Pregnancy can be a time of many fears, particularly for first-time mothers. New parents are hopeful that everything about pregnancy and delivery will remain within normal expectations and the outcome will be a happy, healthy baby. However, with so many new terms, conditions, physical changes and nuances of pregnancy to understand and experience, the unknown can produce great fear and stress for both mother and the unborn child growing inside of her. There are many changes that happen to the body during a normal pregnancy. Some of those changes may appear to be abnormal as they happen. A first time experience with something like spotting or light bleeding from the vagina during pregnancy can wreak havoc on the expectant mother’s nerves and send waves of fear, even panic, throughout her. For the newly pregnant, knowing facts about physical changes and which ones are normal can alleviate many fears. Simple information can prevent sleepless nights and end persistent worry about the baby’s health. Spotting in early pregnancy is a good example of something that can be entirely normal as part of pregnancy in the first stages. Yet, spotting can also be a sign of a problem. It is important to understand spotting, so it is more clear as to when everything is likely fine, when a doctor should be called or when an emergency is in progress.
What is Spotting?
In essence, spotting is a term used to described appearance of spots of blood during pregnancy. The pregnant woman will notice spots of blood in her clothing or near the vagina. Spotting and bleeding are considered to be different experiences altogether. In pregnancy, bleeding from the vagina means an actual flow of blood which may be continuous or intermittent. Spotting is just a drop of blood or several drops at a time, likely only noticed upon removal of clothing or when going to the bathroom. When consulting a physician during pregnancy, the doctor will appreciate the patient’s understanding of spotting versus bleeding, because that differentiation may lead to a more efficient determination of the cause.
Spotting in the First Trimester
According to the National Institutes of Health, about 20 percent of pregnant women experience spotting during the first trimester. This is often normal and no reason to panic. Regardless of the amount of spotting, it is always advisable to notify the doctor so he or she may provide an examination, check on the baby’s well-being and find the reason for the light bleeding.
Possible Causes of Early Spotting
The first trimester of pregnancy is 12 weeks long. During this time, much is happening in the womb, even though your baby is still quite tiny. In fact, many women do not yet know they are pregnant when spotting first occurs. They may mistake light bleeding for a low-flow period. At these earliest stages of embryonic and fetal development, spotting could mean one of the following events have occurred or are in the process of occurring:
- Implantation Bleeding: In the first six to 12 days following conception, the fertilized egg must implant into the side of the uterus, where it will remain until delivery at the end of pregnancy. This is the event which many women usually do not notice or one they believe to be symptomatic of a light period, as most do not yet realize they are pregnant. The sparse bleeding from implantation is generally very light and may occur over several hours or even days.
- Miscarriage: Miscarriage is most commonly experienced in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the fertilized egg, embryo or fetus is most vulnerable to conditions of its own health, the mother’s body and other aspects that contribute to the continuance of the pregnancy. While the potential that spotting indicates a miscarriage is frightening to most, about half of pregnant women who experience light bleeding do not miscarry. Strong cramping in the lower abdomen or back and passing of clots or tissue through the vagina may also indicate a miscarriage is in progress.
- Ectopic Pregnancy: An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy occurring in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Although this only happens in about two percent of pregnancies, it could be the cause of spotting. The pregnancy may end on its own through a miscarriage or bigger problems may occur later if the pregnancy continues. If the baby keeps growing, the mother’s life is at great risk due to the potential for rupturing of the fallopian tube and resulting in internal bleeding. An ectopic pregnancy may be indicated by strong pain in the lower abdomen and lightheadedness.
- Molar Pregnancy: Also known as gestational trophoblastic disease, molar pregnancy is extremely rare. This is a condition wherein abnormal tissue grows in the uterus instead of a baby. This may be cancerous tissue which can then spread to other regions of the body. Severe nausea and vomiting accompany this condition along with rapid enlargement of the abdomen due to uterus expansion.
- Cervical Changes: Extra blood is routed to the cervix during pregnancy. Pap smears or intercourse may cause contact with the cervix. That contact can trigger bleeding, which is not a cause for concern.
- Infection: Bleeding may occur in the first trimester if the pregnant mother-to-be has an infection such as cervical, vaginal or sexually transmitted infections.
What to Do When Spotting Occurs
Spotting differs from bleeding in the sense of the amount of blood that is present. Spotting or bleeding at any point during a pregnancy should be investigated by the doctor. Do not insert a tampon or have intercourse during any spotting or bleeding in a pregnancy. It is a good idea to use a menstrual pad when spotting occurs so there can be clarity about how much bleeding is occurring. There may also be variations of the blood’s consistency, color or texture and the doctor will need to know about these variations. For example, pink, brown or red blood may be shed and those colors can help your doctor know what may be causing the bleeding. The blood may be of a normal consistency or could be full of clots. Also, any tissue which is passed from the vagina should be collected and taken to the doctor for testing. The doctor may order an ultrasound to gain better perspective toward a diagnosis. This may include both abdominal and vaginal ultrasounds. If any of the following symptoms accompany the bleeding, 911 should be contacted right away:
- Severe abdominal pain or cramping
- Extensive bleeding, with or without pain
- Vaginal discharge of tissue
- Fainting or dizziness
- Fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit