Whether you are trying to conceive or if having a baby is the last thing on your to-do list, early indicators of pregnancy can be very important. One of the earliest indicators of pregnancy experienced by women is something known as ‘implantation bleeding’.
Implantation bleeding is something that about a third of women will experience after conception, but not a lot of women know what it is. We understand that experiencing vaginal bleeding when you are not supposed to have your period can cause panic or concern – this is especially true if the blood is not the usual colour. However, this can merely be a sign of early pregnancy…but also not.
Confused? Do not worry! In this article, we are going to discuss everything you need to know about bleeding off of your period. That includes whether ‘brown blood’ is brown implantation bleeding, or whether it is just brown discharge, known as spotting. We will also be discussing the basics about implantation bleeding, what to expect, how to know if you are expecting and when it is cause for concern. We have plenty to discuss, so let us begin!
The Basics of Implantation Bleeding That You Need to Know About:
What is Implantation Bleeding?
Implantation bleeding is a completely normal experience that about a third of women experience after conception. Implantation bleeding happens during a female’s reproductive cycle. The fertilised egg attaches itself to the lining of the uterus which may then cause small blood vessels to break which then results in this implantation bleeding.
However, Dr Nwanko says that the term ‘implantation bleeding’ is a misnomer – that is, implantation bleeding is not necessarily linked to the embryo physically implanting in the uterus. Brown discharge can be an indicator of early pregnancy, but it is not necessarily an indicator of pregnancy and can be absent altogether in the majority of women even if an embryo has successfully attached to the lining of the uterus.
When Does Implantation Bleeding Occur?
Usually, only about 1/3 of women (15-25%) can expect to experience implantation bleeding within the first couple of weeks after conception, around the time you would normally have your period. More specifically, implantation bleeding happens within 5 to 12 days after the sperm has fertilised the egg.
How Can You Tell What Implantation Bleeding Looks Like?
Implantation bleeding can be either light pink or brown (almost a rust colour) and does not look like normal period bleeding. It is normally in the form of very light spotting or very little bleeding and is not as heavy as a normal period. It is easy to confuse brown implantation bleeding with spotting, or an early period.
The Difference Between Implantation Bleeding and Period Bleeding:
What Causes Implantation Bleeding vs What Causes Period Bleeding?
The biological difference between implantation bleeding and period bleeding is based on whether or not a fertilised embryo has reached the uterus and becomes attached to the inner lining. If a fertilised embryo has successfully attached itself to the lining of the uterus, then the woman will not experience her period.
However, if there is no fertilised embryo then the inner lining of the uterus, which begins to thicken throughout a women’s menstrual cycle in preparation to support a baby, sheds and the woman experiences menstrual bleeding.
Are You Pregnant or Just Spotting?
Typically, implantation bleeding is much lighter than the average period and lasts anywhere between a few hours to a few days at most. However, many confuse their periods with implantation bleeding, or implantation bleeding with their periods. You may be able to distinguish the two if you closely track your period.
Implantation bleeding is more likely to occur several days before the expected arrival of your period. If you are very regular, then ovulation is likely to occur at about the two-week mark of your menstrual cycle, implantation on around day 24 and they would then skip their periods on day 28. These people would experience implantation bleeding a few days before the 28th day in their cycle.
The confusion comes in when your period is irregular or your cycle is typically less than 28 days as implantation bleeding occurs very near the time that you can expect to get your period.
However, some people also experience naturally light periods or normally experience spotting in the middle of their menstrual cycle, and some may not be tracking the days between periods in the first place, so they may not be able to tell the difference between their periods or implantation bleeding.
Why does this matter? Well, not spotting implantation bleeding can cause you to miss one of the first signs of pregnancy and can later throw off due-date calculations. Therefore, we will answer some other important questions regarding implantation bleeding to provide some more clarity on the topic.
Main Differences Between Implantation Bleeding vs Period Bleeding Summarised:
The main differences between implantation bleeding and your period to look out for are blood colour, whether there are clots, the amount of blood and how long you are bleeding. This is because for most people – the colour of implantation bleeding will be different than their normal period colour; period bleeding usually contains clots whereas implantation bleeding does not contain clots; implantation bleeding will be very minimal compared with a normal period, and menstrual cycles usually last for three to seven days whereas implantation bleeding can last from a few hours to a couple of days at the most.
Moreso, implantation bleeding can be better distinguished from a normal period if it is accompanied by early signs of pregnancy. Brown discharge accompanied by tender breasts, fatigue, cravings or sudden food aversions, nausea, mood swings, headaches or frequent urination may be indications of early pregnancy.
How Soon Can You Test for Pregnancy After Experiencing Brown Implantation Bleeding:
Waiting a couple of days and then taking a pregnancy test is the best way to confirm whether or not you are pregnant. Waiting these few extra days to test is recommended to get an accurate reading because once an embryo attaches, the placenta takes a few days to produce the human chorionic hormone (hCG hormone) which the pregnancy test is testing for.
Some tests can detect this hCG hormone as little as 6 days before your normal period, but it is not unusual to get a false negative early in a pregnancy. You can test every 3 days after this to check whether or not you are pregnant.
Does Brown Discharge Always Mean Pregnancy?
Brown discharge is not the same thing as implantation bleeding because the causes are different. Usually, implantation bleeding is the first sign of conception and for couples trying to conceive – this can be very good news. However, it is best not to assume anything!
This is because experiencing brown discharge is a normal part of the menstrual cycle and can have a cause other than pregnancy, such as an underlying health condition. While vaginal discharge is usually clear or white, sometimes it can be in other colours.
Some women may experience brown discharge before their period begins. This brown colour is caused by blood in the discharge and while this may sound scary, is not typically anything serious!
When Brown Discharge Is Not Implantation Bleeding:
Non-concerning Reasons for Brown Discharge/Brown Period Blood:
If you are not trying to conceive and usually know what to expect with your period (such as the duration or how heavy it should be), experiencing something like brown discharge or brown period blood can cause you to feel worried. But do not start stressing! In most instances, this is completely normal. Menstrual cycles are prone to change and can vary in terms of time, heaviness of flow, discomfort and even colour.
Brown discharge or brown spotting can be caused by several non-concerning factors, other than pregnancy, such as:
· blood taking longer than normal to leave the uterus after the end of your menstrual cycle.
· ovulation spotting (typically in younger girls or older women, or those beginning birth control).
· certain birth controls, such as Nexplanon which is an implant.
· a period just beginning where the flow is still very light.
· sexual intercourse, especially if intercourse was vigorous.
· the result gynaecological visit where a pap smear or vaginal testing was conducted.
· For people ages 40-50 years old, brown discharge may indicate perimenopause (which is the period just before menopause occurs) and may be accompanied by other symptoms like mood swings, night sweats, vaginal dryness, hot flashes and trouble sleeping.
Concerning Reasons for Brown Discharge:
There are some concerning causes of brown discharge, such as:
· a sexually transmitted disease (STD)/ sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as a yeast infection, chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
· pelvic inflammatory disease.
· polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
· cervical cancer.
· or a foreign object – such as a tampon, condom or contraceptive ring- being left in the vagina accidentally.
When to See a Doctor About Brown Discharge:
It is a good idea to see a doctor if the brown discharge continues for more than a couple of weeks, has a bad smell, is accompanied by discomfort, pain (in the abdomen or vagina) or itching or if brown discharge frequently occurs after sexual intercourse.
Women who experience spotting during menopause, after the insertion of an IUD or when taking tamoxifen during cancer treatment must also seek medical advice.
You should also pay attention to heavier or more painful periods than usual or bleeding in between periods. Periods that last more than 7 days, periods which do not come for more than 3 months or periods which are closer than 21 days apart or further than 35 days apart are also causes to consult a doctor.
Lastly, book a doctor’s appointment if the brown discharge or period blood is accompanied by fever or fatigue as this may be an indication of a problem or infection.
The Connection Between Brown Implantation Bleeding and Miscarriage:
While brown discharge does not always indicate pregnancy, some brown discharge is normal during early pregnancy and is rather known as brown implantation bleeding. This bleeding is normal during the first couple of weeks after conception, but seeing a doctor is important at any time during pregnancy. This is because brown bleeding can also be a sign of miscarriage.
You should be aware of the other warning signs of pregnancy, as well as warning signs of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancies as these symptoms can overlap. The symptoms include brown discharge accompanied by:
· cramping or discomfort
· dizziness or light-headedness
· feeling weak or faint
· shoulder pain
· if you have already experienced pregnancy and you notice brown discharge but none of your other normal pregnancy symptoms.
To Sum It All Up…
Many women have a very limited understanding of what implantation bleeding is. For couples trying to conceive, implantation bleeding can be a happy indicator, and for those who are not aware of their early pregnancies, it can be one of the first signals that something is up.
In this article, we discussed everything you need to know about implantation bleeding in order to recognise when it is happening – from its brown/light pink colour to a couple of days long duration.
Many women struggle with telling the difference between normal brown discharge or period spotting and brown implantation bleeding.
We saw that the four best indicators of this were the colour of the blood, whether or not there were clots, the amount of blood and the length of time the bleeding lasts. We also saw that you can experience brown discharge for reasons other than pregnancy which can be both concerning and non-concerning (be sure to read about this in detail above).
Remember, if you are experiencing abnormally heavy or long periods, pain, itching, discomfort or fever – these may be indicators of underlying problems such as PCOS, STDs or even cancer and we therefore recommend that you seek immediate medical advice.
Furthermore, women who are experiencing brown discharge accompanied by cramps, nausea and weakness should seek the help of a doctor as this may indicate a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.