Many women bleed during the early weeks of pregnancy, and it is not uncommon for the unsuspecting pregnant woman to mistake this bleeding for a menstrual period. While most bleeding is normal, sometimes it can be a sign of a possible complication, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Understanding when bleeding is a cause for concern and when it is a normal part of pregnancy can help a woman decide when additional medical intervention is necessary.
Do's and Don'ts
The American Pregnancy Association advises women to take two precautions when bleeding during pregnancy. When bleeding, it is important to wear a pad or panty liner in order to monitor the amount of blood loss. Medical professionals can glean a lot by inspecting the blood on the pad and are often able to make professional decisions based on it. Pregnant women who are bleeding should never use a tampon to stem the flow or even engage in sexual intercourse, as introducing anything foreign into the vaginal area can exacerbate the problem.
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that 20 to 30 percent of women bleed during the first half of pregnancy. Implantation bleeding can occur when the fertilized egg implants in the uterus and can resemble a light period. This can occur approximately six to 12 days after possible conception. Cervical tenderness, particularly after intercourse, can also lead to vaginal bleeding, as can a pelvic cavity or urinary tract infection. During the second trimester, women can bleed from an inflamed cervix or from growths on the cervix. Neither is usually cause for concern.
The American Pregnancy Association estimates that almost half of all pregnant women who bleed do not have miscarriages, so vaginal bleeding does not mean that a miscarriage is imminent. In addition to heavy vaginal bleeding, common signs of miscarriage include heavy lower abdominal cramps and bleeding that contains vaginal tissue.
Bleeding during the second and third trimesters is always taken seriously and treated as a possible complication. According to BabyCenter.com, late bleeding may pose a threat to the health of either the mother or the baby, and may be caused by a placental abruption, labor or preterm labor. Placental abruption affects only 1 percent of all pregnant women, but occurs when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall before or during labor. Causing painless bleeding, placental abruption usually occurs during the last 12 weeks of pregnancy.
When vaginal bleeding occurs toward the end of pregnancy, it may be because the mucus plug, made up of blood and mucus, passes. It is usually a sign that labor is imminent. If this occurs earlier in the second or third trimester, preterm labor may have begun, which requires immediate medical intervention.
During the first trimester, bleeding that resembles a normal period is usually not cause for concern, according to Dr. Marjorie Greenfield in her article "Is It Normal? The First Trimester Weeks 0-13." A doctor should be notified if bleeding becomes heavier and if it is accompanied by pain or cramps. During the second and third trimesters, a doctor should be notified of any type of bleeding. If the bleeding is heavy and accompanied by cramps, abdominal pain or vaginal leaking, this is cause for concern and requires immediate medical attention.