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Early pregnancy bleeding: when to worry

If there’s one thing I was terrified of most during my first pregnancy, it was finding blood in my underwear. You may be in the same boat (worrying about bleeding), or maybe you have some bleeding going on and don’t know what it means. 

Despite the fact that bleeding from the vagina is natural joy* experienced by all women (*it is not joyful), when you’re pregnant it can get scary. It can feel like a sign of failure, that the pregnancy hasn’t ‘worked’ or that you’ve done something wrong. But I cannot stress this enough: bleeding does not make you a failure. And it doesn’t always mean miscarriage. It’s actually quite common during the first trimester of pregnancy, with up to a quarter of all women experiencing some early pregnancy bleeding.

If you encounter some unexpected bleeding, during or even outside of pregnancy, know that it could be for a range of reasons. That said, all unusual bleeding should be carefully monitored. Read on to learn what bleeding during early pregnancy could be about, and when you should get it checked out.

It could be an early sign of pregnancy

Some women get ‘implantation bleeding’. This occurs when a fetus buries itself into the lining of your womb – which sounds brutal, but is actually a very natural phenomenon. This usually happens around the time your period is expected, about two weeks after ovulation. It may last for a few days, but should only be light spotting.

It could be breakthrough bleeding

While bleeding can be an early sign of pregnancy, there are a range of other reasons you could experience bleeding between periods. ‘Breakthrough bleeding’ is what it’s called when you bleed outside of your normal menstrual cycle – and this could be full-blown, tampon-necessary bleeding or just a few spots of blood. 

If you experience breakthrough bleeding in early pregnancy or between periods, it could be because of hormonal changes, an STI or a sensitive cervix (yes, that’s a thing). 

It’s a good idea to discuss changes to your cycle with your GP. And if you have any other early pregnancy symptoms and aren’t sure if you’re pregnant, it’s well worth taking a pregnancy test too.

It could be a UTI or STI

Pregnant women are at higher risk of getting urinary tract infections (UTIs). So if you’re peeing a lot and you don’t think it’s down to the pregnancy, that could be why. Any sort of infection could cause bleeding, and this includes sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia or gonorrhea. 

A medical checkup can confirm if you have an infection, and your doctor will advise you on how to treat it. Ain’t nobody got time for infection.

It could be an ectopic pregnancy or pregnancy loss

No one wants to hear these words, but of course we have to cover the worst case scenarios. While there’s often no cause for alarm if you’re bleeding during pregnancy and so many women will go on to deliver healthy babies, sometimes there could be a problem.

Anywhere from a third to half of women who experience bleeding in early pregnancy go on to miscarry. You’re not alone if this does happen to you. Lots of mamas experience pregnancy loss, and it’s something we’re passionate about discussing. We’re with you, mama.

If you’re experiencing sharp, shooting pain, bleeding and dizziness, you should see a doctor straight away and get checked for an ectopic pregnancy. This is when the fertilised egg attaches to the fallopian tube, cervix or abdominal cavity rather than your uterus – and it can be dangerous for you. Almost 20 in 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic pregnancies. If this happens, you’ll need to be treated by a medical professional ASAP.

When to get it checked out

If you’re worried, see your doctor

While it’s easy to assume the worst when you have bleeding during pregnancy, know that it’s not always sinister. The best thing you can do is take care of yourself, remain calm, and see a doctor if you’re worried. There’s no harm in getting checked out. (Shout-out to Dr Campbell who dealt with my weekly panic checkups.)

If you have these symptoms, go to emergency

If you have any of the following signs, go to your nearest emergency department straight away:

  • Heavy bleeding (soaking two pads per hour or passing golf ball sized clots)
  • Severe abdominal pain or shoulder pain
  • Fever or chills
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Unusual smelling vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding in the second half of your pregnancy.

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