Bleeding During Pregnancy: Is It Dangerous?
Seeing blood when you’re pregnant can be alarming. You may wonder if you’re okay or if you’re having a miscarriage. But is spotting during pregnancy normal?
Some bleeding may be normal depending on how far along you are and the cause. In this guide, we will outline the potential causes of bleeding during pregnancy and how serious it is.
First Trimester Bleeding Causes
If you’re bleeding in your first trimester, you should know that it’s actually quite common. About 20% of women experience bleeding within the first 12 weeks. While it’s usually nothing to worry about, bleeding can also be a symptom of something serious. Here are the possible causes of bleeding at the start of your pregnancy:
If you have been trying to conceive, you may be discouraged when you start spotting, mistaking it for a light period. However, light bleeding can actually be a sign of pregnancy.
Within 6 to 12 days after you conceive, you may experience spotting in a pink or brown color. So, why does the bleeding occur? After the egg is fertilized by sperm, it will become an embryo and attach to the lining of your uterus. When it attaches, it causes spotting that some women may confuse with a period.
Sometimes women will only have a single spot while others will bleed for a few hours or days. The blood won’t be as heavy as a period but may be comparable to the start of a light period. Unlike a period, the blood is unlikely to be red or to become increasingly heavier. If this spotting starts about a week before your period is due, it’s likely it’s an early sign of pregnancy. Most women will have implantation bleeding before they experience other common pregnancy symptoms, such as morning sickness.
If you’re confused whether it’s a light period or implantation bleeding, you can ask yourself a few questions:
- Do I have mood swings?
- Is the spotting getting heavier?
- Do I have cramps and lower back pain?
- Is the color the same as my regular period?
- How long did the bleeding last for?
Will a pregnancy test be positive during implantation bleeding? No. If you are pregnant, you will usually get a positive pregnancy blood test result within 4 days after implantation bleeding. An early at-home test may detect pregnancy 7 days after the bleeding.
Implantation bleeding is completely normal and does not require treatment. It will usually stop within a few days. If you are concerned about the amount of blood or suspect something is wrong, consult your doctor.
The good news is that ectopic pregnancies only make up 2% of pregnancies. The bad news is that when they do occur, they can be life-threatening.
As we mentioned above, after conception, a fertilized embryo will attach to the uterus lining. However, in rare cases, it will implant outside of the uterus, most commonly in the fallopian tube. The fallopian tube may burst if the embryo continues to develop, which may kill the mother. When this happens, vaginal bleeding can occur. The blood may be lighter, heavier or darker than a regular period. The bleeding may also be accompanied by cramping, pain and lightheadedness.
Since ectopic pregnancies are life-threatening, you should contact your doctor immediately if you suspect it’s the cause of your bleeding. An ultrasound scan or blood test can confirm if it’s a healthy pregnancy.
A molar pregnancy occurs when abnormal tissue develops inside your uterus instead of the embryo. Molar pregnancies, also called gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD), are very rare (1 in every 1,000 pregnancies). Other symptoms include nausea and vomiting and a blood test will reveal high hCG levels.
Unfortunately, most molar pregnancies spontaneously end and treatment is required.
Infections that irritate the cervix or vagina can cause spotting. These include:
- Yeast infection
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
- Sexually transmitted infections (such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis or herpes)
Your doctor will be able to determine if you have an infection. Even if you suspect you have a treatable yeast infection, it’s worth asking your doctor to do a vaginal culture to confirm it. To get the right treatment, you want to be sure you’re not misdiagnosing yourself—especially during pregnancy.
When a woman knows she’s pregnant and sees bleeding, her instant thought is that she may be having a miscarriage. Since miscarriages are most common during the first trimester, it’s a legitimate concern. However, if you’ve seen your baby’s heartbeat and experience bleeding, it’s unlikely you’ll miscarry. According to WebMD, over 90% of women who experience bleeding in the first trimester will not miscarry if they’ve seen a heartbeat on an ultrasound.
If your blood is caused by a miscarriage, it may be light spotting or heavy. You may also experience blood clots, the passing of tissues and white-pink mucus. Other miscarriage symptoms include mild to severe cramps and a loss of pregnancy symptoms. If you have these symptoms, you should contact your doctor to confirm it’s a miscarriage and to prevent an infection.
Since your cervix is sensitive, you may notice spotting after sex. While you may worry, it’s important to remember that pregnancy sex does not harm the baby or cause a miscarriage. However, you should mention the bleeding to your doctor or midwife at your next appointment to play it safe.
Second and Third Trimester Bleeding Causes
If you bleed during your second or third trimester, there are a different set of possible causes.
Although most miscarriages occur in the first trimester, it’s still possible to have a spontaneous abortion mid-way through your pregnancy journey. Only about 2-3% of pregnancies are lost in the second trimester, according to the University of California, Davis.
If the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before labor, it can cause bleeding and clots. This usually occurs within the last 12 weeks of pregnancy and is only experienced by 1% of pregnant women. Other signs include stomach and back pain. Placental abruption is dangerous and you should seek medical attention immediately if you suspect it.
Placenta previa is very rare and only occurs in 1 in every 200 pregnancies. When the placenta sits too low and partially or completely covers the cervix, it can cause bleeding. Blood may be bright red rather than just light spotting. Placenta previa is the most common cause of bleeding during late pregnancy.
Although the bleeding is usually painless, it’s a serious condition that requires immediate attention.
Bleeding late in your pregnancy could simply mean that your body is preparing for labor. A mucus plug covers the opening of your uterus. Days or weeks before labor is set to begin, the mucus plug will pass through the vagina. Since it contains a bit of blood, you may notice bleeding. If this occurs before week 37, you could be going into preterm labor and should contact your doctor or midwife.
Other symptoms of preterm labor include discharge, pelvic pressure, low back ache, cramps and contractions.
Bleeding IVF Pregnancy
If you’ve went through In Vitro Fertilization, you may also experience bleeding. After an IVF embryo transfer, some women report light bleeding or spotting with a pink or red color. Some people refer to this as implantation bleeding. This is usually normal and typically does not require medical attention.
If you’ve already had a positive pregnancy test and experience bleeding, refer to the possible causes above. It’s worth noting that bleeding from an IVF pregnancy is more common than a natural pregnancy. About 40% of women who got pregnant through IVF will experience bleeding. The increased chances of bleeding may be due to the higher number of vaginal exams and medications to increase blood flow.
If you’re bleeding an abnormal amount or if you’re worried, contact your doctor.
What Should I Do About Pregnancy Bleeding?
Since some bleeding during pregnancy is normal, try to remain calm if you see blood. Read the possible causes above and see if you have any additional symptoms. If you do, you should contact your doctor. If you’re not sure what is causing the bleeding, you should seek medical advice to play it safe.
Depending on how much you’re bleeding, wear a panty liner or a pad. This will allow you to monitor how much you bleed and the color so you can report it to your doctor. Refrain from using tampons. It’s also wise to avoid having sex and douching until you know the cause.
Have you ever experienced bleeding during pregnancy? If you have, feel free to comment below your symptoms and the cause. If you have any pregnant friends or family members, be sure to share this post with them, too.
P.S. Whether you’re bleeding or not, you’re probably constantly worrying about your baby’s health. Our fetal dopplers are handheld devices that allow you to hear your baby’s heartbeat through headphones—reassuring you that your bundle of joy is safe.