Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy is any discharge of blood from the vagina. It can happen any time from conception (when the egg is fertilized) to the end of pregnancy.
Some women have vaginal bleeding during their first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The Difference Between Spotting and Bleeding
Spotting is when you notice a few drops of blood every now and then on your underwear. It is not even enough to cover a panty liner.
Bleeding is a heavier flow of blood. With bleeding, you will need a liner or pad to keep the blood from soaking your clothes.
Ask your health care provider more about the difference between spotting and bleeding at one of your first prenatal visits.
Should I Worry about Spotting?
Some spotting is normal very early in pregnancy. Still, it is a good idea to tell your provider about it.
If you have had an ultrasound that confirms you have a normal pregnancy, call your provider the day you first see the spotting.
If you have spotting and have not yet had an ultrasound, contact your provider right away. Spotting can be a sign of a pregnancy where the fertilized egg develops outside the uterus (ectopic pregnancy). An untreated ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening for the woman.
What Causes Vaginal Bleeding?
Bleeding in the first trimester is not always a problem. It may be caused by:
- Having sex
- An infection
- The fertilized egg implanting in the uterus
- Hormone changes
- Other factors that will not harm the woman or baby
More serious causes of first-trimester bleeding include:
- A miscarriage, which is the loss of the pregnancy before the embryo or fetus can live on its own outside the uterus. Almost all women who miscarry will have bleeding before a miscarriage.
- An ectopic pregnancy, which may cause bleeding and cramping.
- A molar pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg implants in the uterus that will not come to term.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call or go to your health care provider right away if you have:
- Heavy bleeding
- Bleeding with pain or cramping
- Dizziness and bleeding
- Pain in your belly or pelvis
If you cannot reach your provider, go to the emergency room.
If your bleeding has stopped, you still need to call your provider. Your provider will need to find out what caused your bleeding.
What Will My Provider Need to Know?
Your provider may need to know these things to find the cause of your vaginal bleeding:
- How far along is your pregnancy?
- Have you had vaginal bleeding during this or an earlier pregnancy?
- When did your bleeding begin?
- Does it stop and start, or is it a steady flow?
- How much blood is there?
- What is the color of the blood?
- Does the blood have an odor?
- Do you have cramps or pain?
- Do you feel weak or tired?
- Have you fainted or felt dizzy?
- Do you have nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea?
- Do you have a fever?
- Have you been injured, such as in a fall?
- Have you changed your physical activity?
- Do you have any extra stress?
- When did you last have sex? Did you bleed afterward?
- What is your blood type? Your provider can test your blood type. If it is Rh negative, you will need treatment with a medicine called Rho(D) immune globulin to prevent complications with future pregnancies.
Treatment for Vaginal Bleeding
Most of the time, the treatment for bleeding is rest. It is important to see your provider and have testing done to find the cause of your bleeding. Your provider may advise you to:
- Take time off work
- Stay off your feet
- Not have sex
- Not douche (NEVER do this during pregnancy, and also avoid it when you are not pregnant)
- Not use tampons
Very heavy bleeding may require a hospital stay or surgical procedure.
What if I Discharge More than Blood?
If something other than blood comes out, call your provider right away. Put the discharge in a jar or a plastic bag and bring it with you to your appointment.
Your provider will check to see if you are still pregnant. You will be closely watched with blood tests to see if you are still pregnant.
If you are no longer pregnant, you may need more care from your health care provider, such as medicine or possibly surgery.
Francois KE, Foley MR. Antepartum and postpartum hemorrhage. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 19.
Gregory KD, Niebyl JR, Johnson TRB. Preconception and prenatal care: part of the continuum. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 6.
Update Date 11/19/2014
Updated by: Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.