While blood may appear from time to time while you are carrying a baby, there is no menstruation during pregnancy. Any blood that appears may be related to implantation of the fertilized egg or to miscarriage, an infection, impending labor, or serious pregnancy complications. Many times, however, the bleeding is not a sign of anything serious.
Bleeding During Pregnancy
There are many different moments during pregnancy that a woman may have some blood loss from the vagina. The causes of this bleeding can range from harmless to life-threatening, so it is important to know what kinds of bleeding can occur and to have your caregiver diagnose the reason for any bleeding so that it can be addressed.
You may experience blood loss before you even know that you are pregnant. Namely, implantation bleeding can occur when a fertilized egg nests itself into the blood-lined wall of the uterus. While not all women experience implantation bleeding, many women do and plenty of women mistake the blood for the start of their period; this bleeding lasts only for a short time, which is how most women figure out that it was not their period at all. Implantation bleeding can be mistaken for menstruation during pregnancy, but is actually not menstrual bleeding at all.
Miscarriage is most common at the beginning of pregnancy and is often accompanied by bleeding. Depending on the week in which a miscarriage occurs, it may seem simply like a normal menstrual cycle that occurred a few weeks late. Women experience varying amounts of blood loss during a miscarriage; in addition, the cramping that is felt before and during a miscarriage can vary considerably. In general, the further you are along in your pregnancy, the more blood and cramping will accompany a miscarriage, but this differs for every woman.
Infections also sometimes cause small amounts of bleeding during the first few months of pregnancy. Check with your practitioner--while bladder and vaginal infections can be minor in nature, it's important to diagnose the bleeding so the infection can be treated. It's also important to diagnose the bleeding so prompt medical attention can be given if there is a serious problem.
Ectopic pregnancy is the most serious medical condition that causes bleeding in early pregnancy. Both miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy cause the loss of the baby, but an ectopic pregnancy can be very dangerous for the mother and it can reduce her chances of carrying another child in the future. While diagnosing this type of pregnancy should be done, ideally, before the fallopian tube with the growing egg ruptures, getting immediate medical attention after rupture can help minimize risks for the mother.
Later in Pregnancy
Infections remain a cause of pregnancy bleeding throughout the term that you carry a child. As in early pregnancy, get infections diagnosed right away. You can also try to minimize your risk of infection.
Another reason you might bleed later in pregnancy is because you are going into labor soon. 'Soon' can mean in a few minutes or in a few weeks. If you are not yet 37 weeks pregnant, call your practitioner immediately if you experience bleeding. If you are experiencing pre-term labor, your caregiver may admit you to the hospital.
If you are already 37 weeks pregnant and you notice some blood, the amount and color will determine if you need to get immediate medical attention. If you have a small amount of pinkish/bloody discharge and you are more than 37 weeks, there is no cause for panic. If you see bright red blood, regardless of whether you are 37 weeks yet or not, call your doctor. It could be that you are going into labor, but it could also be a much more serious complication.
Placenta previa (low placenta) or placenta abruption (separating from the uterine wall) can both cause bleeding. While placenta previa should have been diagnosed early in pregnancy, placenta abruption can occur at any time. Placenta abruption is very dangerous for the baby because it results in decreased oxygen supply to the baby. Getting this checked out immediately increases the odds that your caregiver might be able to help you and your baby.
Mistaking Menstruation During Pregnancy
While there are many reasons that pregnant women lose blood during pregnancy, none of them are actually menstruation. Pregnant women do not menstruate because the blood lining of the uterus needs to remain there for the duration of the pregnancy. In addition to not menstruating during pregnancy, most women will not have a period for a few months after giving birth (post-partum bleeding is also not considered menstruation).
It is always important to diagnose the cause of pregnancy bleeding so that appropriate care can begin. While many causes of pregnancy bleeding are benign, some are life-threatening to both mother and baby, warranting immediate medical attention for all cases of bleeding during pregnancy.