Bleeding in pregnancy can be scary, but it doesn't always mean the worst - We explain some of the causes and tell you what to do if it happens to you.
Spot the symptoms
Bleeding in pregnancy can vary and includes:
- Light brownish colour spotting
- Darker brown discharge
- Bright red blood with clots
How common is bleeding in pregnancy?
Experts estimate at least 10 per cent of women experience bleeding in early pregnancy and the figure is around 30 per cent in first pregnancies.
What are the causes of bleeding in pregnancy?
This is slight spotting in early pregnancy and usually happens around the time your period would have been due – its dues to hormonal upheaval and usually settles down. This sometimes happens once or twice in the early months of pregnancy.
Some women experience bleeding when the egg attaches itself or implants into the side of the womb. – it usually amounts to no more than spotting for a day or two.
Around one in 100 pregnancies are ectopic, the medical name for the pregnancy developing outside the womb (usually in the fallopian tubes). Bleeding is usually accompanied by one-sided pain in your tummy, which is persistent and severe. Later you may also experience pain in your shoulder tip – and this can be a sign of internal bleeding irritating your diaphragm, and needs emergency surgery to remove the pregnancy, and prevent rupture of the fallopian tube, so call the hospital if you suspect an Ectopic pregnancy.
Bleeding later in pregnancy can be caused by cervical erosion (cervical ectropion) – changes in the cervix which make it prone to bleeding.
Bleeding from the placenta
This is common in early pregnancy – too much placenta tissue is and tiny pieces sometimes break away, dies and are shed from the vagina.
Molar pregnancy is an extremely rare complication where the placenta is abnormal and ends in bleeding and a miscarriage.
Sadly, bleeding is sometimes a sign of an imminent miscarriage but this is very unusual after 12 weeks. If you are starting to miscarry there is little that can be done to prevent it happening. Although some women are advised to stay at home and rest in bed there is no evidence that this makes any difference to the outcome.
These are benign growths which grow in the muscular lining of the uterus – certain types can change the shape of the uterus and act like and IUD coil causing miscarriage to occur.
This is where the placenta suddenly breaks away from the lining of the womb causing heavy blood loss; it can be life threatening unless treated quickly. It is usually accompanied by pain in your abdomen and affects about one in 200 pregnancies, mainly in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Also known as a low-lying placenta, this condition can obstruct the baby’s access to the cervix and birth canal and sometimes causes blood loss and is one of the most common causes of bleeding past 20 weeks.
This is the name for a jelly-like substance that plugs the cervix protecting your baby against infection during pregnancy. It comes away when labour is imminent and is sometimes streaked with brownish/ pinkish blood. This is normal and doesn’t need medical treatment – however if it is bright red you should contact your midwife or GP immediately.
Does bleeding in pregnancy always mean a miscarriage?
No - research has shown that around 50 per cent of women who attend Early Pregnancy Units with bleeding go onto have successful full-term pregnancies.
Although it’s possible that your pregnancy could be under threat – around one in five pregnancies do end in miscarriage - remember that it’s not inevitable that you will lose your baby.
Are there any other signs that a miscarriage may be imminent?
- If your bleeding gets heavier, contains clots and is accompanied by cramping you should seek urgent medical attention.
- Sometimes women also talk about no longer feeling pregnant – they lose the metallic taste they get in their mouths for instance or no longer feel nauseous.
What should I do if I start to bleed?
All types of bleeding in pregnancy should be reported to your GP or midwife to be checked out.
Although some causes of bleeding are nothing to worry about – others such as ectopic pregnancies – need urgent medical treatment so it’s always better to err on the side of caution.
If your bleeding is accompanied by pain and cramping seek emergency medical help.
Don’t use tampons for the blood loss, stick to sanitary towels.
What tests might I be offered?
- Your GP or midwife may want to check the last date of pregnancy and possibly do some blood tests to check hormone levels and urine tests to rule out any infection.
- Most will refer you to an Early Pregnancy Unit where you will be offered an internal or external scan to check on how your baby is doing. From around 7 weeks the scanning equipment is able to detect your baby’s heartbeat and the scan gives you a snapshot of how your baby is doing. If the bleeding happens early on and continues you may have to go back in a few weeks to check the baby is developing normally.