Many women experience some bleeding after becoming pregnant. While it is bound to make you worry, it's important to know it's highly likely everything is fine.
Read on to discover reasons for bleeding in pregnancy, but always contact your midwife or GP if you start to bleed, so they can check everything is okay.
Early pregnancy – why might I be bleeding?
It's thought around one in 10 women experiences some bleeding when she is pregnant, and for the vast majority, it signifies nothing serious.
Sometimes light bleeding occurs early on, when your body is still adjusting to being pregnant. Basically, although you have conceived, your menstrual cycle is catching up, and you might have some blood around the time you would normally have had your period. It's called breakthrough bleeding.
Alternatively, you might be seeing the signs of implantation bleeding. This occurs early on, when the embryo embeds itself in your uterus. It results in light bleeding, or spotting, and is completely harmless. This too might happen around the time you would have had a period, and it could last on and off for several days.
Some bleeding occurs as a result of changes to your cervix, known as cervical ectropian. The cells of your cervix are affected by pregnancy, and this can make it more likely for you to bleed a little, especially after having sex.
Is it a miscarriage?
Although that's the first thing which will run through your head, it's more likely to be any of the things above – one in five early pregnancies are thought to end in miscarriage, but many, many women experience bleeding and go on to have perfectly healthy babies.
Bleeding caused by miscarriage tends to be heavy (perhaps with clots) and is also accompanied by painful cramps. If this is the case, contact your midwife immediately. Sadly, most miscarriages are caused by foetal abnormalities and simply cannot be prevented, but you will need to be checked and monitored.
Sometimes, a woman will experience bleeding and cramps, and is described as having a 'threatened miscarriage'. Basically, you have to sit tight and see what happens – if a miscarriage is going to occur, then it will – bed rest is not thought to help.
Happily, for many women, it never happens, and they continue to enjoy a normal pregnancy after the scare.
Less common than miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies occur in approximately 1 out of 100 pregnant women and bleeding can be a sign.
Ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo implants in the fallopian tube, rather than the womb, and unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to save the pregnancy – the egg will need to be removed, or your health is at serious risk.
Later pregnancy – why might I be bleeding?
Bleeding later in pregnancy is very rare. Again, your cervix might be bleeding as a result of chafing.
Alternatively, if you are coming close to your delivery date, and you pass some mucus and blood, it might be a 'show' – the plug to your cervix has come away and your body is preparing for labour.
Sometimes bleeding can be a sign of placenta previa, where the placenta has not moved up and out of the way of the cervix. You're likely to already know if you have placenta previa, because it was probably spotted at your 20-week scan.
If placenta previa causes bleeding, then the blood will be bright red and it won't be accompanied by any pain. But the bleeding can be heavy, so you will need to go to your hospital straight away.
Another worrying cause of bleeding in the latter stages of pregnancy is placental abruption – this is when your placenta comes away from the wall of your uterus before delivery. The blood is likely to be dark in colour, possibly with clots, and will be accompanied by abdominal pain. You need to be seen quickly, so call an ambulance. If you're close to your due date, it's likely your baby will be delivered early.
How will I be checked for the cause of bleeding?
You are likely to be given blood tests to check your pregnancy hormone levels. You might also be given a pelvic and/or vaginal examination, and possibly an ultrasound to see how your baby is doing in there.
If your condition does turn out to be a serious one, you may need to stay in hospital. In many cases of bleeding in early pregnancy, the cause is never determined, and a healthy baby is delivered nevertheless.
If you notice bleeding at any time during your pregnancy, you should go straight to your GP, midwife or hospital.