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Bleeding or spotting in early pregnancy can be very worrying, although it is often not a signal of a problem. However bleeding can be the sign of a miscarriage, yet on the other hand it doesn’t mean that one is imminent.

20% to 30% of women do experience some type of spotting or bleeding in early pregnancy, of which approximately 50% result in miscarriages and the other 50% don’t. These facts and stats have been proven in studies.

The two other potential reasons for bleeding during the first trimester are ectopic pregnancies or molar pregnancies. More detailed information is included in the sections below about miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy.

1. What You Should Do If You Experience Bleeding Or Spotting

  • Use a pad or panty liner so that you can be aware of the level and type of bleeding you are experiencing
  • Do not use a tampon, or have intercourse, have a douche, or introduce anything into the vagina while bleeding
  • Contact your health care provider immediately.

2. Possible Reasons For Bleeding Or Spotting In Early Pregnancy

Apart from the possible complications mentioned previously, other reasons for bleeding or spotting in early pregnancy are:

Breakthrough bleeding – happens when the pregnancy hormones cover up the menstrual cycle but the cycle still continues for a short while. So it could be that you do get what appears to be your period around the same time it was due but it could be breakthrough bleeding.

Implantation bleeding – this can happen between six and twelve days after a potential conception. Different women will have different variations of implantation bleeding; some will have light spotting for a few hours whereas others will have this for up to a few days.

After intercourse – bleeding may be experienced by some women as the cervix can be sensitive and tender. Do not have intercourse until you have seen your doctor.

Infection in the pelvic cavity or urinary tract – can cause bleeding.

spotting in early pregnancy

3. First Trimester Possible Complications Signalled By Bleeding

Miscarriage – is experienced by 50% of the women who have spotting or bleeding during the first trimester.

Why Does A Miscarriage Occur?

Miscarriage is nature’s way or your body’s way of dealing with a pregnancy which was not continuing as it should. The majority of miscarriages occur during the first 12 gestational weeks of pregnancy. (Gestational weeks date from the first day of your last period.) There is normally nothing that can be done to prevent a miscarriage. Somewhere between 15% and 20% of pregnancies will result in miscarriage.

Miscarriage Signs/Miscarriage Symptoms

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Passing tissue via the vagina
  • Cramps which are generally stronger than menstrual cramps, felt in the lower stomach area

Miscarriage Support

Experiencing miscarriage can be extremely distressing for many women and can bring up undeserved feelings of being a failure and this mixed with grief, as well as dealing with a possible flux of hormones can make this is difficult time. Do get support if you ever experience a miscarriage.

For support in Ireland go to The Miscarriage Association of Ireland

In the UK go to http://www.miscarriageassociation.org.uk/

4. Ectopic pregnancy

An Ectopic Pregnancy – is when the pregnancy implants somewhere outside the uterus, such as one of the fallopian tubes. In rare cases it can occur in the ovary, cervix or stomach area. Approximately one in sixty pregnancies will be an ectopic pregnancy.

Why Does An Ectopic Pregnancy Occur?

Ectopic pregnancies can occur due to a condition that blocks or slows down the fertilised egg moving through the fallopian tube to the uterus; such as a previous ectopic pregnancy, previous pelvic surgery or an infection in the tubes. Sometimes the cause is not known.

Ectopic Pregnancy Signs/Ectopic Pregnancy Symptoms

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Sharp pain in the abdominal area
  • Cramps which are usually stronger than menstrual cramps, felt in the lower stomach area
  • Low levels of hCG (pregnancy hormone)
  • Shoulder tip pain
  • Collapse
  • Bladder or bower problems

Ectopic Pregnancy Support

An ectopic pregnancy is not only a very tough physical condition to experience but it affects our emotions hugely. It is good to get support if you are either going through the experience or after you have had an ectopic pregnancy.

For support in Ireland go to Ectopic Pregnancy Ireland

In the UK go to http://www.ectopic.org.uk/

In USA go to http://www.ectopicpregnancyfoundation.org/

5. Molar pregnancy

Molar Pregnancies – are a very rare reason for early pregnancy spotting or bleeding and the “mole” or molar pregnancy is when abnormal tissue has grown instead of an embryo. A molar pregnancy occurs 1 in 1000 pregnancies.

This is also known as GTD – gestational trophoblastic disease.

Why Does A Molar Pregnancy Occur?

It is the result of a genetic error; an abnormality of the placenta which occurs when the egg and sperm joined during fertilisation.

Molar Pregnancy Signs/ Molar Pregnancy Symptoms

  • Spotting or bleeding
  • Increased hCG (pregnancy hormone)
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • High blood pressure
  • No heart tone or fetal movement can be detected
  • Sometimes a rare complication such as thyroid disease can occur

Molar Pregnancy Support

At the time of writing there does not appear to be an Irish support organisation.

In the UK go to http://www.molarpregnancy.co.uk/

http://www.mymolarpregnancy.com/ We mention this one as it is quite a personal website set up by someone called Jennifer Wood that has experienced a molar pregnancy. On this website there is also a link to a Facebook Group.

Midwife sonographer facilitated

Consultant Led, Centre of Medical Excellence 


All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.


This website was formerly Merrion Fetal Health. The clinic has undergone a rebrand and is now known as Merrion Ultrasound.