Any kind of bleeding is disconcerting, to say the least – so it’s only normal for you to be worried if that’s the case when it happens during your pregnancy.
There are several reasons why you might bleed when expecting, even if everything’s perfectly fine and healthy – but this article will be talking about whether any of that bleeding could be period related or not.
Can I Have A Period While Pregnant?
The short answer to whether you can have a period while pregnant is a firm NO.
In order to understand why this isn’t possible, let’s start with a refresher on how periods usually happen.
When you’re not pregnant and experiencing regular menstruation, you typically bleed every month.
Depending on your body and your cycle, the amount of time that passes between periods and the symptoms that accompany them will vary.
Blood is bright red and comes in significant amounts, then tapers off. This kind of bleeding is caused by the complete shedding of your uterine lining; the very lining that an egg implants into in order to grow into a viable fetus1.
If you were to have a period during pregnancy where the uterine lining shed off completely, it would actually be called a miscarriage or chemical pregnancy, and you would lose the baby.
You also cannot ovulate during pregnancy, since your body recognizes there’s an egg already implanted in your uterus. Since a true period is triggered by ovulation, it’s not physically possible to have a typical period during pregnancy.
It is possible, however, to have regular bleeding while pregnant, similar to that you experience during a period.
Keep reading to discover the reasons why you might be bleeding during pregnancy, when it’s normal, when you need to be concerned and what you need to do about it.
Regular Bleeding During Pregnancy
As mentioned, regular bleeding during pregnancy is possible. This is called decidual bleeding.
With decidual bleeding, a small portion of your uterine lining sheds off for several months in a row, despite your being pregnant2.
You’re more likely to experience this condition if you have abnormal menstruation prior to pregnancy. This can lead you to be confused about whether you’re pregnant or not, to confirm your pregnancy at a later term, or to be concerned about early miscarriage.
There’s no way to completely rule out miscarriage in this case, unless you visit your care provider and receive a transvaginal ultrasound or other confirmation of a viable pregnancy.
The only other reason you could think you’re having a period during pregnancy is if you aren’t actually pregnant, or if you had a chemical pregnancy (which is when you lose your baby before the 5th week of gestation).
This is totally before the pregnancy can be confirmed via heartbeat or ultrasound. It’s estimated that 50 to 75 percent of miscarriages are chemical pregnancies3.
Usually, a chemical pregnancy goes unnoticed, but for women who are paying close attention to their bodies and cycles (especially those trying to conceive), a faint positive might show up on a pregnancy test only to disappear within a week or two.
Chemical pregnancies do not typically require much in the way of recovery, nor do you have to schedule a visit to the doctor if you suspect you’ve had one.
It’s normal to feel deep grief, sadness, and loss, or to feel nothing at all after experiencing a chemical pregnancy. It’s also okay to take a break and give yourself some needed self-care or seek out a counselor or a friend to talk to.
Fertility should return immediately after a chemical pregnancy and you can try again right away if you wish to.
There are other reasons you might be bleeding during your pregnancy; some are more disconcerting than others.
Bleeding In The First Trimester
In the month after you conceive, and around the time your next period should occur if you’re tracking, you may experience anywhere from two to five days of light, intermittent spotting or bleeding.
This can be bright red or brown in color and may be accompanied with cramps or other typical period-like symptoms.
This is called implantation bleeding, and it is a sign your egg has implanted in your uterus with success. It can be confusing and disconcerting, though, especially if your implantation bleeding seems heavier than it should be4.
At this early stage of pregnancy, it’s best to wait a week or two before taking a pregnancy test so that you can get a strong positive.
You may also experience this kind of spotting after having sex, due to cervical changes, or after a vaginal exam. This bleeding will never get heavy and will stop after a day or two.
Other, more serious, instances of bleeding in the first trimester can be due to:
- Ectopic Pregnancy: When an egg implants in a fallopian tube and begins to develop, causing pain as the tube is stretched and may start to rupture. Emergency care is required.
- Subchorionic Hemorrhage: Bleeding that occurs between the uterine wall and placenta.
- Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a very rare condition that occurs when a tumor simulates pregnancy. It contains abnormal fetal tissue, which the body responds to as if it’s a live baby. The cure is surgery5.
How To Tell If You’re Miscarrying
You won’t always be able to tell for certain if you’re having a miscarriage, especially if it’s early on and classified as a chemical pregnancy. You might just assume it’s your period coming a little late.
Miscarriages usually involve fluid, blood, and even tissue coming from the vagina, accompanied with light or heavy cramping in your back or belly.
It’s more likely to be miscarriage if the bleeding progresses from light spotting to heavier period-like bleeding and is bright red.
It’s also more likely to be miscarriage if normal pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, breast tenderness, and fatigue are absent or reduced in the days or weeks leading up to it.
If you’re further along your pregnancy and suspect you’re miscarrying, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your care provider to either confirm or hopefully deny your suspicions.
Bleeding in the Second and Third Trimesters
Your pregnancy is much more established and at lower risk of miscarriage by the second trimester, which makes any bleeding all the more alarming.
Some possible instances for spotting or bleeding are the same as in the first trimester in that you may experience vaginal bleeding after sex or after a vaginal exam.
Uterine rupture happens when the uterine wall becomes thin and tears or ruptures. This is a life-threatening condition for both you and your baby.
It’s more likely to happen if you’ve had one or more cesarean sections. However, with women who have a low, transverse scar, the rate of abruption is only 1% or about 5 out of every 1,000 women6.
Risk of uterine rupture does increase with each cesarean section you have – however, the risk only goes up the slightest percentage. Prior cesarean alone is never a good reason for a care provider to insist you have a repeat cesarean, so do your research on the safety of VBAC and find a supportive provider!
Uterine ruptures can occur in women who have never had a cesarean section when the uterine wall is weak from multiple pregnancies, excessive or repetitive use of labor-inducing medications (such as Pitocin), prior surgery on the uterus, or mid-pelvic use of forceps.
It is also more likely to happen during labor, rather than during pregnancy.
Normally, the placenta implants higher up in the uterus, away from the opening of your cervix. When the placenta implants on, near, or partially covering the cervix, this is called Placenta Previa.
Placenta Previa occurs in around 1 in 200 pregnancies, and can usually be diagnosed via an ultrasound. Vaginal bleeding is one of the most common symptoms of this condition7.
It is important to note that only 10% of women who are originally diagnosed with Placenta Previa still have all or part of the cervix covered by the time they reach full term. The other 90% of cases resolve before labor without any further complications.
As the uterus stretches, the placenta may appear to “move” or slide up. In fact, it is the uterus that is growing, carrying the implanted placenta with it.
The placenta is the life-giver to your baby during pregnancy. It’s attached to the inner wall of your uterus and connected to your baby via the umbilical cord.
When it separates from the uterine wall prematurely (before your baby is born), this is called placental abruption.
It is life-threatening for both you and your baby and requires medical support to resolve. It is also a very rare complication and unlikely to happen during your pregnancy.
Symptoms include vaginal bleeding, especially heavy, bright red bleeding, back pain, and belly pain in the last trimester of pregnancy.
Preterm labor is defined as labor occurring before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Bleeding can occur, as well as consistent contractions that progressively grow stronger, which you may feel in your back or belly.
If you suspect you are experiencing preterm labor, head to the emergency room straight away.
With the incredible medical advancements we’ve made in this day and age, often times the hospital staff is able to stop your preterm labor and help you get to full term safely, which is best for both you and your baby.
And if it happens to be something else than preterm labor, then you know what they say – better safe than sorry!
Membrane Stripping or Sweeping
Membrane stripping is where your care provider does a vaginal exam and inserts either a hook or an amnicot through your cervix and up between your uterus and the amniotic sac, breaking the fine membranes that attach your amniotic sac to the inside of your uterus.
This irritates the uterus and sometimes results in labor starting.
Your doctor or midwife may recommend “stripping your membranes” as a less invasive way to induce labor. It’s possible, in fact, that they may even do it without your consent during a vaginal exam when you’re in the last couple weeks of your pregnancy.
Be sure to discuss with your care provider early on in your pregnancy your desire that they speak with you before doing anything that might cause you to go into labor, including stripping your membranes.
It is less invasive than breaking your water and pretty much any other medical induction method out there, but it still doesn’t guarantee labor will start and has some risks of its own.
Risks include a higher chance of infection, your water breaking before labor starts (or even breaking on the exam table during the membrane stripping procedure), and, as with all induction methods, could potentially increase the risk of infant distress or an unnecessary cesarean section.
Spotting, whether dark brownish or bright red, can be a sign of impending labor.
Due to hormone changes and cervical dilation, some spotting may occur. Don’t rush to the hospital just yet, however; wait until your contractions are long enough, strong enough and close together before heading out that door.
If you’re having a home or birth center birth it’s good to keep your midwife apprised of all signs of labor so she can be prepared to come to you, but there’s no need to rush or panic.
Until you’re having regular contractions, it’s unlikely your baby will be coming immediately, so keep busy and get your mind off the possibility of labor happening in this early stage.
Spotting or light bleeding during pregnancy rarely turns into one of these complications and otherwise results in a perfectly normal and safe delivery.
When To See A Doctor
With all of this being said, there are some reasons you should see your doctor or midwife to ensure everything’s going okay.
There are both benign and dangerous situations that can cause bleeding during pregnancy, which you might mistake for period blood.
For this reason, it’s important that you talk to your doctor or midwife if you experience any significant bleeding that causes you concern during your pregnancy.
In addition, symptoms such as dizziness, heavy bleeding, passing clots, excessive or persistent pain in your abdomen, uterus or lower back, and fainting are all definite causes for concern that should be addressed with a visit to the emergency room as soon as possible.
You should also see your care provider if you experience consistent cramping or lower back pain or if your water breaks before 37 weeks gestation.
Wrapping It Up
While having a period during pregnancy isn’t physically possible, there are many reasons why you might be experiencing bleeding on a regular enough basis to assume it’s your period.
After all, without knowing what’s going on, it’s easy to get things messed up and mistake one for the other.
Hopefully, what you’ve learned in this article has helped you come to a better understanding of what your body could be experiencing at the time, and you can now rest easy knowing when you need to seek help and when finding a little blood in your underwear is no cause for worry.
- https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Decidual bleeding in pregnancy. https://www.ajog.org/article/0002-9378(48)90417-7/abstract. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Understanding Chemical Pregnancy With Early Miscarriage. https://www.verywellfamily.com/chemical-pregnancy-a-very-early-miscarriage-2371493. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Is implantation bleeding normal in early pregnancy? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/implantation-bleeding/faq-20058257. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- What Is Gestational Trophoblastic Disease? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gestational-trophoblastic-disease/about/what-is-gtd.html. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Pregnancy Complications: Uterine Rupture. https://www.healthline.com/health/pregnancy/complications-uterine-rupture. Accessed June 18, 2019.
- Placenta Previa. https://americanpregnancy.org/pregnancy-complications/placenta-previa/. Accessed June 18, 2019.