What is your period vs. implantation bleeding?

Implantation bleeding usually happens under two weeks post-conception. It is usually much lighter than period bleeding, lasting only a day or two, and looks like spotting instead of a full or heavy flow like your period.
Implantation bleeding usually happens under two weeks post-conception. It is usually much lighter than period bleeding, lasting only a day or two, and looks like spotting instead of a full or heavy flow like your period.

When you notice vaginal bleeding that you’re not sure is from your period or pregnancy, it can be confusing. While both are natural and have to do with your reproductive system, they have different causes.

To begin, it’s important to understand the uterus. Your uterus is an organ that carries a baby during pregnancy. When a male sex cell (the sperm) meets and fertilizes a female sex cell (the egg) at conception, they implant into the uterine lining. Over the next nine months, the fertilized egg develops into a baby inside the uterus. 

What is your period?

Your period (menstruation) occurs when the uterus sheds part of its lining around every month that you do not conceive a baby. This causes continuous bleeding from the vagina for about a week. Most women get their period for the first time between the ages of 11 and 14 and stop getting their period around age 51. 

Typically, your period will happen every 28 to 38 days (your full menstrual cycle), and you can usually predict roughly when you will get it next.

What is implantation bleeding?

When a fertilized egg starts to develop, it can cause a small amount of bleeding. The blood also comes out of your vagina, like your period. This isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, and it happens to about 25% of women who have been pregnant.

What are symptoms and signs of your period vs. implantation bleeding?

Implantation bleeding vs. premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and your period can look similar. They may even occur at similar times in your menstrual cycle. The blood’s flow and color can be a determining factor, along with additional symptoms.

Symptoms of your period

Bleeding due to your period occurs for about 3 to 8 days continuously. The blood usually appears bright red, or slightly lighter or darker. Sometimes, you may notice brown discharge at the beginning of your period (even a few days before the bleeding starts), during PMS, or at the end of your period. This is older blood from previous cycles. 

During this time, you may also experience:

Symptoms of implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding usually happens under two weeks post-conception. It is usually much lighter than period bleeding, lasting only a day or two, and looks like spotting instead of a full or heavy flow like your period. Implantation blood also tends to be a different color than period bleeding—it is usually dark brown or light pink. 

You may also feel tired and nauseous, and need to urinate frequently alongside implantation bleeding. These are common symptoms at the beginning of pregnancy.

What are the causes of your period vs. implantation bleeding?

Both your period and implantation bleeding have to do with your uterine lining. 

Causes of your period

Throughout every month or so, the uterine lining thickens to prepare for a potential fertilized egg to develop. If that doesn’t happen during that time frame, the uterus then sheds the extra lining through your vagina. The shedding, which is a mix of blood and dead uterine tissue, happens over the course of about a week.

Causes of implantation bleeding

When a fertilized egg embeds into the uterus, it can move around slightly within the uterine wall. This can cause a small amount of vaginal bleeding but not enough to fill a panty liner.

SLIDESHOW

Stages of Pregnancy: Week by Week See Slideshow

Diagnosing your period vs. implantation bleeding

Diagnosing your period

Your period is a natural body function that doesn’t need a medical diagnosis for treatment and management. 

If you experience any concerning symptoms along with PMS and your period—like an irregular schedule, severe pain and cramps, or very heavy bleeding—contact your doctor. Menstrual disorders and other underlying conditions can affect your period, and a doctor can help make an additional diagnosis if needed.

Diagnosing implantation bleeding

Implantation bleeding does not require a medical diagnosis itself, but to make sure that your bleeding is due to pregnancy, you will need to take a pregnancy test. These are available over-the-counter.

Treatments for your period vs. implantation bleeding

Treatments for your period

Your period doesn’t necessarily need any medical treatment. To avoid leaking blood and staining your clothes, use a tampon, pad, menstrual cup, or another device. Over-the-counter pain medication can help with cramps, but talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns on treating your period symptoms.

Treatments for implantation bleeding

If you’re experiencing implantation bleeding, a doctor can help you figure out if this is a cause for concern. 

Can early pregnancy symptoms be the same as period symptoms?

It is easy to confuse early pregnancy and the symptoms of your menstrual cycle, which is usually referred to as your period. There are many similarities in these symptoms. Both may be uncomfortable or painful.

It may be difficult to know if you’re pregnant because early pregnancy symptoms are so similar to period symptoms. If you were not planning a pregnancy, you may go months without knowing that you’re pregnant. This is why it’s helpful to know the differences and similarities of early pregnancy and period symptoms.

What is pregnancy?

Pregnancy is the period of time when your baby develops in your womb. Pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, or about 9 months. It is broken up into three trimesters.

There are different expectations for each trimester. Some people may not know that they’re pregnant during their first trimesters.

What is a period?

Menstruation is when a woman bleeds due to the periodic, usually monthly, shedding of her uterine wall lining. Menstrual blood and tissue discharge from the cervix in your uterus and passes through your vagina.

Your uterine lining thickens each month to prepare for a pregnancy. When that doesn’t happen, the lining is shed. Women’s cycles and flows are all unique.

QUESTION

The first sign of pregnancy is most often: See Answer

Signs of early pregnancy and period symptoms

Most period cycles tend to have a heavier blood flow than the spotting of blood that can occur in early pregnancy. However, there are other symptoms that can be the same for both early pregnancy and a period.

Signs of early pregnancy

If you were not expecting or planning to become pregnant, you may get symptoms of early pregnancy that you could mistake for period symptoms. Early pregnancy symptoms include:

Many of these symptoms could be the result of switching your birth control medication or the effects of stress. They might also be indicators of other conditions.

If you have these symptoms and suspect that you may be pregnant, you should see your doctor for an accurate test.

Symptoms of a period

The changes in your hormone levels before your period cause physical and emotional changes. Those changes are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Typical symptoms of PMS include:

  • Feeling bloated
  • Breast tenderness
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling irritable
  • Acne breakouts or oily hair
  • Loss of interest in sex

It is completely normal to experience the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS. Some emotional or mental symptoms include:

  • Tension or anxiety
  • Depression, or feelings of sadness
  • Trouble concentrating and memory issues

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Causes of early pregnancy and periods

Early pregnancy symptoms are caused by the baby growing in your womb. The extra hormones and bodily changes that occur over the course of 9 months will have effects on your body.

Your period symptoms occur monthly or close to it in order to shed to the lining of your uterus. PMS is the cause of physical and emotional symptoms of your period.

Causes of early pregnancy

Focusing on your preconception health can help reduce your future pregnancy symptoms. Preconception health can begin years before you decide to have a child. Doing this may help relieve your symptoms later when your hormones have increased and they start to appear.

It’s okay if you did not plan your pregnancy. There are remedies to help with your symptoms in the beginning as your body changes.

Causes of a period

There’s no concrete research behind why PMS happens. It may be linked to your changing hormone levels during your menstrual cycle. PMS is not caused by stress or mental issues, but these factors can worsen your symptoms.

Some lifestyle factors could play a role in your PMS symptoms. Factors that could worsen symptoms include:

Diagnosing early pregnancy and periods

You may have an easier time determining which symptoms you’re having if you start by tracking your symptoms on a calendar each month. This will help you determine how you’re feeling and notice any patterns you may have including PMS.

Your doctor will ask you several questions to rule out possible problems. They may want to know about your eating habits, exercise habits, work, and family history.

Keeping track of your symptoms will also help you know if you’ve missed a period.

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose pregnancy. If your doctor suspects you may be pregnant, they will order a blood test and ultrasound scan to confirm.

Treatments for early pregnancy and periods

Both early pregnancy and period symptoms are easily managed on your own.

Once you’ve found out that you are pregnant, you should learn what to avoid and what to do to help your baby have proper development. Before you try any home remedies, check with your doctor first to make sure they are safe for you and your baby.

To ease pregnancy symptoms, eat healthfully, drink plenty of fluids, and take your prenatal vitamins. Reduce your stress with yoga and meditation. If these remedies do not work, contact your doctor about safe medications to take.

If you have gotten your period and are not pregnant, there are remedies you can try at home to care for your PMS symptoms. These include:

  • Exercising regularly through the month
  • Eating healthy foods consistently
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Managing stress through yoga and mediation
  • No smoking

There is no cure for PMS symptoms or early pregnancy symptoms, but you can manage your pain. Try home remedies to relieve your discomfort.

If you have severe abdominal pain that is persistent, you should contact your doctor immediately.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/12/2022
References
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Cleveland Clinic: "What Does the Color of Your Period Mean?"

MemorialCare: "What Color is Implantation Bleeding? Experts Explain."

News Medical: "What Does the Uterus Do?"

NICHD: "What are some common signs of pregnancy?"

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TeensHealth: "All About Periods."

Women's Health at Harrington: "Top 5 Common Menstrual Disorders You Need to Know About."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Before Pregnancy."

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Harvard Health Publishing: "Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)."

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