Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy may occur, particularly in the first trimester, and should always be taken seriously. At times, the bleeding is not due to a serious cause and no intervention may be necessary. However some of the causes of vaginal bleeding during pregnancy can indicate an underlying problem and there may be a risk to you or your unborn child.
A few days after conception, you will notice a little spotting or a light bleed. This is known as the implantation bleed and is normal. However if the bleeding is profuse, persisting or accompanied by significant abdominal pain, then you should consult with your doctor immediately. Women who have missed a period, have the signs and symptoms of pregnancy but have not as yet confirmed it with a test should still be cautious about a vaginal bleed as it could be a miscarriage. Do not assume that the vaginal bleeding is your delayed period.
Bleeding in Early Pregnancy
Within the first trimester of pregnancy, there are a number of causes of vaginal bleeding – some of which could be life threatening for the mother. You should differentiate between spotting, light bleeding and heavy bleeding so that you can inform you doctor about the extent of the bleed.
The most common cause of bleeding in early pregnancy is a miscarriage or threatened miscarriage (threatened abortion). In the former, the foetus may already be lost and your pregnancy will not continue. But in a threatened abortion, the foetus is still viable and pregnancy can still continue to full term. However medical attention may be required or there may be a complete miscarriage.
The most important measure to implement in the case of a threatened abortion is strict bed rest. Your doctor may also prescribe certain hormone tablets to avoid any miscarriage and depending on the possible cause, other treatment measures may be instituted.
Another cause of vaginal bleeding in early pregnancy is a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. This is very dangerous for the mother and emergency medical attention is required. Usually there is severe pain and other signs and symptoms may also be present like dizziness, fainting spells, changes in blood pressure and heart rate as well as fatigue.
Less common causes of bleeding in early pregnancy include vaginal and cervical inflammation or infections, ruptured ovarian cysts, and cervical polyps. All causes of bleeding during pregnancy should be taken seriously and despite what you are told by others, you will need to see a doctor as soon as possible.
If you are over 35 years of age, have a history or miscarriage(s), drink alcohol or smoke during pregnancy or if you have used any prescription or narcotic drugs during pregnancy, then you are at risk of a complications and you need to be vigilant of any signs like vaginal bleeding.
Other risk factors include a history of gynecological disorders, infertility, undergoing repeated fertility procedures or a previous medical abortion, use of the abortion pill or ‘morning after’ pill.
Trauma at any stage of your pregnancy can lead to complications, especially if you experienced an injury, fall or assault to the abdominal area.
Bleeding in Late Pregnancy
Bleeding late in your pregnancy may be a sign of labour. Even if you are not due as yet, you should be cautious as you may be entering early labour (premature delivery), especially if there are other signs of labour like excessive watery vaginal discharge (‘water broke’) or contractions. Do not pass off contractions before your due date as Braxton Hicks contractions (false labour contractions) and rather consult with your gynaecologist if there is any discharge and/or vaginal bleeding.
Other causes of vaginal bleeding in late pregnancy include serious disorders of pregnancy like a placenta previa, abruptio placentae, vasa previa or ruptured uterus. In these conditions, there is a significant risk to the baby and to your health and emergency medical attention is always advised.