Although unexpected bleeding is alarming and causes discomfort, it's actually very common in pregnancy and there is often no reason to worry.
Surprisingly, one in four women bleeds during pregnancy and only about half of these women miscarry.
Some mums-to-be just have a little spotting; for others it’s more like a heavy period, and for a very few it’s actually even heavier – but the fact is, despite this, the pregnancy can still make it to full term
If you are also in pain or have stomach cramps, it's very important to get yourself checked out, even though the combination doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem. Find out more about stomach cramps in pregnancy.
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The best thing to do is see your doctor or midwife, or go to your hospital’s A&E department (or early pregnancy unit, if there is one). Here, you may be given an internal examination to check that your cervix is closed, or you may be given a scan to rule out ectopic pregnancy. They will also check the position of the placenta, and will want to find a foetal heartbeat.
You will be asked how much blood you’ve lost (it may be useful to keep soiled sanitary pads) and if you have experienced any pain (severe stomach cramps may be a sign of placental abruption, for example). If all appears well, you’ll be sent home, hopefully reassured. You may be advised to rest, and if you have lost a great deal of blood, it’s a good idea to up your iron intake.
But for your own peace of mind as much as your health, report any cases of bleeding to your GP or midwife, however light.
In early pregnancy, you might experience implantation bleeding, or it may be related to your fluctuating hormones. Really this light flow or spotting is just a symptom of pregnancy but when it occurs you might not even realise that you are pregnant.
One in five pregnancies end in miscarriage and one of the first signs is bleeding so if you get spotting or blood flow it's understandably scary. Miscarriage is more common during the first trimester, so if you know you are pregnant it is important to recognise the signs of miscarriage. It is physically and emotionally painful and can take some time to recover from. Often there is no apparent cause but reassuringly, most women go on to have healthy pregnancies in the future.
More on bleeding in early pregnancy
Recognising the signs of miscarriage
What are the chances of miscarriage and will it happen again?
Trying again after a miscarriage
Further reasons for bleeding in pregnancy
These are the most common reasons you might bleed when you're pregnant, apart from miscarriage, so you can see there are many causes behind it and it doesn't mean you will not be able to have a baby.
Blighted ovum - This is one of the most common causes of miscarriage. It occurs when if there's a chromosomal problem with the embryo that prevents it developing into a baby.
Ectopic Pregnancy - This occurs when the fertilised egg implants itself outside the uterus. Bleeding with usually be accompanied with pain, particularly on one side of your abdomen.
Placenta Praevia - Bleeding in your last trimester can sometimes mean that the placenta is growing low and may be blocking your baby's entrance to the world.
Eroded cervix - Contrary to its name, this occurs as extra cells grow on the surface of your cervix.
Incompetent cervix - This rare condition is often only uncovered after a miscarriage as the cervix is not strong enough to hold a baby. It can be treated, however, with a simple procedure and many sufferers go on to have healthy babies.
Late miscarriage - This occurs between after the 12th week of pregnancy but before the 24th. It usually means you will have to give birth to your baby, compared to an earlier miscarriage, which feels more like a heavy period. After week 24, losing a baby is called stillbirth.