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What Does Vaginal Bleeding Mean During Pregnancy?

Learn what it means if you have vaginal bleeding in the beginning, middle or late stages of your pregnancy.
Bleeding During Pregnancy
Updated: December 1, 2022

Everyone knows that when your monthly bleeding stops, it's a common sign of pregnancy. So what does it mean when a pregnant woman starts to bleed?

Well, it can mean a number of things, so don't automatically panic and assume your pregnancy is in danger.

More: Common Signs and Symptoms of Pregnancy

Bleeding in Early Pregnancy

Bleeding in early pregnancy (the first three months) is a sure-fire way to upset a newly expectant mom. Red spots on your underwear can make you think you're going to lose your baby, almost as soon as you've gotten used to the idea of being pregnant.

If this happens to you, take it easy. You should call your doctor and report the bleeding, but it's most likely nothing to worry about.

In early pregnancy, vaginal bleeding that is not a cause for worry can be the result of either of the following conditions:

  • Settling in. There is occasional, light bleeding when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of your uterus.
  • Hormonal changes. It's not all that unusual for a pregnant woman to bleed at the time she would normally menstruate. This bleeding is usually light and short-lived.

Although most bleeding is nothing to worry about, it's also true that bleeding in early pregnancy can, in some cases, signal a problem. It can be a sign of two dangers:

  • Miscarriage. Heavy bleeding, along with abdominal pain, might mean that you are experiencing a miscarriage (birth of the baby before it is old enough to survive outside the womb). At this point there is nothing you can do to stop the miscarriage, but you should call your doctor immediately to make sure you receive medical care.
  • Ectopic pregnancy. Brown vaginal spotting or light bleeding accompanied by abdominal pain on one side can mean an ectopic pregnancy. This happens when the egg is implanted outside the uterus and can't grow to full term in that location.

In both of these cases, the embryo cannot be carried to full term and the pregnancy ends.

Bleeding During Late Pregnancy

Bleeding in Middle or Late Pregnancy

Bleeding in middle or late pregnancy might be nothing more than a sign that your cervix (the opening to the uterus) has been rubbed too much during intercourse or an internal exam. In other cases, however, it might be a sign that you need quick medical attention.

The most common medical causes of bleeding in middle or late pregnancy are

  • Problems with the placenta. If the placenta (the organ on the inner wall of the uterus that supplies the baby with everything it needs to grow) is situated in the wrong position or is beginning to separate from the wall of the uterus, you will begin to bleed. The amount of blood and pain will depend on the degree of the problem.

More: Risks With Multiple Pregnancy: Placenta Problems

  • Miscarriage. Although a miscarriage in middle or late pregnancy is not common, it does happen. A possible miscarriage (that might be stopped with medical help) is often signaled by a pink discharge for several days, or a small amount of brown discharge that appears on and off for several weeks. Heavy bleeding, along with cramps, usually means the miscarriage cannot be stopped.
  • Labor. Heavy bleeding, especially when combined with abdominal or back pain, can be a sign of labor. If this occurs in mid-pregnancy, your doctor will rush to intervene in hopes of stopping the baby from arriving early. If this occurs in the last week or two of your pregnancy your doctor will probably tell you to meet him in the delivery room.


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