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When Spotting Is Normal

Q. I was alarmed when I had light bleeding in my first trimester, but my doctor told me that I shouldn't worry because it's fairly common. Is this true?

A.

While bleeding in early pregnancy can spook expectant moms, it often isn't cause for concern. In fact, new research presented at the Society of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, which looked at more than 16,000 women, suggests that the risk for complications is less than five percent, says Joshua Weiss, M.D., a clinical fellow of maternal-fetal medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, and lead author of the study.

Spotting occurs in about 30 percent of women in their first trimesters. "I get calls from women about this all the time," says Isabel Blumberg, M.D., an ob/gyn in private practice in New York City. Bleeding that occurs early on in pregnancy is usually lighter in flow than a menstrual period, and the color varies from red to brown. One common cause, says Dr. Blumberg, is implantation—when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining—which can trigger a few days of bleeding, often before a woman knows that she's pregnant. Another is a cervical polyp, a harmless growth on the cervix which is more likely to bleed during pregnancy due to higher estrogen levels. And because there are an increased number of blood vessels in the tissue around the cervix during pregnancy, contact with this area (through sexual intercourse or a gynecological exam, for example), can result in bleeding.

Call your obstetrician if you notice any spotting to make sure that the bleeding isn't a result of complications, such as an ectopic pregnancy. Your doctor will likely confirm that you're pregnant, check for polyps, and make sure the cervix is closed.

While spotting during the first trimester usually doesn't indicate a problem, you'll want to contact your doctor immediately if bleeding occurs later in pregnancy, as it may be a sign of a more serious condition.

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