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Bleeding During Pregnancy – Is It Ever Normal?

By Published On: November 14th, 2012

Although it is always rather scary bleeding during pregnancy is far more common than many women think, or are actually prepared for by their OB GYN, something that can make it even scarier. Often this bleeding is not a cause for major alarm and yet in other situations it can be the first sign of trouble. So just how should you react if it happens to you? The simple answer is to always call your doctor but it can help quell some of the panic you might feel if you understand some of the most common causes of bleeding during pregnancy.

Bleeding During the First Trimester of Pregnancy

What some medical professionals do not tell their first time expectant Mums is that some 20% of all pregnant women experience some bleeding and spotting during the first trimester. Some common causes of bleeding during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy include:

Implantation Bleeding: Implantation bleeding is one of the most frequently experienced forms of bleeding in the first trimester and for the most part it is perfectly harmless. About 6 to 12 days after they conceive many women do notice this bleeding, as the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterus. Most women though do not actually know at this point that they are pregnant and quite often mistake the bleeding, which can last for hours or days, as a normal period.

Cervical Changes: When you are pregnant a lot more blood than usual flows to the cervix to aid the growing baby. A disturbance in this area, caused by a physical exam at the doctor’s or by sexual intercourse can cause bleeding that is usually harmless.

Infection: A vaginal infection, even a yeast infection which is a common nasty side effect of pregnancy, can also cause bleeding. The bleeding itself is usually harmless but a doctor must be the one to instruct you on how any infection should be treated and it should never be ignored. A urinary tract infection can also cause bleeding that can be mistaken for vaginal bleeding and for both Baby’s safety and your own health and comfort that should be reported to and treated by your doctor right away as well.

Miscarriage: Most miscarriages do occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy which is why bleeding at this stage is such a concern. The bleeding alone does not mean that the baby is lost though. Only about half of the women who do bleed in this way actually go on to miscarry. The important thing to do is to contact your doctor right away, stay as calm as possible (easier said than done I know) and accurately describe what is happening to you when asked. Usually a miscarriage will also be accompanied by cramping in the lower abdomen and tissue loss as well.

Ectopic Pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is rare, one only occurs in about 2% of pregnancies, but it can also be life threatening for the pregnant woman. An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself outside the uterus, usually in the Fallopian tube. Although the pregnancy will never be viable if the egg continues to grow it can burst the Fallopian tube, endangering the
woman’s life.

Bleeding in the Second and Third Trimesters of Pregnancy

Bleeding after the first trimester is usually more of a cause for concern. Some rare but serious conditions may be to blame which is why it is more important than ever to make sure you get in touch with your doctor right away. These complications include:

Placenta Previa: Placenta Previa is a rare condition that occurs in the third trimester in about 1 in 200 of all pregnancies. This means that the placenta is low lying and it is blocking the opening of the birth canal. as the Baby grows the placenta will be put under increasing pressure and significant bleeding occurs. This is a potentially life threatening condition for Mom and the unborn baby but swift medical attention and treatment means that there is a still a happy ending in many cases of placenta previa these days.

Placental Abruption: This means that the placenta has become detached from the uterus and blood will pool between the uterus and the placenta. Again this is an emergency condition that must be addressed quickly.

Uterine Rupture – If an expectant mom has had a Cesarean section in the past occasionally the old incision will reopen resulting in a uterine rupture. A new emergency C Section will be required at this point. The possibility of uterine rupture is one of the biggest reasons that many doctors frown on the practice of multiple elective C sections.

Premature Labour– Vaginal bleeding very late in pregnancy is often simply a sign that your body is getting ready for labour. This is a concern if you are less than 37 weeks pregnant since delivering earlier than that is considered premature and the situation has to be monitored very carefully for the sake of both Mom and Baby.

Reacting to Vaginal Bleeding

Although it does help if you understand all these possible causes of vaginal bleeding it is still not something that should be second guessed or have a ‘wait and see’ attitude taken to it. As soon as you notice any bleeding wear a pad so that you can keep track of how much you’re bleeding, and make a mental note the type of blood you are losing, for example, pink, brown, or red; smooth or full of clots. These are questions you are going to be asked when you call for help and knowing the answers can be very helpful for your doctor and their staff.

There are some occasions though when it might not even be wise to wait for a dcotor’s call back. If you found yourself experiencing any of the following and for some reason cannot speak to your doctor or their staff immediately to get instructions about what to do then heading to the A & E may be the best course of action:

  • Severe pain or intense cramps low in the abdomen
  • Severe bleeding, whether or not there is pain
  • Discharge from the vagina that contains tissue
  • High fever with dizziness, fainting, vomiting or chills.

Any Mum to Be will be scared if she begins to bleed at any point in her pregnancy, the fear is natural. The most important thing though is to remain as level headed as possible and seek help right away. It will often turn out that there is nothing to worry about at all, but as is the case with every aspect of pregnancy it really is better to be safe than sorry and contact your OB GYN right away.