Spotting during pregnancy: normal bodily response or cause for concern? The answer is straight from The Book of Irritating Answers: it could be either.
The fact is, bleeding during pregnancy can be more than a little nerve-racking. It’s also a topic that, at the center of a mindmap, offers a considerable number of branches. From the paradox that is the pregnancy period in the opening months to the bloody show right as the finish line comes into view, bleeding during pregnancy happens for various reasons. Some are harmless; some require urgent medical attention.
If you’re at all concerned about where your symptoms lie on this spectrum, check in with your doc straight away.
So why might spotting during pregnancy happen, and when should you be concerned? Let’s take a look.
Pregnancy Spotting: What to know
Before we go on, a quick definition check:
What does pregnancy spotting look like?
Spotting, by definition, is light bleeding. You know, that end of period vibe when it’s sort of trailing off but seems to have some separation anxiety? Yeah. That’s spotting. You may know it by its brownish or pinkish hue, far timider than its dramatic crimson cousin that bursts onto the stage when your period is at its height.
So, when we speak of spotting during pregnancy, that’s what we’re talking about: dripping tap rather than waterfall.
And the distinction is an important one. While not a hard and fast rule, a bit of spotting while pregnant is likely less of a cause for concern than a heavier flow.
So how much spotting is normal during pregnancy? Well, unfortunately, like most things pregnancy, there are no easy answers here—and surely can’t be measured out in ounces. One mama-to-be’s benign bleeding can be another mama-to-be’s rush to the hospital.
We can tell you the possible causes of pregnancy spotting, though, as well as the symptoms to watch out for that may mean something else is up.
Spotting early pregnancy
If you’re spotting during early pregnancy, you’re in good company. About 20% of mamas-to-be experience some pregnancy spotting in the first trimester.
Why does this happen? Well, there are a few different possible reasons.
Implantation bleeding. After conception has taken place, that newly fertilized egg needs a new home. So that little zygote sets off and gets all busy implanting themselves in the lining of your uterus. As it turns out, the job of settling in is a bit messy.
Because implantation bleeding happens in the first two weeks after conception, it can be all sorts of confusing. Spotting in early pregnancy can look an awful lot like a regular ol’ period—and if you don’t even know you’re pregnant, this can lead you to believe that you’re not.
- Friable cervix. Sorry, what? This just means that your cervix is a little irritated and, as a result, decides to let you know with some blood. (Dramatic, much?) Turns out, it’s just a little sensitive because of all of the pregnancy hormones.
- Sex? Transvaginal ultrasound? These can all cause a bit of spotting during pregnancy. If this is the reason for your, um, spot of bother, there’s generally nothing to worry about. (Of course, if you have excessive bleeding after either of these activities, get in touch with your doc ASAP.)
Pregnancy spotting in the third trimester
And then there’s the spotting during pregnancy that happens later on—and the reasons for this can be multiple.
Again, cervix sensitivity could be the culprit here.
Another reason? Spotting in the third trimester could mean that labor is imminent. (Woohoo!) The dilation of the cervix produces what is known as the “bloody show”—a lovely little blood and mucus concoction. Although the name makes it sound like there will be more blood than one might find in the most gruesome of horror movies, the bloody show typically only produces some spotting.
And then there’s yet another reason:
It’s called: Whoknows. That’s right. A whole lot of pregnancy spotting happens that we just don’t know the cause of.
When should I be worried about spotting during pregnancy?
While there are numerous totally harmless reasons why pregnancy spotting can occur, there are also some that are worth worrying about.
No doubt, the biggest concern is: Is spotting during pregnancy a sign of miscarriage?
The short answer is: yes, it can be. The most common sign that you are miscarrying is pregnancy bleeding.
Spotting during pregnancy can signal:
- Molar pregnancy: A pregnancy complication that happens very early on, molar pregnancies result from chromosomal abnormalities that cause a nest of tissue to form, rather than a fetus.
- Ectopic pregnancy: This is where the fertilized egg starts growing where it shouldn’t, often in the fallopian tube. You should know if this has happened by the 12th week, at the latest. If your pregnancy spotting is a result of an ectopic pregnancy, you might be feeling dizzy and have pain in your abdomen and pelvic area.
It’s important to know that 85% of miscarriages happen in the first three months—a reason to pay attention to both heavy bleeding and spotting during the first trimester. While a heavier, bright-red flow is of more concern, brown-ish spotting can also be an indicator of miscarriage.
Some other signs to watch out for include:
- Cramps in your lower abdomen, pelvic area, and/or lower back.
- Blood clots in your pregnancy bleeding.
- You no longer feel pregnant. Weird one. But sometimes you just know. If that intuition is sounding alarm bells, check in with your doc.
If you’re at all concerned that you might be having a miscarriage, get in touch with your healthcare provider right away.
And don’t underestimate the trauma of pregnancy loss. It really sucks. And, even though miscarriage is as common as it is, we don’t talk about it nearly enough. If you suffer a miscarriage, take time if you need to take time. Talk to loved ones. Join support groups on Peanut. Seek professional help. You don’t have to go on with business-as-usual.
It’s okay to be exactly where you are.