An Explanation of Bleeding & Spotting During Pregnancy

Updated on April 20, 2016
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Susannah Birch is a certified birth doula, journalist, and owner of Trimester Talk, a leading pregnancy website.

Pregnancy is accompanied by many new feelings, pains and changes, not the least of which includes a lot of strange things happening down below.

It can be scary to have bleeding or strange discharge during pregnancy, but most of the time this is completely normal. As long as you're informed on what to expect, and know when to see a medical professional, you won't have any problems.

Below you'll find an explanation of some of the most common causes of pregnancy bleeding and discharge including ones that you may experience close to going into labor.

At the bottom of the page you'll find some information about bleeding and discharge that is not normal.

Egg Implantation Bleeding

Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilised egg implants into the uterine wall after making the journey down from the ovaries. The bleeding can range from just a few spots of blood through to a heavier bloody discharge - although it's generally quite a bit lighter than a normal menstrual period.

This type of bleeding occurs generally between 7-10 days after the date of conception. However some women never experience it at all or in some cases mistake it for a light period.

Placenta Implantation Bleeding

When the placenta grows and then implants into the uterine wall, loss of brown blood or spotting is not uncommon. Unlike egg implantation, placental implantation generally occurs after 6 weeks gestation and can occur anywhere up to 14 weeks.


Spotting is quite common in early pregnancy and is used to describe any type of very light bleeding that there doesn't appear to be a specific reason for. Sometimes spotting may occur following sex or over exertion or it may happen without any obvious reason.

Some pregnant women experience normal periods throughout their pregnancy, while others experience light bleeding for the first few months (when their periods were due) as their body adjusts to pregnancy.

Although spotting can just be your body's normal adjustment to pregnancy and increasing blood flow in your body, you should always talk to a medical professional if it continues for more than a few hours or turns into heavy bleeding.

White/Cream Discharge

During pregnancy, normal discharge increases and some women find it easier to wear a panty liner to accommodate it. Normal discharge can range from clear through to white or cream and at some times during your pregnancy can occur in quite large amounts.

Difference Between Bloody Show and the Mucous Plug

Although they can occur at the same time or close together, losing the mucous plug and experiencing a bloody show are different things.

The bloody show is caused by the expanding cervical blood vessels, while the mucous plug is what seals the inside of the cervix.

Bloody Show

The bloody show occurs as the blood vessels in your cervix dilate and open up. A bloody show is the name given to a small amount of blood lost near the end of pregnancy (generally after 37 weeks). When you visit the toilet and wipe, you may find a small amount of blood on the paper, and this is a bloody show.This is a normal occurrence as your body prepares itself to give birth.

The show is sometimes brown but it's also not unusual for it to be red. You only need to worry if it's a large amount of blood or flow similar to a period - if so, you should go to a hospital immediately.

Although this is quite a common symptom that labor has started or is about to start, it is not a definite sign that baby is ready to arrive, although it does indicate your body is preparing itself. You may want to alert your midwife to the fact you've experienced the bloody show however, as it can mean labor may be imminent and in some cases you'll be checked at the hospital.

Mucous Plug

The mucous plug is a jelly like mass of yellow cervical mucous and small amounts of blood that block the cervix to protect the baby from bacteria or other outside entities before labor begins. You may lose it in small pieces or in one large chunk. Some women do not lose the plug until they are in labor.

If you lose your plug, you may want to let your medical carer know, but you don't need to rush into hospital or assume labor is beginning unless it's accompanied by other symptoms such as bleeding, contractions or severe pain.

Although losing the mucous plug is quite common in the weeks leading up to birth, it is not a definite sign that baby is ready to arrive. If you lose your mucous plug too early, it can actually regrow itself.

Abnormal Discharge and Bleeding

If you experience any of the following, it's important to see a medical professional as soon as possible:

  • Yellow/Green Discharge - This may indicate a urinary tract infection or thrush.
  • Pain or Itching Down Below or When Urinating - Another indication of a urinary tract infection or thrush.
  • Bright Red Blood - Bright red blood is usually fresh and can indicate a haemorrhage, miscarriage or other problem.
  • Clots or Heavy Blood Flow - This may indicate a miscarriage, problem with the placenta or some other issue.
  • Continual Bleeding - If you experience bleeding that continues for more than a few hours or spotting that occurs for more than a day.

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    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 2 years ago from New Zealand

      Wish I had articles like this to read fifty years ago. I nearly lost my life because I had an ectopic pregnancy which ruptured, I had an operation sixteen hours after.

      I never even knew I was pregnant, even though I have been to a doctor because of all the bleeding, he just gave me pills to stop the bleeding.

      Thanks, I'm sure this will be very helpful to many women.

    • Attach profile image

      5 years ago

      This was a great idea for an article! I think so many women are confused by these terms (especially mucous plug and bloody show) I wish I would have read this when I was researching all these terms years ago!