According to the American Pregnancy Association, 20 to 30 percent of all pregnant women experience some degree of early pregnancy bleeding. Spotting that occurs during the first trimester is common, but not normal. It some instances, it can be a symptom of another underlying medical condition. Anytime a woman notices spotting during the first trimester, she should call her health care provider for an examination.
One common reason for spotting in early pregnancy is due to a process called implantation. Implantation occurs when the fertilized egg burrows into the lining of the uterus, usually six to 12 days after conception. Many women do not realize they are pregnant at this time and may mistake implantation bleeding as the beginning of menstruation. However, implantation bleeding is generally lighter in color than this and is not as heavy as a normal period. Also, implantation bleeding does not last as long.
As reported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, with most of them occurring during the first trimester. Although spotting is a warning sign of miscarriage, spotting does not necessarily mean miscarriage is imminent. However, pregnant women should watch for other signs or symptoms of miscarriage, such as the passing of tissue or severe abdominal cramping.
Ectopic or Molar Pregnancy
Early pregnancy spotting can also be a sign of ectopic or molar pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when the embryo implants outside the uterus. Unfortunately, an ectopic pregnancy cannot thrive and requires immediate medical attention. Ectopic pregnancies present with sharp abdominal pains, in addition to spotting. A molar pregnancy is when a cluster of tissues is present in the uterus, but there is no embryo.
Vaginitis refers to an inflammation or infection of the vagina. Causes of vaginitis include an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast, but it can also be caused by too-tight clothing, a woman’s general health or fluctuating hormone levels. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, chlamydia and gonorrhea can irritate the vagina and, in some cases, cause spotting.
Sometimes, pregnant women experience spotting after intercourse, which is most likely a result of the tip of the penis hitting an already-tender cervix. The woman’s health care provider will recommend abstaining from sex until she is examined and given the all clear. Although spotting after intercourse is alarming, it’s important for the pregnant woman to understand that intercourse does not cause miscarriage.
At any point a woman experiences spotting or bleeding during her pregnancy, she should wear a panty liner to monitor the amount and color of blood closely. She also should record any other symptoms, such as abdominal cramping or sharp pains, and report them to her health care provider.
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