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What's The Difference Between Implantation Bleeding & Spotting? Here's How You Can Tell

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When I was trying to get pregnant, I became the Sherlock Holmes of my cycle. I inspected everything and missed nothing. Surrounding my period, I’d do everything from feeling my cervix to poking my boobs. And bleeding? Intense scrutiny. But, what’s the difference between implantation bleeding and spotting? Maybe I’m more bumbling Inspector Gadget than suave Sherlock than I thought, because that confused me.

A simple internet search reveals that I am far from alone on this front. Many women are on Reddit or Mamapedia boards trying to wade through the congested waters of information to determine if they’re just spotting along with their period, or if the bleeding is possibly being caused by an embryo implanting itself in the lining of their uterus. It’s even more confusing if you add in the myriad of women like myself who also experience mittelschmerz — or ovulation bleeding — with any regularity. Go Go Gadget Google.

If the situations are so similar, and the symptoms mimic each other so thoroughly, what’s the difference between implantation bleeding and spotting, then? I asked an expert on the subject and it turns out there are a few things you can look for to help you determine which one it is.

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Janet Olhausen, family nurse practitioner from Idaho, tells Romper that there are several subtle differences between implantation bleeding and spotting that might happen during the course of your cycle. The first and most important is when you’re spotting. If it’s the dead center of your cycle, you can pretty much assume that’s mittelschmerz, according to Olhausen. It would be too early for implantation bleeding and too early for the spotting some women experience leading up to their period.

Next, is it getting progressively heavier? If so, that’s likely your period. Implantation bleeding starts and stays light for a short period of time. While Olhausen says that many women will experience light spotting throughout their first trimester, it’s usually not constant, and doesn’t keep getting heavier unless there’s a problem.

Now it's time to check the color. Olhausen says that implantation bleeding tends to be a pinkish-red tinged color, or even a light rusty-brown. It’s very rarely bright red, as a bright red color points to menstruation.

Finally, how bad does it hurt? "Implantation can cause some cramping," says Olhausen, "but it’s rarely severe enough to want to grab a heating pad or box of Midol. On the other hand, PMS tends to be much more painful."

I didn’t have any implantation bleeding with my pregnancies, and I looked for it — trust me. However, I did get strange, sharp, almost stabbing pains in the lowest part of my pelvis around the time I would normally be expecting my period. They were distinct, and it was how I knew I was pregnant the second time. With my period, it’s like I have a rabid garden gnome living in my uterus who likes to try to bite its way out. When I am just implanting a baby, it’s like he’s only using the top of his pointy hat, and only occasionally. As for spotting, it happens for me every month without fail. I spot for one day before the deluge hits and everything hurts and I’m dying. If you think your spotting is actually implantation bleeding, it might be about time to take a test, or you could just call your provider.