How our bodies function and the changes that occur, both over the years and through the monthly cycle, are always interesting. Never more so than when we are, or are hoping to be, pregnant. There’s almost certainly never a time when we monitor physical phenomena as closely and minutely as when we are hoping to become pregnant. From feeling tired to a slight wave of nausea, the smallest signs are pored over and examined for significance.
In this article, we look at some of the most common concerns relating to implantation bleeding. For example, what are implantation bleeding symptoms and signs, what are the very early signs of implantation and how can we recognise other signs of pregnancy implantation. For people undergoing assisted fertility treatments, this self-monitoring may be intensified, quite understandably so. In this context, we look at whether you should expect any pregnancy implantation symptoms to be any different, and if so, in what way.
What is implantation bleeding?
About 30-40% of women experience a slight loss of blood after an embryo becomes implanted in the uterus. This is known as implantation bleeding. Because it happens early on in the cycle, it can even be the first sign to make you aware that you are pregnant. Bleeding usually occurs in the first weeks of pregnancy, as the uterus is an area full of blood vessels which can break easily. When the embryo adheres to the inner wall of the uterus, small veins and arteries which usually connect to the endometrium are ruptured, and this may cause bleeding. If it is going to happen, it usually takes place 6-10 days after fertilisation, which usually coincides with the theoretical menstruation date, and so may be confused with the onset of a period. There is no set pattern and implantation bleeding may occur in one or all of the pregnancies of a particular individual.
How do you recognise implantation bleeding?
The first question for many people is how to recognise that this is implantation bleeding and not just the onset of a period, in other words, how do the types of bleeding differ?
The most common cause of confusion here is that the bleeding happens 10-14 days after conception, at about the time a period would have been due if conception had not occurred. However, vaginal bleeding can happen at any time during the first 8 weeks of pregnancy. The blood loss may last for 1-3 days, and the flow is usually lighter than that of a period, although the colour may be darker. It can appear as light spotting or a light, consistent flow and the blood may or may not be mixed with mucus. The colour can vary depending on how long it has taken to emerge from the body. A fresh bleed appears red, it can look pink or orange if it’s mixed with other vaginal discharge and older blood can look brown due to oxidisation.
How heavy can implantation bleeding be? Can implantation bleeding have clots?
Usually bleeding which occurs as a result of the implantation of any embryo is either spotting or light bleeding. It is not normally heavy, and does not have clots in the way that a normal period can. If you suspect you may be pregnant and do experience heavy bleeding or clotting, then you should get medical advice as it could signal a problem or even the start of an early miscarriage. On the other hand, if you have no other reason to suspect that you’re pregnant, this type of bleeding is much more likely to be simply the start of your period.
What are the other early pregnancy implantation symptoms?
Since implantation bleeding only takes place in about a third of pregnancies, you are more likely to be among the majority who do not experience this. Nevertheless, your watchfulness for signs and symptoms of successful pregnancy implantation is probably still high on the scale! So what are the other early indications that you may be pregnant? They can include:
This can start as early as 4 weeks after conception, although it is more common at about 6 weeks. Happily, for those who go through it, morning sickness is normally temporary and usually eases off by week 16 to 20 of your pregnancy.
Sensitivities to smells and tastes
Sudden smell and taste sensitivity can be a sign of early pregnancy and no doubt contributes to the enduring tales around pregnancy ‘cravings’. Both these sensitivities and morning sickness are a result of the hormonal changes taking place in your body.
Going to the loo more frequently
It seems strange when your baby is still very tiny, but the need to urinate more frequently in very early pregnancy is one of the more commonly experienced symptoms. It too results from hormonal changes which cause a faster blood flow through your liver and hence its more efficient waste elimination. The uterus also expands rapidly even at this early stage and so presses on the bladder more easily, especially in the night.
The well-known symptom of breast tenderness is another of the signs of early pregnancy. It results from an increase in blood flow to the area as well as changes in the breast tissue.
Cramps can occur on their own or accompanying the slight bleed that may be a signal of implantation.
You would think that all these possible early signs and symptoms of pregnancy would make it easy to be certain. But the fact is that some of the symptoms are also present for some people as a precursor to their normal monthly period. So, in spite of all the possible clues you may have, the only way to be really certain is to undertake a pregnancy test, and have this confirmed by your medical practitioner. You can read more about the stages of your pregnancy, including the earliest symptoms and all the later developments, in our blog article Back to basics: the timeline of your pregnancy.
Is implantation bleeding the same when you have IVF treatment?
Among the concerns of people undergoing IVF or any other assisted fertility treatment is the question of whether the symptoms of pregnancy will be the same in the event of successful embryo transfer and implantation. In a word, yes. Although some of the stages of IVF are stimulated by the administration of medication, and in spite of the fact that the actual joining of egg and sperm takes place in the laboratory, the end result is identical. Let’s look at a brief summary of the steps that lead up to the all-important embryo implantation.
The first step is ovarian stimulation which causes the ovaries to produce a number of oocytes. Next, when the oocytes have reached a suitable stage of maturity, they are extracted so that they can be mixed in the laboratory with prepared sperm. This is the point at which fertilisation takes place and embryos are formed. These are observed as they develop in the laboratory and undergo any tests which are necessary. The most sound and viable embryo is then inserted into the woman’s uterus. That, in a nutshell, is the end of the process.
The implantation of the embryo into the wall of the womb, once it has been placed inside the woman’s uterus, is not part of the assisted reproduction process; it is something that occurs naturally in exactly the same way as in normal sexual conception. This final stage is not guaranteed to take place as a result of IVF treatment, any more than unprotected sex at a fertile time is guaranteed to result in pregnancy. This explains how, in terms of the symptoms that you can expect, including any implantation bleeding, they are exactly the same in the case of assisted reproduction.
Find out more about IVI
If you need to know more about any of the issues raised here to do with possible fertility treatments, do browse our website where you can be certain of finding the most up-to-date facts and figures, including our success rates. You’ll also find blog articles on various aspects of fertility and assisted reproduction and some personal stories from past patients. If you’re curious to know more about us and what we can offer, have a look at the video on our IVI YouTube channel, IVI – where life begins. You can also gain some insight into what to expect of your first visit to IVI and how the patient journey works from first consultation to completion of treatment.
You can get in touch at any time, without commitment on your part, if you would like to explore further how we might help in your individual situation. You can contact us through our online form and a specialist will contact you. Alternatively you can give us a call on 08 000 850 035 from the UK or on +34 960 451 185 from other countries.