Is Bleeding During Pregnancy Common?Bleeding during pregnancy is common, especially in the early stages, and it’s usually no cause for alarm. About 1 in 4 women experience vaginal spotting or bleeding during the first trimester, and many of these women continue to have healthy pregnancies. However, because bleeding can sometimes be a sign of something more serious, it’s important that you know what possibly causes the bleeding and to get checked with your doctor, so you and your baby remain healthy throughout the pregnancy. Contact your doctor or midwife if you experience vaginal bleeding at any stage of your pregnancy for advice on what to do next.
What Causes Bleeding During Pregnancy?
The cause of bleeding during pregnancy can be generally divided into two categories: bleeding before 20 weeks (early pregnancy) and bleeding after 20 weeks (late pregnancy).
In early pregnancy, causes of vaginal bleeding may include:
If your vaginal bleeding is heavy and continues longer than 2 weeks, you may have a miscarriage. This is a common occurrence in early pregnancy, but if it’s happening to you, it’s advisable that you see your doctor as soon as possible so they can help you decide what to do next. Bleeding is often the first sign of a miscarriage, and about 1 in 15 women who experience bleeding in early pregnancy end up having a miscarriage.
An ectopic pregnancy is a rare condition that happens when an embryo implants outside the uterus (commonly in one of the fallopian tubes), which causes heavy bleeding and pain in early pregnancy. If this is not treated immediately, it can lead to severe complications and even death because ectopic pregnancy can rupture, cause heavy bleeding, and be life-threatening. Make sure you get checked out by your doctor as soon as possible if they suspect you of having an ectopic pregnancy.
Placenta previa is also known as a ‘low lying placenta’, which happens when the placenta implants close to the cervix (neck of the uterus). Bleeding will happen when the cervix starts to open or the uterus contracts.
Placental abruption happens when the placenta starts to separate from the uterus during pregnancy and before birth, which causes bleeding from the place where the placenta was peeled away. Bleeding caused by placental abruption is often associated with sudden, severe abdominal pain.
Some less common causes of vaginal bleeding can happen at any stage of pregnancy, such as:
- genital tract infections
- injuries to the genital tract
- growths or tumours of the reproductive system
- bleeding from vulvovaginal varicosities (varicose veins in the vulva or vagina)
Chemical Pregnancy Bleeding: What Does It Look Like?
Chemical pregnancy bleeding is a type of spotting that happens during the first few weeks of pregnancy. It occurs when the fertilised egg or embryo implants into the uterine wall but dislodges before it can attach fully or stops developing. In other words, a chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage that happens within the first 5 weeks of pregnancy. This can occur very early, and many women who miscarry don’t even realise it.
Chemical pregnancy bleeding usually looks like a pinkish or brownish discharge that’s heavier than your usual period but lighter than a period you’d have if you were pregnant.
Other than miscarriage, chemical pregnancy bleeding can also result from non-pregnancy-related conditions like an infection or trauma to your reproductive organs. Contact your doctor if you’re worried about anything going on with your body or health, as they can give you more information about what chemical pregnancy bleeding looks like and how long it can last. Don’t wait until it’s too late to see them!
The symptoms of chemical pregnancy bleeding may include:
- Extremely light vaginal bleeding (you might not even notice it)
- Light spotting (you might need to change your pad once or twice)
- Pinkish or brown discharge
Is It Spotting?
Spotting is a common symptom of ovulation. A small amount of pinkish or brownish blood comes out from the vagina and can last up to 2 days but will stop as soon as you ovulate. Spotting results from an egg's release from your ovaries, so it’s common to experience spotting the night before or during ovulation. You may also notice that your breasts become sore, swollen or tender when you’re about to ovulate.
Spotting During Pregnancy
It can be alarming to experience spotting during pregnancy, but you usually don’t have anything to worry about because spotting is common for the first few months of pregnancy and is caused by normal changes in your cervix and uterus. When your cervix dilates and opens up to allow your baby to pass through, you may experience crampings as your body adjusts to the new position.
However, if you’re experiencing spotting for more than 2 days in a row, if the bleeding is heavy, or if you have other symptoms like abdominal pain, fever or chills, contact your doctor immediately as it may indicate a more severe condition.
How to Stop Bleeding During Pregnancy
If you’re bleeding during pregnancy, don’t panic and jump to conclusions. It’s normal for some women to experience some bleeding in early pregnancy. It won’t be a problem if it’s just a little spotting or light bleeding, but if you’re experiencing heavy bleeding or bleeding that looks like a period, quickly get in touch with your doctor to prevent a more serious situation from taking place.
Here are some things that might help:
- Eat plenty of iron-rich foods, such as spinach and beans
- Drink lots of water (at least 8 glasses per day)
- Take a vitamin C supplement every day
- Don't take any NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) or aspirin because they could cause more bleeding instead of stopping it
If you noticed bleeding while pregnant, your first thought might have been that you've miscarried, but bleeding during pregnancy can be common. Whether or not you're concerned, it's always a good idea to investigate whether the bleeding could indicate something more serious. Do not hesitate to contact your doctor, as prevention is better than cure.
Does Bleeding Mean I’m Having A Miscarriage?
Bleeding in early pregnancy is very common and does not necessarily mean you are having a miscarriage. Many women who experience bleeding in early pregnancy go on to have healthy babies.
In some cases, bleeding can be the first sign of a miscarriage. If you are experiencing bleeding in early pregnancy, contact your doctor or midwife for advice.
What to Do If You Have Abnormal Bleeding During Pregnancy
Vaginal bleeding in any trimester can be a sign of a problem, so if you think something is wrong, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. Bring any tissues that pass through the vagina to your doctor for further testing. Avoid using tampons and having sex when you’re still bleeding. Your doctor may recommend resting as much as possible and avoiding exercising and travelling.
Once you’ve scheduled an appointment with your doctor, you should expect to receive an ultrasound to identify the underlying cause of your bleeding. Vaginal and abdominal ultrasounds are often performed together as a part of a complete evaluation.
It can be helpful to note down details about what you have been experiencing. This may include:
- the amount and colour of any discharge
- whether you have passed any clots
- whether you have had any abdominal pain
When Should I Seek Medical Attention?
(Image credits to Florida Medical Clinic)
If you have bleeding at any stage of pregnancy, contact your doctor or midwife for advice and support. You should contact your doctor urgently or visit the nearest emergency department, if:
- your bleeding becomes very heavy
- you have strong pains
- you feel dizzy or faint
- you feel short of breath
If you have very heavy bleeding, strong pain or feel very unwell, call triple nine (999) immediately and ask for an ambulance.