Spotting During Pregnancy
Imagine this scenario: You are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant. You head to the bathroom and notice a small amount of blood and begin to panic! Slow down for a minute and take a deep breath. Noticing light bleeding or spotting during pregnancy can be scary but it does not always mean that something is amiss. Spotting is a concern had by many pregnant women. In fact, nearly 25% of pregnant women experience spotting sometime during their first trimester of pregnancy.
Whether you are pregnant and concerned about spotting or you are not sure if you are pregnant and wonder if the bleeding you see is a period or pregnancy-related, don’t panic. Many women who experience spotting during pregnancy continue on to have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Read on to learn more about pregnancy spotting, including what causes it, what it looks like and how to determine whether your spotting is pregnancy-related or if it is menstrual bleeding.
In this article:
- What is pregnancy spotting?
- What causes spotting during pregnancy?
- Spotting During the First Trimester of Pregnancy
- Second Trimester Spotting
- Third Trimester Spotting
- What does pregnancy spotting look like?
- How long does pregnancy spotting last?
- How to tell the difference between your period and spotting?
What is pregnancy spotting?
Spotting is considered a small amount of blood or dark discharge during pregnancy. You may see a few drops of blood on your underwear or notice it while wiping after using the restroom. It is typically lighter bleeding than you would see during your menstrual period. With spotting, there is not enough blood to even fill a panty liner.
What causes spotting during pregnancy?
Spotting during pregnancy can be caused by various different factors. Spotting differs from other amounts of bleeding, where you would need a heavy pad or tampon to keep the blood from (ahem) overflowing. Spotting is more likely during the first trimester, so let’s first look at first trimester spotting causes.
Spotting During the First Trimester of Pregnancy
Spotting is most common in the sixth and seventh week of pregnancy, according to one 2010 study. Although many women fear the sight of blood in pregnancy, it was not always a sign of miscarriage or another problem. Some causes of first trimester spotting may be caused by the following.
- Implantation bleeding. Approximately 6 to 12 days after conception is the point of implantation. Some women experience implantation bleeding, which is when the embryo fixes (or implants) itself into the uterine wall. Although not all women have implantation bleeding, it is often one of the first pregnancy signs for those who do experience it. Implantation spotting is usually very light.
- Early pregnancy loss or miscarriage. The majority of miscarriages take place during the first trimester of pregnancy. If you experience bleeding along with the following symptoms, contact your doctor:
- Weight loss
- White-pink mucus
- Mild to severe back pain
- A decrease in pregnancy symptoms
- Passing of clots or other material from your vagina
- Ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is considered to be a medical emergency as it can lead to complications. An ectopic pregnancy is one that takes place when the egg is fertilized but attaches itself outside of the uterus rather than inside. Light to heavy spotting or bleeding is often a symptom of an ectopic pregnancy, along with weakness, dizziness or fainting; abdominal pain (it can be sharp or dull) as well as rectal pressure. Get immediate help if you are concerned you have an ectopic pregnancy.
Unknown causes. Pregnant women can also experience unidentifiable cases of pregnancy spotting. Chalk this up to the fact that your body is going through many major changes. Think about your cervix. It is being changed drastically and can be held responsible itself for a little mild spotting. Plus your hormones are changing like crazy. Have you tried eating any previously unimaginable food combinations? Think “mustard on all of the things.”
You may also experience a little spotting after sexual intercourse. So before you swear yourself to celibacy for the next 7 months or so, keep in mind that this is not abnormal. It wouldn’t hurt to report it to your doctor next time you talk to him or her.
Additionally, another potential culprit for pregnancy spotting is infection, which is why it is important to reach out to your doctor or gynecologist during your pregnancy if you experience spotting.
Second Trimester Spotting
If you experience spotting or light bleeding during your second trimester of pregnancy, this may be due to your cervix being a little irritated – most often after a cervical exam or sex. Another possible cause is a cervical polyp, which is a harmless growth that develops on the cervix, which results in an increased number of blood vessels in the tissue surrounding the cervix.
If you experience vaginal bleeding that is like a heavy menstrual period at any point during your pregnancy, including the second trimester, contact your doctor right away as it could be due to a medical emergency, such as late miscarriage, premature labor or placenta previa.
Third Trimester Spotting
Spotting during the third trimester can happen as well. It is not uncommon and is not usually a cause for concern. It can be your “bloody show,” which is a sign that labor is beginning. It can also be due to concerning issues, such as placental abruption, placenta previa or vasa previa. Reach out to your doctor to be safe if you see any spotting at this point in your pregnancy.
What does pregnancy spotting look like?
Although pregnancy bleeding may look different in two different women who experience it for the same reason (such as two women who have pregnancy-related bleeding due to implantation), here are some tips for what to watch for in general.
Pregnancy spotting is typically light, as in only a few drops on your underwear. In certain cases you may only see it when you wipe. It can be pink, dark brown, rust-colored or red.
How long does pregnancy spotting last?
The duration of time that women experience pregnancy spotting depends greatly on the cause of spotting.
Spotting that is caused by implantation bleeding usually lasts anywhere from a few hours to up to 3 days. It will stop on its own.
Spotting from a miscarriage may last anywhere from a few hours to up to two weeks.
If a woman has an ectopic pregnancy, it needs to be treated immediately. It cannot be removed without medication or surgery, therefore the duration of time the spotting takes place depends on how quickly a woman seeks and receives medical help.
Spotting caused by sex should not last any longer than an hour or two after intercourse.
If you have any vaginal bleeding during pregnancy, it is best to contact your doctor. If you observe heavy vaginal bleeding, such as that which soaks through a pad in less than an hour, seek medical attention right away.
How to tell the difference between your period and spotting?
Below are some ways to differentiate between your period and spotting.
Timing: Menstrual bleeding takes place about every 28 days, while spotting can be irregular and start and stop.
Other symptoms: Menstrual bleeding is often accompanied with symptoms such as breast tenderness or headaches as well as cramping. Spotting associated with other conditions, such as injury, may include abdominal pain.
Appearance of blood: Menstrual blood is usually red while some women spot brown blood or that which is lighter, odd smelling or is of a different texture.
Remember that spotting does not always indicate that something is wrong. Despite this, for your peace of mind and to be safe, it is best to reach out to a medical professional to determine the cause if you think it is unrelated to your period or if you are pregnant.
Office On Women's Health, Pregnancy complications, April 2019
Mayo Clinic, Bleeding During Pregnancy: Causes, January 2019
Merck Manual, Placenta Previa, 2019.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Ectopic Pregnancy, February 2018.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Bleeding During Pregnancy, July 2016.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Patterns and predictors of vaginal bleeding in the first trimester of pregnancy, July 2010.
- Courtney Cosby