A small amount of bleeding is a common cause of brown vaginal discharge in early pregnancy and may be no cause for worry. This sometimes happens because of the normal effects of the embryo or the changes in your hormones on the lining of your uterus. The brown discharge could also be a sign of a complication with your fetus or conditions of the cervix, such as infection or cancer.
- As the early embryo implants and invades the uterine lining (endometrium), it disrupts small blood vessels and a small amount of bleeding can occur.
- The brown discharge indicates the bleeding is light and slow so the red pigment is absorbed by the time you see it.
- Bleeding usually lasts a few hours to two days and can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy.
- Most women miss this sign and assume it is just breakthrough bleeding.
Do a pregnancy test if you don't get your normal period one to two weeks later.
Bleeding at the Time of Expected Period
Brown discharge at the time your next period is due can also be an early sign of pregnancy. Small fluctuations in your estrogen and progesterone hormones at that point could be the cause. You could also have pinkish or reddish discharge. You might not realize you are pregnant until your normal menstrual bleeding doesn't start.
Nonviable Intrauterine Pregnancy
You can have a brown discharge or obvious bleeding if you have a nonviable intrauterine fetus, one of the complications of early pregnancy. When the fetus stops developing, HCG and progesterone production fall, and your uterine lining breaks down and bleeds.
The brown discharge or bleeding often starts close to the time the next period is due or in the following weeks. It depends on when the fetus becomes nonviable. One type of nonviable fetus is a chemical pregnancy, in which case the brown discharge could start at the time of implantation.
A brown discharge starting anytime in early pregnancy can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy. This is an abnormal pregnancy where the fetus implants outside the uterus. It is important to know:
- An ectopic pregnancy is the most important reason not to ignore a brown or bloody discharge or bleeding in pregnancy. A delay in diagnosis can lead to rupture of the pregnancy, heavy bleeding in the belly, and death of the mother.
- The brown or bloody discharge can start before you miss your period as the lining of your uterus starts breaking down because the pregnancy can't develop outside the uterus.
- The discharge can be irregular, and you might mistake this for an irregular menstrual cycle rather than a pregnancy.
If you have ongoing, irregular brown or red discharge and one-sided pelvic pain, see your doctor whether or not you already know you are pregnant.
Early miscarriage symptoms include vaginal bleeding and pain. The bleeding might start as a brown discharge and become heavier, bright red blood. Be aware that:
- The brown discharge or obvious bleeding can start as early as five to six weeks in pregnancy.
- Brown discharge or bleeding does not mean a miscarriage is inevitable as 50 percent of the time the pregnancy will continue to normal full-term delivery.
- Most miscarriages occur in the first 13 weeks but can also happen in the second trimester up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
See your doctor if you know or suspect you are pregnant and have brown discharge or bleeding with crampy pelvic pain for more than two days.
Cervical ectropion (eversion) is a normal, physiologic condition that can cause you to have a brownish, or pinkish mucus discharge or blood. It means the glands lining the inner canal of your cervix (the endocervix) turn inside out to face the vagina and therefore bleed easier. Bleeding can start as early two weeks after conception.
More Common in Pregnancy
The ectropion is more common in pregnancy because of higher estrogen production starting in the first week after conception. Cervical inflammation or intercourse can increase the chance of bleeding and brown discharge from this type of cervix.
Infection and Inflammation
A sexually transmitted infection (STI), of the cervix, such as by chlamydia or gonorrhea, can cause a brown vaginal discharge due to bleeding. The infected cervix bleeds more easily in pregnancy and could be the reason for any brown or bloody discharge you see. If the infection gets into the uterus, this could also be a source of bleeding.
Cervical or Vaginal Inflammation
An underlying cervical inflammation, or vaginal infection that inflames the vagina or cervix, can cause brown spotting, especially after intercourse. In addition, brown discharge could also be from the effect of infectious organisms on the color of your cervical or vaginal mucus.
Cancer of the Cervix
A previously undiagnosed cancer of the cervix could start bleeding in early pregnancy. You cannot tell if your brown discharge is due to cervical cancer or one of the above conditions without a medical evaluation. This might include a Pap smear, a colposcopy, and a cervical biopsy to make the diagnosis.
Although cervical cancer is not common in pregnancy, it is the most frequently diagnosed cancer during pregnancy. It is important to make an early diagnosis and decide on options for treatment and your pregnancy.
When to Seek Help
If you are pregnant, or suspect you might be, and you notice brown discharge or other signs of vaginal bleeding, consult your doctor. This is more important if:
- You are more than five to six weeks from your last normal period.
- The brown or bloody discharge persists for more than two days.
- You start to have moderate or heavy bleeding.
- You have abdominal or pelvic pain with the discharge or blood, signaling an ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.
- You have a fever, which could indicate a cervical or vaginal infection.
If you are unsure you are pregnant and have a brown discharge, go see your doctor for a pregnancy test or start with doing one at home.
A brown discharge in early pregnancy can be an indication of either a benign or a worrisome condition. Don't hesitate to go for an evaluation to ease your mind or make an early diagnosis of a pregnancy complication.