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Spotting During Pregnancy: What Does This Symptom Mean?

It can be scary to see some spotting during pregnancy. But it’s not all that rare and in some cases may be normal for your pregnancy.

If you’re concerned about spotting while pregnant or bleeding during early pregnancy, read on. We’ve listed some common causes for spotting in early pregnancy and each of the trimesters.

In the first trimester, some spotting during pregnancy is fairly common. Spotting or bleeding happens to 15 to 25 percent of pregnant women in the first trimester.

“Spotting” is when there are a few drops of menstrual blood that you may discover in the lining of your underwear every so often in early pregnancy. It is not a full period or even enough blood to cover a panty liner. “Bleeding” is when there’s more blood, enough to fill a panty liner or pad. Spotting during pregnancy should not look like normal menstruation. It should be light and may range in color from pink to brown. It’s much lighter and not regular like a period.

While pregnancy spotting may be normal, it can still be alarming. If you have any concerns, be sure to contact your doctor right away and talk to them about your spotting.

So what causes spotting during pregnancy? There are a few reasons for spotting when you’re pregnant that are not a sign of a major problem. Those include:

  • Sex: If you have sex while pregnant, you may notice some spotting. It’s common due to the friction and sensitive tissues of your vaginal walls and cervix, but as long as you’re careful and gentle, you and your baby will be fine.
  • Infection: Urinary tract infections and vaginal infections are unfortunately common during pregnancy. An infection can irritate the tissues and cause spotting while you’re pregnant.
  • Egg implantation: As the fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall, it may cause some spotting. This particular occurrence is called implantation bleeding or spotting. 

Cervical polyps or other cervical problems (e.g., cervicitis or ectropion): A harmless polyp that grows on the cervix may cause bleeding during early pregnancy. Ectropion or cervicitis may be the reason for contact bleeding after intercourse, a pelvic exam, or Pap test.

Other factors: There are other factors that can cause spotting during pregnancy but will not harm you or the baby, such as heavy lifting or excessive exercise.  

There are also some reasons for spotting or bleeding during pregnancy that may be symptoms of something more severe. These are:

  • Early pregnancy loss: An early pregnancy loss, or miscarriage, is one of the most common causes of heavy bleeding and cramping during the first trimester. A miscarriage is the loss of an embryo or fetus before it is able to live outside the uterus. 
  • Ectopic pregnancy: If a fertilized egg begins to develop outside the uterus, it is called an ectopic pregnancy. This condition can cause spotting, bleeding, and cramps and can be a life-threatening condition.
  • Molar pregnancy: A molar pregnancy is when abnormal cells start growing in the uterine cavity instead of a healthy fetus. It usually causes heavy bleeding.

If you notice some spotting in the first trimester, chances are it’s normal and there’s nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, it’s good to talk to your doctor about any and all symptoms you experience throughout your pregnancy. They can offer advice and ensure everything is progressing normally. 

There are some differences in the likely causes of spotting during pregnancy in the different trimesters, which are outlined below.

Because of all the changes that are happening to your body in the first trimester, spotting or bleeding during pregnancy in the first trimester is quite common.

If you have a cervical polyp or vaginal infection, you may experience spotting or even bleeding. Having sex or getting a vaginal exam in the first trimester may cause bleeding or spotting. 

Even though it’s common and usually doesn’t indicate any major problem, it’s still important to contact your doctor to let them know about any spotting or bleeding. They can help make sure the spotting isn’t a sign of something more serious like an ectopic pregnancy or pregnancy loss. 

Spotting or bleeding in the second trimester is less common than in the first trimester, so make sure to contact your doctor if you’re experiencing this. 

Complications like miscarriage, placenta previa, or placental abruption can cause a lot of bleeding, so contact your doctor immediately if you’re bleeding in the second trimester. 

If you are spotting or bleeding in the third trimester, you should contact your doctor immediately. 

Bleeding this late into the pregnancy may be a sign that something is wrong. You may have developed placenta previa or placental abruption, and your doctor will need to check that everything’s okay. 

You should contact your doctor right away at the first sign of spotting or bleeding while pregnant. No matter what trimester you are in, your doctor needs to know when you started to spot or bleed. 

Your doctor will ask questions to find out what’s causing the bleeding, such as:

  • How much blood was there?
  • When did it start and what do you think caused it (e.g., sex, exercise, heavy lifting)?
  • How often does it happen?
  • Are you experiencing any dizziness?
  • Do you also have a fever?
  • Are you weak or tired?
  • Do you have cramps?
  • Does the blood have an odor?

These questions will help your doctor discover what exactly is happening and determine if you need further evaluation (such as a pelvic exam or ultrasound) or treatment. 

If you experienced some spotting or bleeding in the first trimester that has carried into the second trimester, you need to keep your doctor updated. You may be asked to rest more and take it easy. 

If there is any bleeding or spotting in the third trimester, your doctor needs to know right away. Your doctor will most likely perform a pelvic exam and ultrasound examination. According to the results of these tests, they will give you recommendations and prescribe treatment if needed. 

If you experience the symptoms below along with bleeding, you need to call your doctor immediately. If you cannot reach them, you need to go to the emergency room. The symptoms you need to watch for are: 

  • Heavy bleeding
  • Bleeding with cramps or pain
  • Bleeding with dizziness
  • Pain in pelvis or belly

In most cases, women who experience spotting in early pregnancy go on to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. In the first trimester, spotting is typically not a cause for concern. 

If your doctor notices you are bleeding or spotting past your first trimester, they will likely perform a pelvic exam or ultrasound. If everything is alright, they will want you to relax and take it easy. They may suggest some of the following: 

  • Bed rest
  • More naps
  • Getting off your feet more
  • Limiting physical activity
  • Avoiding lifting more than 10 pounds at a time
  • Elevating your feet when you are resting
  • Staying hydrated and drinking water

Spotting in early pregnancy is a common occurrence that is usually not a cause for alarm. If it occurs in the second or third trimesters, however, it may be a sign that something more serious is happening. 

Keep a journal of when you are spotting and any pain you’re experiencing. Contact your doctor so they can check you for any serious issues or complications.