By Lynette Botha
It’s a natural reaction to assume the worst when you face worrying situations like bleeding during pregnancy. While this can be dangerous, there are instances where the bleeding’s merely your body’s natural response to pregnancy.
It’s estimated that one in four women experience some form of non-fatal bleeding during pregnancy. “It’s not only the type or amount of bleeding, but when the bleeding occurs that needs to be taken into account,” says gynaecologist, Dr Haynes van der Merwe. “Causes for bleeding in early pregnancy are very different to those in late pregnancy,” he stresses.
Possible causes of light bleeding and spotting
- When the embryo is implanted into the uterine wall, it sometimes causes light spotting. This is often around the time you would usually expect your period. Some women assume it’s their period and don’t realise they’re pregnant.
- Changes in the cervix can also cause light bleeding in early pregnancy. This is due to the increased amount of blood flow in the area. Having sex or internal examination can cause bleeding afterwards.
- A cervical or vaginal infection like bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can also cause bleeding.
Possible causes of heavy bleeding
- In some instances, there may be a clot in the placenta that causes bleeding. This often heals by itself.
- Placenta praevia (an obstruction complication where the placenta in inserted partially or wholly in the lower uterine segment) or an incompetent cervix can also cause heavier bleeding.
- Bleeding late in your pregnancy is sometimes an indication that your body’s preparing to give birth.
- Some women bleed throughout their pregnancy for unknown reasons. Yet the baby’s still fine and unaffected.
Most common causes for bleeding
According to Prof Robert Pattinson, director of the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the University of Pretoria’s Maternity and Infant Strategies Research Unit, some of the most common causes of bleeding include:
When to call the doctor
“Any bleeding while pregnant (whether light or heavy) should be considered serious and professional advice should be sought,” advises Prof Pattinson.
If heavy, persistent bleeding is followed by strong stomach cramps, this is cause for concern. It could be an ectopic pregnancy (where the embryo’s implanted on the outside of the uterus), you could be having a miscarriage or – in very rare cases – a molar pregnancy (where a benign tumour or mass forms in the place of a foetus).