When you’re a woman, things can get bloody confusing. And we mean that literally, ladies. It’s fairly common for women to mix up their periods with implantation bleeding—when the embryo attaches to the lining of the uterus during early pregnancy. In fact, it happened to athlete and fashion designer Serena Williams during her 2017 pregnancy with daughter, Alexis. She’s not alone: A whopping one-third of pregnant women experience some form of implantation bleeding, according to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), so there’s bound to be some peeps who have trouble telling the difference.
Why you might be confused
Whether or not you’re trying to get pregnant, bleeding through your favorite Aerie underwear when it’s not that time of the month can be extra anxiety inducing. It can get beyond tricky to figure out what’s going on down there, when the symptoms for pregnancy and menstruation, including cramps and extreme irritability, can be pretty similar.
“The muscles of the uterus contract when things — like blood, fluid, or a pregnancy — are inside it,” says Kaci Durbin, M.D., a Missouri-based OB/GYN and medical writer. “This causes women to experience abdominal cramping or back pain both during their period and early pregnancy.” You’re not crazy for thinking one might be the other since your bod is effectively punking you.
Plus, sometimes your periods vary for reasons as simple as a change in your diet or increased stress, according to Everyday Health. Last month, you had a nice walk in the park, bleeding so minimally you could wear a light tampon and a white skirt without a care in the world. But this month, Aunt Flow’s visit recreates the Game of Thrones Red Wedding Scene in your thong. So deciphering the abstract art on your panty liner is difficult. But we’ve got some tips to help you get a little clarity, so grab your stain remover and read on.
How to tell the difference
Ladies, it’s time to take a good look at your bodily fluids—woohoo! We know staring at your discharge isn’t exactly your idea of a good time, but a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do. Let’s get down to it.
“Implantation bleeding may be more red and lighter than your period,” says Michelle Tham Metz, M.D., an OB/GYN based in New York City. “It shouldn’t last too many days and is generally intermittent. Most periods are a bit heavier with darker discharge at the tail end of bleeding.” Most implantation bleeding is finito by day three, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
This tip is helpful, but it’s likely that—while you’re a superstar in your own right—you’re not a certified OB/GYN, so you’re going to need to get some help from a medical profesh. While the Office on Women’s Health says that home pregnancy tests can be up to 99% accurate, taking a home test too late or incorrectly can lead to false positives, so it’s best to get your booty to a doctor who can confirm if you’ve created an actual human life.
Dial your doc ASAP
You have to be 100% sure about these things. We don’t settle for anything less around here. If you’re having an unusual time riding that crimson tide, be sure to check in with your doctor and see WTF is actually going on, even if you’re pretty sure it’s nothing to worry about. No matter what you’re confused about (whether or not you’re pregnant, or if things just seem wonky), your OB/GYN can clear the air.
“A simple office blood test can give us information about your pregnancy hormone levels to see if there is a viable baby trying to attach to your uterine lining,” Michelle says. “We can also offer an ultrasound if you are far enough along to see if something is brewing in the uterus.” If you’re not pregnant, you’ll know ASAP.
Now, we don’t want to freak you out even more than you probably already are, but irregular bleeding can also potentially signal a miscarriage, among other bad stuff. So you might be annoyed about the time it takes to head to the doctor, but let’s be honest: this isn’t the first time our periods have inconvenienced us and definitely won’t be the last, so it’s way better to be safe than sorry.