Spotting During Pregnancy

Some Causes are Benign, Others Can Be Serious

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The term "spotting" describes light vaginal bleeding. Spotting can occur during viable pregnancies as well as in women who have complications with their pregnancies. Roughly half of women who have spotting or bleeding during their pregnancies go on to have healthy babies. 

According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, about 15 to 25 percent of women have some amount of bleeding in their first trimesters.

Bleeding is less common—and more concerning—if it occurs in the second or third trimester. 

What Spotting Looks Like

Generally, the discharge you'll see if you experience spotting is brown, red, or pink in color and has a slightly gummy or stringy texture (because the discharge consists of a few drops of dried blood that's mixed with cervical mucus). In terms of the quantity, expect an amount that's less than a typical menstrual period—it's usually just a few drops. 

Common Causes of Spotting in Early Pregnancy

If you are experiencing spotting in early pregnancy, it's not necessarily cause for alarm. Spotting has a couple of different causes:

  • Implantation Bleeding: This is light bleeding that occurs six to twelve days after the fertilized egg attaches to your uterine lining. This happens so early on that some women don't even realize that they're pregnant yet and mistake it for the beginning of a regular menstrual period. This type of spotting may last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. 
  • Cervical Polyp: If you have this type of benign growth on your cervix, it may cause spotting. There are more blood vessels near the cervix during pregnancy, and if this growth is accidentally hit during a doctor's exam or during intercourse, it may bleed. 

Does your first trimester spotting stop after a day or two and is a simple panty liner all you need to catch the drips?

Then it is probably nothing to worry about, although it's important to call your doctor and tell him or her about it over the phone to be sure. 

However, if the spotting gets heavier, and begins to resemble a menstrual flow, there may be cause for concern and you should visit your doctor for a checkup and diagnostic tests

When to See Your Doctor

When the vaginal spotting turns into heavy vaginal bleeding during the first trimester, it could be a sign of something more serious, such as:

  • an ectopic pregnancy (when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes, and can't grow)
  • a molar pregnancy or gestational trophoblastic disease (when abnormal tissue grows instead of an embryo)
  • an infection in the pelvic area or in the urinary tract

Second or third trimester spotting or bleeding is concerning and is more likely to be due to a pregnancy complication. Late bleeding can sometimes put your fetus and you in serious danger, so always call your doctor right away if you notice any spotting or bleeding after the first trimester. It could mean one of the following:

  • a placental abruption (when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before or during labor)
  • placenta previa (when the placenta is low-lying in the uterus and either partially or totally covers the cervix)
  • preterm labor (going into labor before week 37 of gestation)

Sources:

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. (July 2016). Bleeding During Pregnancy.

American Pregnancy Association. (August 2015). Spotting During Pregnancy

American Pregnancy Association (August 2015). Bleeding During Pregnancy

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