We women hate our periods. As that time gets closer each month, most of us begin to experience the symptoms – cramping, hormone swings, etc. – and begin to wish for it to just be over soon.
Some women will experience spotting, and light bleeding before their period hits. But what if you experienced all the initial symptoms, and then your period never arrives? Was it a light period? Or is something else…
It may be an early sign of pregnancy. *Gulp!*
Our bodies can behave in unpredictable ways and this may not be a guaranteed sign of pregnancy. But it is better to be aware of the signs so that you can recognize them early and seek medical assistance.
What is Spotting?
If you do not know the difference, it is easy to mistake spotting for a light, irregular, and possibly early period. However, there are distinct differences between spotting and regular menstrual bleeding that can help you determine what you may be experiencing.
Both the quantity and color of the blood present are different in spotting. Rather than a steady flow of red blood, spotting usually comes with very light, perhaps pink or even brown in color. It may be so light that you only notice it when you wipe after going to the bathroom.
Spotting is not usually continuous, and you may notice a pattern with certain times or occasions that it occurs. You may notice an occurrence when you first get up in the morning, or right after intercourse or exercise. If you do notice a pattern, try keeping a spotting diary to share with your doctor (1).
Spotting is common in early pregnancy – being experienced by about 20% of women (2) – and it can often be the first sign that you are pregnant, especially if you have a very regular menstrual cycle and you notice something out of the ordinary. Here are some of the most common reasons for spotting in early pregnancy.
As we already mentioned, you may notice spotting after having intercourse. In early pregnancy, the blood vessels in the cervix are full of blood and may become easily irritated.
2. Cervical Changes (Polyps)
Your body is going to go through a lot of changes throughout pregnancy, especially when it comes to your reproductive system. Sometimes a harmless growth, called a polyp, can appear on the cervix due to increased estrogen levels. These growths may also become irritated and cause some slight bleeding.
3. Vaginal Exams
If you have not had a child before, I will warn you that vaginal exams are not comfortable. Due to the increased blood and hormone levels, the irritation from these exams could likely cause some spotting. My doctor always gave me a panty liner after an exam just in case.
This is, by far, the most common reason for spotting in early pregnancy, and a telltale sign that you are, in fact, pregnant. We will talk about this one in more detail…
Within the first 3-5 days after intercourse and insemination, the fertilized egg implants itself into the blood-rich uterine wall, making itself a nice little home where it will be comfortable and grow for the next 9 months. When this occurs, it can cause some spotting known as implantation bleeding.
When you are anticipating the arrival of your period and you have spotting instead, you may think it is just lighter than usual. However, you should check for some common signs that this spotting is not your typical period, which may help you determine if you may be pregnant.
1. Occurs up to a Week before Your Next Menstrual Cycle
If you have a very regular menstrual cycle, you will be able to tell right away that something is different. The egg embedment period is typically between the 3rd and 4th week after your last period, according to your ovulation cycle.So, implantation bleeding usually occurs about a week before your scheduled period.
2. Does Not Typically Come with Other Period-Like Symptoms
While you may notice some minor cramping (not always the case) with implantation, this type of spotting does is not accompanied by other symptoms you encounter with your regular period. No heavy flow, back aches, or severe cramping. The intensity of the bleed does not change either, usually only lasting a few hours or 2-3 days.
3. Often Accompanied by Other Signs of Pregnancy
You may notice, along with the spotting, you have other typical signs of early pregnancy: nausea, vomiting, fatigue, stomach bloating, and breast tenderness. This is not always the case, but can still be a sign to look out for.
Finding Out You Are Pregnant
So, if you have all of these signs and you think you may be pregnant, the first step would be to take a pregnancy test at home. It is best to do it first thing in the morning, as the level of pregnancy hormone human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG) is at its highest then.
After receiving a positive test, you need to find an obstetrician (OB) and she will take over from there. She will be your coach and your go-to person for any and all questions and concerns you may have along the way.
- Also Read: Sign you may be pregnant with Twins
Bleeding After You Know You Are Pregnant
What happens if you continue spotting beyond the implantation period, or if you begin spotting or bleeding after you have a confirmed pregnancy?
Any type of bleeding is cause for examination in pregnancy. Below are some of the main reasons you may be bleeding in your pregnancy.
1. Ectopic Pregnancy
Occurring in 1 out of every 50 pregnancies in the United States, an ectopic pregnancy is when the fertilized embryo implants itself somewhere other than in the uterine cavity. While there are several different types of ectopic pregnancies, the most common (about 95%) occurs in the fallopian tubes.
A word that no mother-to-be wants to hear, miscarriages are one of the primary causes for heavy bleeding in early pregnancy. They can happen at any point in pregnancy, but are most common within the first 12 weeks.
3. Subchorionic Hemorrhage
A subchorionic hemorrhage occurs when the placenta peels away from the uterine wall, causing a pooling of blood to form. While most are very small and heal themselves over time, they can lead to other serious problems, including miscarriage and preterm labor, if not cared for appropriately.
It is not the most common of reasons for bleeding during early pregnancy (about 11%), but it does happen, and I was one of those few. You will be put on light duty (and bed rest if it is a larger hematoma) to prevent the clot from getting bigger and allow it to begin to heal.
Second & Third Trimester
1. Preterm Labor
Babies have the capability to survive outside of the womb by 24 weeks of gestation, albeit with intensive care and struggle, and are considered full-term by 38 weeks – of course, 40 weeks is best. If you find yourself going into labor unexpectedly (early), you will likely experience heavy bleeding. Call your doctor immediately and go to the hospital.
2. Placenta Previa
When the placenta forms, it usually attaches itself to the back of the uterus so that it can be the last thing passed at the time of birth. There are cases, however, where the placenta will either partially or completely cover the cervical opening, resulting in placenta previa and a scheduled C-section.
Due to the pressure of your baby and other bodily organs/fluid on the placenta, the blood vessels are stretched and may rupture, causing bleeding. Placenta previa can resolve itself in early pregnancy (as it did for me), but if you still have it later in pregnancy, your doctor will likely put you on bed rest until it is time for delivery.
3. Other Abnormalities
Bleeding during pregnancy can also be the result of less common issues with the placenta, uterus, of cervix. These can include placental abruption (the peeling away of the placenta from the uterus), uterine rupture (a breakage in the uterine wall), vasa previa (the umbilical cord gets attached to the uterine wall), or other cervical abnormalities (inflammation, infection, or premature dilation).
When to Contact a Doctor
If you know you are pregnant and begin to experience bleeding, you should call your doctor immediately. She will likely ask you some questions regarding the amount and color of the blood, and what you may have been doing when the bleeding started. This can help her narrow down the severity of the situation.
You will then need to either visit her or the hospital, depending on the doctor’s immediate availability and office hours. Most likely, there will be a sonogram to check for abnormalities and baby’s heart rate. A vaginal examination will also be done to look for infection or physical damage. Mothers with Rh-negative blood type (like myself) will also receive a shot of Rhogam at this time, at 28 weeks, and after the birth.
From there, a diagnosis will be determined and care instructions will follow. No matter what the cause may be for bleeding during pregnancy (where the baby is still safe and healthy), you will probably receive these basic instructions:
- Keep hydrated
- Bed rest (depending on severity)
- Elevate your feet when sitting or lying down
- Stay away from exercise and intercourse, which can make the bleed worse
- Avoid heavy lifting (more than 10 pounds)
For more information about spotting and bleeding during pregnancy, visit the PregMed web page.
Bleeding in pregnancy is enough to scare any woman. I have been there. Knowing the difference between spotting and bleeding helps to alleviate worry, or recognize the symptoms and signs of something more dangerous.
While any bleeding in pregnancy can be a sign of something serious, do not jump to the worst conclusion if you find yourself bleeding. After all, the majority of women who experience some form of bleeding or spotting during pregnancy do go on to have healthy pregnancies and babies.
Just breathe, keep calm, and call your doctor. Be sure to follow her instructions, take care of yourself, and take care of your baby.
Have you experienced bleeding or spotting in pregnancy, or noticed spotting only to find out you were implanting? Do you have questions or regarding any of these concerns we have talked about? Share and connect with other moms in the comments below. And be sure to share this article with others who may find it helpful.