Doctor explaining diagnosis to her female patientSpotting is light vaginal bleeding that occurs commonly in the early stages of pregnancy. There is, however, a big difference between spotting and bleeding that every couple attempting pregnancy should know:

  • Spotting: The bleeding is light, similar to the end of your menstrual period. The color of the blood varies, ranging from red to brown.
  • Bleeding: The bleeding is heavy, enough to fill a sanitary napkin, and is bright red in color.

Common Causes of Spotting

In most cases, spotting is not a problem. It can be caused by several things, including:

Hormonal stimulation: Sometimes the hormones that drive your menstrual cycle continue to trigger bleeding, even after pregnancy occurs. The result is light spotting, sometimes referred to as breakthrough bleeding, for many women. It can occur throughout the pregnancy.

Implantation bleeding: When the embryo implants in the endometrial lining, up to 30 percent of women have light spotting. Oftentimes, the bleeding happens close to when you were expecting your period, and it is a common symptom of pregnancy.

Uterine or cervical abnormalities or infections: Polyps on the cervix or fibroids can cause spotting. They are usually harmless growths that occur naturally in some women. Other times, the hormones from pregnancy might irritate the cervix, causing a small amount of bleeding. Some infections can also cause spotting. Most of these are not serious problems and cause no danger to your pregnancy.

Subchorionic bleeding: When this occurs, it means blood gathered in the fetal membrane, next to the placenta. This spotting type usually stops on its own and requires no medical attention.

Loss of mucus plug: Sometimes, later in pregnancy, you lose your mucus plug. This type of spotting may be the beginning of your labor.

Common Causes of Bleeding

Heavy bleeding can be indicative of a more serious problem. In any case of bleeding, contact your doctor. Some causes can include:

Ectopic or molar pregnancies: If the bleeding occurs in the first trimester and is accompanied by pain, nausea, vomiting or cramping, it can be indicative of either an ectopic pregnancy (implantation occurs outside the uterus) or a molar pregnancy (the placenta and embryo are malformed and not developing properly).

Placenta problems: If you experience heavy bleeding in the later parts of your second trimester or any time in the third, you might be having complications with the placenta. Placenta previa (when the placenta moves in front of the cervix, which can cause problems later), or placental abruption (which describes the placenta detaching from the uterus)

While it is quite common in early pregnancy, it is normal to have concerns about spotting or bleeding. The general rule of thumb is that if you are worried about your bleeding, contact your doctor. You might not be able to tell the difference between heavy spotting or light bleeding, but he or she can.


“Vaginal Spotting or Bleeding in Pregnancy.” September 2013. Web. 3 March 2015.

“Vaginal Spotting or Bleeding During Pregnancy.” Web. 3 March 2015.