What Does Spotting Look Like in Early Pregnancy?

Published May 23rd, 2022 by Bridget Reed
Fact Checked by
Camille Freking
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

There are many different symptoms of pregnancy, and spotting is one of them.

It’s normal to see a little bit of blood in the early weeks of pregnancy.

In fact, about one-fifth of pregnant women experience this and go on to deliver perfectly healthy babies. 

Most often, light bleeding during pregnancy is the result of implantation bleeding — which occurs right after a fertilized egg implants itself into your uterus.

In this guide from USA Rx, we explain what spotting looks like in early pregnancy, what causes it, and signs you should see a healthcare provider.

What Does Spotting Look Like in Early Pregnancy?

Spotting is different from the bleeding you experience during the menstrual period. Just like it sounds, it’s only a “spot” of blood, which can be red, pink, or brown in color.

In some cases, spotting may be a little heavier than just a few drops of blood. In some cases, you may need to wear a panty liner (not a tampon).

That said, the bleeding shouldn’t be so heavy as to cover an entire panty liner. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that up to 20% of pregnant women experience light spotting in early pregnancy without any cause for concern.

Most often, this is the result of implantation bleeding, or even after a cervical or pelvic exam during a regular wellness check. 

What Is Implantation Bleeding?

Implantation bleeding happens when a fertilized egg implants itself into the uterine lining and begins to develop into a fetus.

This generally happens about 6-12 days after conception, when you have unprotected sex during ovulation. 

Implantation bleeding usually coincides with the time of a woman’s period. However, there are a few differences between implantation bleeding and menstrual bleeding. 

First, implantation bleeding only lasts about 24-48 hours, whereas menstrual bleeding can last up to a week.

Second, implantation bleeding is very light, sometimes only producing a few drops of blood. Third, it’s not accompanied by cramping or other PMS symptoms. 

It’s also worth noting that not all women experience implantation bleeding. 

What Are the Symptoms of Implantation Bleeding?

The only symptom of implantation bleeding is spotting or light bleeding, which doesn’t last longer than just a few days in a healthy pregnancy.

However, you might also experience early pregnancy symptoms that coincide with implantation bleeding. These include:

  • Nausea and vomiting (AKA morning sickness)
  • Swollen or tender breasts
  • Back pain
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings 

You may experience some other symptoms, which can be a sign of something more serious. 

Some symptoms to look out for include:

  • Significant cramping
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Fever

If you experience any of the above, you may potentially be experiencing a health complication. See your doctor as soon as possible to get to the root cause of it. 

Can Spotting in Early Pregnancy Be Serious?

While spotting in early pregnancy is often normal, some cases of spotting can indicate a more serious medical condition. 

Here are some potentially serious causes of spotting to be on the lookout for: 

1. Miscarriage

Some observational studies show that miscarriages are common, with as many as 25% of all pregnancies ending in a miscarriage.

Because many women confuse the bleeding that comes with a miscarriage for their period, miscarriages may be underreported, making their actual incidence even greater. 

In most cases, the biggest sign of miscarriage is heavy bleeding with blood clots. However, if a miscarriage occurs very early in the pregnancy, then it can lead only to spotting or light bleeding. 

This early pregnancy loss is often accompanied by other symptoms such as abdominal cramping, back pain, and white-pink discharge.

In addition, pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness and breast tenderness should begin to quickly subside around the same time. 

The pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) will return to baseline levels after pregnancy loss, as hormonal changes in general revert to normal. 

Most miscarriages happen early in the pregnancy. The vast majority occur in the first 13 weeks. After 15 weeks, miscarriages are very uncommon, though they can still occur.

If you’re having spotting in your second or third trimester, you should seek emergency care. 

2. Ectopic Pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is one of many potential pregnancy complications that affect about 1% of all pregnancies.

It happens when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the fallopian tubes or another reproductive organ that’s not the uterus. An hCG blood test during early pregnancy can help rule out an ectopic pregnancy.

A fetus cannot grow and develop if it’s not inside the womb. For this reason, many ectopic pregnancies end on their own.

When this happens, spotting or light bleeding can occur, lasting for several days. This can also be accompanied by pain in the abdomen or pelvis. 

In some serious cases, an ectopic pregnancy can continue in the fallopian tubes, which can be life-threatening to the mother.

To treat it, an obstetrician may prescribe a type of medication that attacks the cells forming into the fetus. In some cases, surgery may be required. 

3. Infection 

A sexually transmitted disease (STD) such as chlamydia can cause inflammation in the genital organs.

Although rare, this can lead to spotting, in addition to other symptoms, like pain during sex, unusual discharge, and discomfort in the pelvic area. 

During pregnancy, the vagina or the cervix can also get infected. While this should not lead to spotting on its own, you may experience some bleeding if you have penetrative sex.  

Infections during pregnancy are very serious. Some infections, like STDs, can infect the baby while it’s being delivered.

For this reason, it’s important to get diagnosed and treated if you notice any early signs of a potential infection, like unusual vaginal discharge. 

In Summary

Spotting in early pregnancy usually involves a small amount of blood that’s red, pink, or brown in color. Unlike menstruation, it shouldn’t last more than a few days.

Most often, spotting occurs due to implantation bleeding, which is a normal part of your baby’s development. 

However, in some cases, spotting can indicate a more serious medical condition and could warrant a trip to the emergency room.

If you experience symptoms such as cramping, dizziness, or weakness, it’s better to be safe than sorry — schedule an appointment with your obstetrics and gynecology provider to get the peace of mind you need during your pregnancy. 

References and Sources: 

Association Between First-Trimester Vaginal Bleeding and Miscarriage | PMC

Miscarriage | NCBI Bookshelf

Ectopic Pregnancy | NCBI Bookshelf