First you need to understand what a true period is. A true period or “menses” is bleeding that occurs following ovulation. It is the sloughing off of the uterine lining and contains blood, uterine tissue and the non-fertilized egg. If you don’t ovulate in a cycle (as would happen when you are on birth control) you can still bleed, but this is technically not a period. This is called anovulatory bleeding and is a result of a chance in hormones.
What is implantation bleeding?
It is in fact possible to bleed when pregnant. The first example of this is implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding can occur when the fertilized egg burrows into the uterus. This burrowing causes some tissue damage and rupture of blood vessels and can result in bleeding. Implantation bleeding typically occurs a couple days before your normal period is due. Implantation bleeding is completely normal and benign. However, not all women who become pregnant experience implantation bleeding. But if you believe you might be pregnant and you experience bleeding it is important to differentiate what is causing the bleeding. You can also look out for some of the early signs of pregnancy to know what other signs to look for if you think you might be pregnant.
Implantation Bleeding vs a Period
How can you tell if you are getting your period or experiencing implantation bleeding? I’ve outlined some of the key differences below:
#1 Absence in a drop of temps.
If you’ve been charting your temperatures using the fertility awareness method you would know if you are pregnant. A good sign of pregnancy is 13 consistently high temperatures. So if you see bleeding, but you continue to have high temperatures you can be confident that you are likely pregnant and the bleeding is indeed implantation bleeding.
If you have a consistent menstrual cycle you can predict when your period will start. Bleeding that starts a couple days before your normal period is likely implantation spotting. However, bleeding the occurs at the end of your normal menstrual cycle is more than likely your period.
#3 Length of Time.
Implantation bleeding can occur anywhere from a couple hours to a few days. It typically does not last as long as a period. Periods normally last 3 to 7 days. It is important to know what is normal for you. If your period typically lasts for 7 days and you have a light period that only lasts 2 days, it could be implantation bleeding. However if your periods are normally only 2-3 days, a period lasting 2 days is unlikely to be implantation bleeding.
#4 Color & Consistency.
Implantation bleeding is typically light pink or brown in color and lighter than a period. Unlike implantation bleeding, a true period is typically red or dark red, may contain clots and is heavier than implantation bleeding. Implantation bleeding should not contain clots.
#5 Other pregnancy symptoms.
Are you experiencing nausea and vomiting? These are symptoms of pregnancy that are uncommon with a normal period. Additionally, if certain foods start making you nauseous, such as fish and meat, you are more likely pregnant than just experiencing your period. Some symptoms of pregnancy are the same as symptoms of a period. So experiencing cramping or breast tenderness would not help you differentiate pregnancy from a normal period.
#6 Pregnancy test?
The tried and true difference between the two is that implantation bleeding will be accompanied by a positive pregnancy test and a period wont. If you aren’t sure what is causing the bleeding you should take a pregnancy test.
#7 What about cramping?
Pregnancy cramps and implantation cramps are difficult to distinguish. Both types of bleeding can be accompanied by cramps. If you are experiencing painful cramping, checkout my article “6 Remedies for Cramps when TTC”.
When should you see a doctor (or midwife)?
Bleeding in pregnancy is common. It occurs in 20-40% of pregnancies. So bleeding alone is not a reason to worry. However, if you have a positive pregnancy test and you have severe bleeding and/ or cramping, make sure you see your midwife or doctor right away. You could be experiencing a miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. A miscarriage is not a medical emergency, but an ectopic pregnancy is. Miscarriages occur in 15-20% of pregnancies, although the actual prevalence may be higher. Some pregnancies result in miscarriage before a woman knows she is pregnant.
Ectopic pregnancies only occur in 2% of pregnancies. However, an ectopic pregnancy can be life threatening. So if you are experiencing heavy bleeding a cramping it is important to see a doctor or midwife as soon as possible. And any time you feel light-headed, or short of breath you should go straight to a doctor or the hospital.
What if I am pregnant but continue to bleed?
It is possible to continue to experience some spotting during pregnancy. It is important to have it evaluated by a medical provider. However, if a fetal heartbeat is detected (typically by week 10), the likelihood of miscarriage is very small even with vaginal bleeding.
If you are experiencing some bleeding and you have a positive pregnancy test, do not use a tampon. Tampons are not safe to use during pregnancy due to the increased risk of infection. Additionally, if you are experiencing bleeding during pregnancy your placenta may be covering your cervix. Your doctor or midwife can analyze this using an ultrasound. However, until your midwife or doctor can identify the location of your placenta you don’t want to place anything inside of your vagina.
No, you can’t get a period while pregnant
You can’t get a period because a period is technically defined as bleeding following ovulation without fertilization. Once you are pregnant you stop ovulating. However you can definitely experience bleeding. Whenever you are concerned see your provider and don’t forget to bring your pads.
If you are pregnant, you should definitely start taking a prenatal vitamin. You can read my list of the best prenatal vitamins.