Brown Discharge During Pregnancy: Everything You Need To Know

Published July 8th, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Dr. Angel Rivera

Many pregnant people assume that once pregnancy begins, they won’t experience any further vaginal discharge until their baby arrives. Vaginal discharge, however, occurs from conception and can continue until birth. 

Hormonal shifts, cervical irritation, and regular vaginal function can all be common causes of brown discharge during your pregnancy.

We’ll cover what’s normal, what’s causing it, and when you should see a doctor. 

What Causes Brown Discharge During Early Pregnancy?

There are several reasons you might experience brown spotting during the first part of your pregnancy. 

Normal Vaginal Function

Vaginal bleeding and light spotting can be incredibly common during your first trimester.

Part of normal vaginal function is clearing old blood, tissue, and bacteria from the uterus, cervix, and vagina in the form of discharge. 

During the early stages of pregnancy, you may experience reddish to brownish discharge due to this normal functioning.

If blood from your last period remains in your vagina, it can oxidize, turning it brown and resulting in brown discharge. 

Implantation Bleeding

When the fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining, you can experience mild bleeding and spotting.

You may also experience light cramping with implantation bleeding, but this light bleeding usually only lasts one to two days. 

Some pregnant people will experience implantation, but not all. If you do not, it does not mean your pregnancy is non-viable. 

Cervical Irritation

The cervix becomes more sensitive when you are pregnant due to changes in hormone levels.

The increased blood flow to this area can also increase the amount of discharge you experience, potentially making sexual intercourse slightly uncomfortable and causing bleeding during pregnancy. It can also lead to bleeding or spotting during a pelvic examination. 

Because there won’t be a lot of bleeding associated with cervical irritation, the blood can oxidize in the vagina and appear as a brown discharge. 

Non-Viable Pregnancy

Ectopic pregnancies and molar pregnancies produce discharge and bleeding in the first trimester.

Typically, this discharge will begin as brown but turn bright red. You may also experience:

  • Extreme pain and cramping
  • Increased discharge
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting

The only way to determine if you have a non-viable pregnancy is for your doctor to perform an ultrasound.

If you have these symptoms, contact your doctor and seek medical attention immediately.

pregnant woman being examined by a doctor about brown discharge

What Causes Brown Discharge During the Second Trimester?

In addition to the standard discharge during pregnancy, which is typically thin, clear, or white, you can experience changes in the color, texture, and odor of your discharge. 

Placenta Previa

Placenta previa is a condition that occurs when the placenta covers a portion of the cervix.

The placenta is an organ that your body grows to help support your growing baby.

The placenta supplies the baby with oxygen and food through the umbilical cord. It also helps remove waste.  

The placenta typically attaches to the upper portion of the uterus or on the side, but when it attaches to the bottom, it can cause bleeding.

If it only causes slight bleeding, the blood will oxidize and turn brown before leaving the vagina. 

If you have placenta previa, you can experience spotting before 20 weeks. After 20 weeks, the bleeding can turn bright red. 

Placenta previa is a condition that your doctor will need to diagnose and help you determine how to maintain a healthy pregnancy with this condition. 

What Causes Brown Discharge During the Third Trimester?

As your pregnancy continues, there will be continued changes in your vaginal discharge due to hormonal changes and normal vaginal function.

During late pregnancy, heavier discharge can be a sign of labor. 

Preterm Labor

Bleeding associated with labor before 37 weeks of gestation is called preterm labor. Seek medical attention f you experience brown discharge along with:

  • Pelvic discomfort and pressure
  • Abdominal cramps 
  • Lower back pain
  • Water breaking
  • Contractions 

Labor

If you pass the 37-week mark and experience heavier brown discharge, you could be experiencing a bloody show. 

A bloody show occurs just before your water breaks, or even a few days before. You will experience brown, pink, or red discharge, followed closely by your water breaking and the beginning of labor.

It can seem similar to the start of a menstrual cycle. 

Water breaking usually involves a rush of fluid from the vagina, including blood. Usually, this is preceded by labor pains, but your water can break before labor pains begin. 

If you begin to experience discharge like this during your third trimester, contact your doctor so that they can monitor your progress and ensure you get the care you need when you do go into labor. 

Brown Discharge During Pregnancy: Other Possible Causes

If you experience brown vaginal discharge unrelated to the above causes during your pregnancy, two other possibilities could be causing it. 

Pregnancy Loss

Brown discharge can signify miscarriage, but typically, many more symptoms accompany it. If you are experiencing a miscarriage, symptoms can include: 

  • Severe cramping
  • Discharge that turns from brown to red and becomes very heavy
  • Fever 
  • Clots 
  • White/pink mucus discharge

If you think you are experiencing a miscarriage, contact your doctor immediately. 

Cervical Polyps

Polyps on the cervix can be common during pregnancy.

These polyps are benign and develop due to the increase in the hormone estrogen.

Sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam can cause these polyps to become irritated, which can cause bleeding that results in brown discharge. 

These polyps don’t typically interfere with your pregnancy, and it isn’t recommended to remove them before giving birth due to an increased risk of preterm labor.

After your baby arrives, your doctor will review your options for removal or treatment. 

When Should I See a Doctor About Brown Discharge During Pregnancy?

Although discharge is an expected part of pregnancy, contact your doctor immediately if you have brown discharge along with:

  • Severe headache
  • Fever
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Backache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Changes in appetite
  • Color change from dark brown discharge to bright red
  • Increase in the amount of discharge

These uncommon pregnancy symptoms could indicate a more significant issue that requires medical attention.

If you are concerned about any discharge during your pregnancy. It’s worth investigating to get reassurance and peace of mind. 

Having a Healthy Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a time of change, both physically and mentally. Your body will undergo changes on a seemingly daily basis, and changes in vaginal discharge are common and expected.

Some pregnant people will not experience brown discharge during their pregnancy at all. 

Contact your healthcare provider f you notice a significant change in your discharge, like:

  • Increase in volume
  • Dramatic change in color
  • Foul odor

For more information on how to have a healthy pregnancy and answers to commonly asked questions, check out our blog

References, Studies and Sources:

Examining to what extent pregnancy-related physical symptoms worry women in the first trimester of pregnancy | PMC 

Placenta previa - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic 

Bleeding and spotting from the vagina during pregnancy | March of Dimes.org 

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