Bleeding in early pregnancy

Vaginal bleeding (or spotting) is a fairly common problem in pregnancy.  It can often be harmless, but it could be a sign of complications, so it's best to speak to your midwife or doctor immediately.

Dr Isma Ali from Doctor Care Anywhere offers advice on possible causes, and what to do if you experience bleeding.

woman on toilet

What is spotting?

Spotting is usually very light vaginal bleeding, and it's fairly common in early pregnancy. Blood can be red or brown, and occasionally is more like a light, or even heavy, period. 

Spotting often turns out to be nothing to worry about, but during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, vaginal bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. This certainly isn't always the case - plenty of women who experience bleeding do go on to have successful pregnancies - but put your mind at ease by getting it checked by your medical team as soon as possible.

What can cause bleeding in early pregnancy?

Vaginal bleeding can also be triggered by the changes in your hormones during your menstrual cycle, which can cause breakthrough bleeding. This may occur a few times throughout pregnancy - particularly in the first weeks.

During very early pregnancy, implantation bleeding can also occur. This is when the fertilised egg is being implanted into the lining of the uterus.

Other things which may provoke bleeding or spotting in early pregnancy:

  • An internal examination/smear – any irritation to the cervix can cause some light bleeding so it's best to avoid having a smear or internal examination in early pregnancy.
  • Sex can also irritate the cervix leading to bleeding - usually nothing to worry about, but again: tell your doctor or midwife about any bleeding you experience.

Mumsnetters' experiences:

"I bled during pregnancy with both babies. With the first it was at eight and 10 weeks and like a period for one week each time. With my second pregnancy it was at 10 weeks again and lasted for a week. I never did find out what caused it, but each time it was so heavy that I was convinced it was all over. Both daughters were born fit and well."

"In my first pregnancy I had a small bleed and some spotting at around six to seven weeks. All was fine. At six weeks into my second pregnancy I had the same kind of thing and, sadly, this time it was a miscarriage."

When bleeding indicates a problem

Sadly, sometimes the baby just doesn't develop properly in early pregnancy, leading to a miscarriage. Bleeding usually becomes heavier, and you might also experience abdominal cramps or other discomfort.

Ectopic pregnancy - when the egg has implanted outside the uterus - is often accompanied by vaginal bleeding and then pain in the abdomen. Ectopic pregnancies need to be treated as a medical emergency, which is another reason to be seen by a professional immediately.

Light bleeding in the second or third trimester is also common, and can be harmless. Again, though, it's important to get yourself checked out - bleeding in later pregnancy might indicate a problem with the development or attachment of the placenta.

Infections of the cervix, vagina or sexually transmitted infections can also all cause bleeding, and should be investigated.

What to do if you experience bleeding

Call your midwife, GP or nearest antenatal unit. They may want you to attend the maternity day unit for an examination or ultrasound scan to rule out an ectopic pregnancy and possible development problems.

During early pregnancy, if there is a heartbeat on the scan between 7-11 weeks then the chance of the pregnancy continuing normally is high.

They may also want to do some blood tests to check your hormone levels or your rhesus status if this has not been checked previously.

Active heavy bleeding and/or abdominal pain may require you to attend A&E.

Mumsnetters' experiences of bleeding during pregnancy

"Every time I have had any bleeding I always ask for a scan - you are entitled to it. You will only know what your outcome is by having a scan. Don't worry and suffer alone. I have had bleeding every pregnancy. Two have been fine and two haven't."

"I had bleeding a lot through my first pregnancy, which turned out to be nothing, but I would give your midwife or maternity unit a ring to be on the safe side, or if only to give you peace of mind."

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Last updated: 3 months ago