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Period vs. Implantation Cramping: What to Know

Period vs. Implantation Cramping: What to Know

In the two week wait zone and not sure if what you're feeling is implantation cramping or a period cramp? Here's how to tell.

Written By

Nicole Kainz

Instructor
February 15, 2022

If you’re currently trying to get pregnant, the two-week wait between ovulation and taking a pregnancy test can be excruciatingly long. With every new little sensation or twinge, you are left wondering, “am I pregnant?” 

Adding to that worry, some women experience cramping during these two weeks. It’s hard to know whether this cramping is due to your approaching period or implantation. 

While you may not know 100% what your cramping is coming from until you take a pregnancy test, it may help give you peace of mind knowing that what you are feeling is common. 

Let’s break down what exactly implantation cramping is and how it compares to period cramps.

What is Implantation?

Implantation occurs very early in pregnancy when the embryo attaches to the uterus. Before implantation happens, an egg is released from the ovaries. It then travels down through the fallopian tubes, where it can be fertilized by sperm. If it is fertilized, it continues to move down into the uterus and begins the implantation process. 

To achieve implantation, there is a delicate balance of hormones that must be achieved. Without this balance, the uterus will not be able to accept the fertilized egg. Implantation failure accounts for two-thirds of pregnancy loss

Successful implantation usually occurs two to four days after the fertilized egg enters the uterus. 

What is Implantation Cramping?

After the fertilized egg travels to your uterus, it begins to burrow in the lining. This can sometimes cause a dull pain or twinge in the lower to mid-abdomen. Many women don’t realize they’re experiencing implantation cramps because they may occur in the days leading up to their period, or they assume the feeling is from their looming period.

Some women report that implantation cramps may also be accompanied by light spotting. There is no specific research on whether or not implantation causes spotting, but one study shows that this spotting is actually thought to be from the luteal-placental shift. This is when the placenta is developed enough to start producing hormones. This shift usually happens around the five to eight-week mark.

How Are Implantation Cramps Different Than Period Cramps?

The primary difference between implantation and period cramps is the cause. During implantation, the egg has been fertilized by sperm, and it attaches itself to the uterus. This process only happens during early pregnancy.

You may only feel this sensation during each of your pregnancies. If you’ve had multiple pregnancies, you may be able to recognize the feeling of implantation before taking a test. 

Your period on the other hand, comes when the egg that is released does not get fertilized by the sperm. The lack of fertilization will allow the egg to continue to the uterus. It will then be flushed out of your vagina—along with the uterine lining. 

This process happens about every 28 days unless you are pregnant or have other medical issues that cause you not to ovulate or menstruate. 

Period cramps are thought to be caused by high levels of prostaglandinshormones that reduce or stop blood flow to the uterus. This reduction in blood supply also deprives the uterus of oxygen, which can cause contractions and discomfort. 

How Can You Tell if Cramps Are From Implantation?

Implantation cramping may feel a lot like mild PMS cramps or period cramping. While it’s hard to know if your cramping is your period on its way, or if you are newly pregnant, you may be able to differentiate if you have a natural rhythm. Does this time feel different than your normal period? Is the pain more or less manageable? Do you not usually experience cramping during your period? Listen to your body and trust in yourself.  

Aside from this, the only way to know is to wait it out a little while and see if your period comes. If it doesn’t come on or around the 28th day of your cycle, then take a pregnancy test to confirm.

Is Implantation Cramping Common?

It’s hard to say if implantation cramps are common or not. There is very little research surrounding implantation cramping, so most of what we know is anecdotal. 

Many women have reported feeling some sensation during implantation, but more research needs to be done around this topic to understand precisely how common implantation cramps are. 

If you are actively trying to become pregnant, you may be more attuned with your body to feel slight changes. If you are not trying, you may just assume what you are feeling is the beginning of your period. Or, you may not feel any symptoms at all. 

How Long Does Implantation Cramping Last?

The duration of implantation cramps may vary from woman to woman. Some may experience a slight twinge here and there, while others may have mild to moderate cramping for one to three days—or more. It all depends on the person. 

What Do Implantation Cramps Feel Like?

Women who have experienced implantation cramps have described it in different ways. Some say it feels similar to a dull period cramp. They have also been described as a twinge or a tingling sensation. Some may have more moderate aching.

Since implantation happens in your uterus, the cramps are most likely to be in the lower, middle abdomen. You may also feel a dull ache in your lower back. You might also note that implantation cramps usually don’t favor one side. 

How to Ease Implantation Cramping?

Implantation cramps can be uncomfortable. If you want to help ease any pain, try heat. A slightly warm heating pad for about ten minutes can help, just make sure you don’t use anything too hot (in case you are pregnant). Or you might draw yourself a warm bath.

You can also try listening to meditation to help add more relaxation. Meditation can help ease your stress if you are anxious to know if you are pregnant. In addition to this, mindfulness meditation has been shown to decrease the intensity of painful stimulus by as much as forty percent.

Implantation cramps should not cause severe pain. If they are very painful, contact your doctor to rule out severe conditions like ovarian cyst, ectopic pregnancy, or early signs of miscarriage. If you have any questions regarding medication, always reach out to your doctor or midwife. 

What Are Other Early Signs of Pregnancy?

Implantation cramping is just one sign of early pregnancy. Women may experience other symptoms during the early weeks of pregnancy. For some, these symptoms may be very similar to PMS symptoms, which can be confusing while you wait to take a pregnancy test. 

Most of these symptoms are due to hormonal changes in the body:

  • Headache
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness
  • Breast Tenderness
  • Change of Appetite
  • Frequent Urination
  • Nausea

Your hormones begin changing as soon as the egg is fertilized. These changes in hormones can cause a number of different symptoms. Some women may experience no symptoms at all, while others experience every possible symptom there is. 

How Soon Can You Take a Pregnancy Test?

If you suspect your cramping is due to implantation and your period has not come, it’s time to take a pregnancy test. 

Pregnancy tests measure the human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG)a hormone that is created by cells in the placenta. HCG sends a message to the ovaries to make more progesterone. Progesterone is essential for maintaining the pregnancy and helping the uterus grow. 

Pregnancy tests can measure HCG about three to four days after implantation, but if you aren’t actively trying to conceive, you may not know exactly when implantation has occurred. If your cycle averages 28 days, and your egg is fertilized, implantation happens around day 20 to 26. This means you should be able to see a positive pregnancy test around day 24 to 30. 

Usually, your best bet is to wait until you have missed a day of your period to take a pregnancy test. 

Conclusion

Implantation cramping is a sensation that may occur when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining. This cramping can feel like mild to moderate period cramps for one to three days. It can be a slight twinge and nothing more.

During implantation, you may see some very light spotting. Period cramps are different because they are accompanied by the shedding of your uterine lining and an unfertilized egg. 

You may be able to tell if your cramps are from implantation or your period if they are unlike what you would typically feel during menstruation. You also may be able to tell the difference if you have had other pregnancies. 

The best way to know if your cramping is from implantation or period is to take a pregnancy test once you have missed a day or two of your period. 

At Expectful, we know those weeks of waiting to find out if you are pregnant can be filled with stress and excitement. We are here to support you through research-backed information to help you understand your body’s changes.

Nicole Kainz
Instructor
Perinatal Writer

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