If you’re cramping and it’s still a few days before your period is due, you might wonder whether the pain you’re experiencing could be from implantation. Is there any way to tell the difference between implantation cramps and plain old PMS? The short answer is: not really. While there are some subtle differences between period cramps and implantation cramps, they aren’t obvious enough to be conclusive. 

But as long as we’re symptom spotting, let’s indulge ourselves. We’ll explain the identifying features of implantation cramps by delving into what’s actually happening in your body during very early pregnancy.

First, let’s get one thing out of the way. The phrase “implantation cramps” is a misnomer. Implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall is painless and imperceptible, and it doesn’t happen until about two weeks after ovulation, well after your missed period. If you are pregnant, and you haven’t reached your missed period yet, the blastocyst, as it is now called, is likely still on its six – 12 day journey down your fallopian tubes.

When it finally reaches the uterus, it can agitate blood vessels in the spot where it attaches, causing light bleeding in around 30 percent of women. The bleeding ranges from pink to red to brown, and usually arrives earlier than your expected monthly flow; it should be between five and 10 days after conception. 

Most women who experience implantation cramps say that they barely noticed them—just some slight cramping that feels similar to gas. Other women experiencing cramping or lower back pain similar to menstrual cramps. Sometimes the cramps are accompanied by spotting, and sometimes they aren’t. All of these are normal.  

If you feel like your body is playing tricks on you every month, you’re not alone. A lot of women assume some spotting and cramping is due to implantation, then go on to get their period a few days later. And a lot of women assume these same symptoms are just early signs of their period, then go on to find out they’re actually pregnant! 

The truth is, there’s just no conclusive way to know if bleeding or cramping before your period indicates pregnancy. The best course of action is to wait until your period was supposed to arrive, then take a pregnancy test

 

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