Many women find bleeding of any sort during pregnancy confusing and frightening. It's common to interpret vaginal bleeding as a sign that something is wrong, or as a threatened miscarriage. There are actually many reasons that women may experience a bit of brown bleeding early in pregnancy, some of which are quite normal.
It can be hard to tell bleeding--particularly if the bleeding is very light--from other types of vaginal discharge early in pregnancy. Brownish discharge that occurs in small amounts is likely bleeding, explain Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel in their book, "What To Expect When You're Expecting." Other normal discharge colors during pregnancy include white and yellow, either of which might look brown or tan when dry, particularly in small amounts.
Determining whether brown bleeding early in pregnancy is of concern depends strongly upon when the bleeding occurs. For instance, it's quite normal to have brownish bleeding or spotting that lasts for several days around 10 to 14 days after conception, note Murkoff and Mazel. This is because the fertilized egg, when it implants in the uterine lining, causes small amounts of bleeding. The volume of blood is insignificant enough that it oxidizes, or turns brown, on its way out of the vagina.
Another factor that affects the significance of brown bleeding is the source of the blood. With the exception of implantation bleeding, blood from inside the uterus is more concerning during pregnancy than blood from more exterior features, such as the cervix. In his book, "What You Didn't Think To Ask Your Obstetrician," Dr. Raymond Poliakin notes that the cervix may become quite vascular and bleed more easily than usual during pregnancy. Small amounts of blood from the cervix are of little concern.
While a pregnant woman's first inclination, upon noting bleeding in early pregnancy, might be to call her physician, there are some circumstances under which it isn't likely necessary. Dr. Miriam Stoppard, in "Conception, Pregnancy and Birth," suggests that small amounts of bleeding shortly after sexual intercourse or a physical exam at the obstetrician's office are likely cervical in origin, and aren't of concern. Bleeding at other times, or without cervical provocation, should be reported to a physician.
Experts note that the warning signs of impending miscarriage include red bleeding, cramping and significant quantities of blood. If brownish bleeding continues for quite some time, turns color, increases in amount or is accompanied by pain or discomfort, Dr. Poliakin suggests that it's a good idea to contact a physician immediately, as this could be a sign of miscarriage. While it can be impossible to stop a miscarriage that has started, it's still important to receive medical treatment.