Many women can experience episodes of bleeding, brown discharge and/or spotting during pregnancy. Bleeding is especially common during first trimester of pregnancy and about 20%-30% of pregnant women could experience vaginal or uterine bleeding during this time. Although fewer women bleed during the second and third trimesters, spotting is still possible and not all that uncommon. However, though this bleeding may resemble menstruation, it actually is something different altogether.
One of the most common causes of “period-like” bleeding during pregnancy is called “decidual bleeding”. Sometimes during pregnancy women hormones can get out of whack, causing you to lose parts of the lining of your uterus. This is especially common in the early stages of pregnancy, before the lining has completely attached to the placenta. While it can be troublesome to think about shedding part if uterine lining, decidual bleeding is generally not thought to be a health threat to you or your baby.
Period vs Decidual Bleeding
Woman with decidual bleeding
What is period/menstruation? – it is caused by your menstrual cycle. In healthy women during menstrual cycle female body releases hormones which send signals to all reproductive organs – signals to follow biological menstrual rhythm to perform certain body biological actions. From the beginning of the menstrual cycle hormones are increasing and causing ovaries to release an egg that travels from ovary through fallopian tubes. Meanwhile, a protective layer of blood and tissue thickens along the walls of the uterus. If the egg is not fertilized, hormone levels will drop, signaling body that it is time to shed the lining that built up in uterus. This is what causes menstruation (so called “period”).
During pregnancy all female body hormones and organs (especially reproductive organs) are completely focused on providing support for baby. The brain sends signals to ovaries to stop the menstrual cycle in order to insure proper environment for baby grow. As a result, instead of dropping, female hormones continue to rise for the next nine months. This helps the uterus prepare for the growth and nourishment of the baby.
If your body continued to have regular menstrual periods while you were pregnant, it would be shedding the uterine lining that helps nourish the baby every month. Biologically speaking, this wouldn’t make much sense. Therefore, the spotting or bleeding during pregnancy many women experience is caused by something other than normal periods.
Sometimes pregnant women could experience so called “decidual bleeding. Decidual bleeding is the name for bleeding during pregnancy that may occur around the time that a pregnant woman would otherwise expect her menstrual period. The phenomenon is fairly rare and usually does not last longer than the first few months of pregnancy. This bleeding can be similar to a menstrual period and can occasionally prevent women from realizing that they are pregnant until other signs develop.
Decidual bleeding usually happens when the usual rise and fall of hormone levels is somehow disturbed and part of the uterine lining is caused to be shed periodically even when there is a pregnancy subsisting. It is common that this period-like discharge happens in the early part of the pregnancy, before the placenta has been fully established. Decidual bleeding is more common during the early part of pregnancy, however many women do continue to get a period like discharge throughout their pregnancy. This is usually not something that has to be worried about generally.
Although decidual bleeding is usually harmless to either the mother or fetus, most experts recommend that pregnant women inform their doctors about any form or amount of vaginal bleeding as it can be a sign of more serious conditions.
Decidual bleeding is sometimes confused with implantation bleeding, which can be noticed during early periods of pregnancy. Implantation bleeding is characterized as a light spotting that is the result of the egg implanting in the uterus. Like decidual bleeding, implantation bleeding can cause women to believe they are not pregnant and are experiencing a normal menstrual period. Because of this similarity, and the fact that both types of bleeding are considered largely harmless, both implantation and decidual bleeding are often referred to collectively as first-trimester bleeding.
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