3 days, then you're most likely experiencing PMS, however there are other causes for abdominal pain during the first trimester that range from normal (round ligament pain) to concerning (ectopic pregnancy or infection).
How to Tell the Difference Between Implantation Cramps and Menstrual Cramps?
It's easy to confuse what is implantation cramping for period cramps. Here's how to tell the difference:
- Implantation cramps happen 6-12 days after ovulation, so you will experience it in the middle of your cycle, which is 1-2 weeks earlier than the date of your period. If you feel cramping just a few days before your period, then it is probably just PMS.
- Implantation cramps are intermittent and last only a few minutes at a time, whereas period cramps are ongoing.
- Cramps from implantation feel like a pulling/tugging or prickling sensation in the lower abdomen. You may also experience lower back pain.
- Implantation cramps only last for the duration of time that it takes for the fertilized egg to implant itself into the wall of the uterus (typically 1-3 days). If you experiencing cramping for longer than that, then you are most likely experiencing PMS-related cramps.
When Does Implantation Bleeding Occur?
Implantation bleeding usually takes place 6 to 12 days after conception, or 10 days after ovulation. So you will notice spotting 5-7 days before your period is expected to start. For example, if you conceive on day 10 of your cycle, then you will experience implantation bleeding around day 16-22, whereas your period would likely occur on day 28-30.
What If I Have an Irregular Menstrual Cycle?
Women with irregular menstrual cycles may see implantation spotting as early as 5 days after conception or as late as 17 days. This means that implantation bleeding can occur at around the same time as a period, leading many women to confuse implantation spotting for a light period. If you want to be know for sure whether or not you are pregnant, watch for other early pregnancy signs and take a pregnancy test.
How Common Is Implantation Bleeding?
Implantation spotting is actually very common and is a normal symptom of pregnancy. Around 1/3 of pregnant women experience implantation bleeding. In many cases, it is one of the first signs of pregnancy.
What Does Cervical Mucus Look Like After Implantation?
According to reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Mark Trolice, "Progesterone changes the pre-ovulatory copious cervical mucus from egg white, watery, clear, and elastic (to facilitate sperm entry into the uterine cavity) into thick, viscous, and opaque, with a decrease in production by the cervical glands. The post-ovulation cervical mucus change occurs to protect the future pregnancy in the uterine cavity from infection." He explains that this change "creates a 'mucus plug,' which remains throughout pregnancy and is passed prior to the onset of labor as one of the signs signaling impending delivery of the baby."
Dr. Serena Chen, fertility specialist and clinical professor at Rutgers Medical School, says, "Unlike the pre-ovulatory, clear watery mucus, pregnancy mucus can be thicker, more whitish, and opaque, but this is extremely variable and has zero positive or negative predictive value for anything!"
Could It Be Ovulation Spotting?
Some women may confuse ovulation spotting for implantation bleeding. Here's how to tell the difference:
- Occurs in the middle of your cycle—about two weeks before your period.
- Very rare. Only occurs in 3% of women.
- Cervical mucus is stretcher, clearer, and more slippery than normal—like egg white—with a tinge of blood.
- Occurs a few days to a week before your period.
- Happens to about 30% of pregnant women.
- Pink or brown watery discharge.
When Should You Take a Pregnancy Test After Implantation Bleeding?
Implantation occurs about 6-12 days after conception. After the egg implants into the womb, it begins to develop what is known as the pregnancy hormone or hCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin). You can take a pregnancy test as early as 3-4 days after implantation and get a positive result, however, many women report getting more accurate results if they wait a week after implantation or after their missed period. How early you can take your pregnancy test can be determined by tracking your ovulation cycle.
The Take Away
So, it should be remembered that implantation bleeding is darker than your usual period and only accompanies light cramping. The blood flow will be lighter, not as heavy as your period, hence the term, spotting.
If spotting accompanies other signs of pregnancy like nausea or extreme tiredness, you are showing signs that indeed you could be pregnant. You can take the pregnancy test about 3-4 days after signs of implantation or about a week afterward, after you've missed your period.
Implantation bleeding usually lasts about one or two days, and in rare cases it can last a month or two. If you are experiencing extreme pain during bleeding or the color of the blood has turned a deep red, then you need to consult a health care specialist, your mid-wife or family doctor.
The information in this article does not constitute professional advice. It is based on research, but the author of the work is not a licensed physician. This article is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. It is best to consult with a physician.
Have you had implantation bleeding?
- Kelly Sundstrom, "Is It Implantation Bleeding or Just a Visit from Aunt Flo?", Parenting. Accessed February 3, 2018.
- Margaret Scott, "All About Heavy Implantation Bleeding," Implantation Spotting. Accessed February 3, 2018.
- Rebecca Malachi, "8 Early Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy Implantation," Mom Junction. November 21, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2017.
- Jon Johnson, "Implantation Bleeding: Causes and Symptoms," Medical News Today. July 29, 2017. Accessed February 3, 2018.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.