Intro

The short answer is no. Despite all of the claims out there, it isn’t possible to have a period while you’re pregnant.

Rather, you might experience “spotting” during early pregnancy, which is usually light pink or dark brown in color.

As a rule of thumb, if there’s enough bleeding to fill a pad or tampon, then it’s a sign you’re probably not pregnant. If you’ve had a positive pregnancy test and are bleeding heavily, seek medical care.

Period vs. pregnancy

Your period occurs every month or so in lieu of an egg becoming fertilized. Eggs are released once a month from the ovary. When they aren’t fertilized, the egg travels out of the uterus and sheds through the vagina.

Bleeding during a “normal” period often starts off light, then gets heavier and darker red. It also lightens in color and quantity toward the end of the cycle.

The differences between menstruation and being pregnant are supposed to be clear-cut: Once you’re pregnant, you don’t get periods anymore. But it isn’t always so obvious.

Some people claim they’ve gotten periods while pregnant. Fueling some of the inquiries in the “periods while pregnant” conspiracy are social media, blogs, and even television shows like “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.”

Bleeding is a warning sign, but it doesn’t have to be something bad. Many people go on to have healthy babies after experiencing spotting during their first trimester. If you do bleed during pregnancy, it’s related to something else other than regular menstruation.

After all, periods only happen when you’re not pregnant. Learn about the different types of bleeding during pregnancy and when you need to call your OB-GYN.

Causes of bleeding during the first trimester

Between 15 and 25 percent of people spot during early pregnancy. Some of the causes are:

Implantation bleeding

This happens in the earliest stages of pregnancy. At this point, you likely haven’t gotten a pregnancy test yet. This type of bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg implants into the uterus, usually around the time your period would be expected.

Implantation bleeding is sometimes mistaken as a period, though the bleeding is usually light or just spotting.

Shortly after pregnancy, you might also experience spotting from cervical changes. Unless there’s an infection, this isn’t often cause for concern.

Other causes

Other types of early bleeding that can indicate an emergency medical issue include:

  • infections
  • ectopic pregnancy
  • molar pregnancy
  • miscarriage

These can also be accompanied by:

  • severe cramps or abdominal pain
  • back pain
  • faintness or losing consciousness
  • fatigue
  • shoulder pain
  • fever
  • vaginal discharge changes
  • uncontrollable nausea and vomiting

The bleeding is also much heavier, unlike spotting. It’s more like a normal period.

Causes of bleeding during second and third trimesters

Bleeding beyond the first trimester often requires medical attention. Regardless of whether bleeding during the second and third trimester is light or heavy, with or without any other symptoms, you need to call your doctor for an emergency visit.

Common causes of bleeding during the rest of pregnancy include:

Preterm labor

This refers to any birth that happens before 37 weeks. Before preterm labor, some people experience symptoms similar to a period as well as a large amount of mucus discharge.

While cramping may also be felt, preterm labor also causes contractions. Symptoms of preterm labor might also include:

  • backache
  • a sensation of pressure in the vagina
  • changes in discharge

Placenta previa

This happens when the placenta is implanted low in the uterus and very close to, or covers, the cervix. The bleeding varies, but there are no other symptoms. Placenta previa can hinder labor and delivery.

Placental abruption

This occurs most commonly during the last few months of pregnancy. The placenta detaches from the uterus, usually causing heavy bleeding and possibly severe stomach pain and cramping. Certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, can increase the risk of placental abruption.

Uterine rupture

A uterine rupture means that the muscle of the uterus separates or tears. This can cause uncontrolled bleeding. It occurs most commonly in those who have delivered via cesarean delivery in the past. Though rare, this type of tear happens on old scar lines along the uterus.

Many of the conditions that happen in the latter part of pregnancy cause bleeding and other symptoms similar to a period. These aren’t really menstruation, though.

Bottom line

It’s not possible to get your period while pregnant. You may, however, experience similar symptoms of a period during the first trimester. These include:

  • vaginal bleeding (light and short term)
  • light cramping
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • lower back pain

The difference is that these symptoms are related to your body’s natural preparation methods for pregnancy. If any of the above symptoms are severe or don’t go away, you’re in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, or both apply, seek immediate care.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether bleeding is indicative of a medical emergency or not. As a rule of thumb, if you’re bleeding at any stage of pregnancy, call your doctor right away.

Q:

What’s the earliest you can test and get a positive pregnancy result?

Anonymous patient

A:

Home pregnancy tests measure a level of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) in the urine. Urine usually has less measurable hormones than blood, so urine tests may not be as accurate early in the pregnancy. Several factors can affect the accuracy of the home urine pregnancy test: the type of test or brand, error in interpreting the results, female cycle length, and interference from another diagnosis or treatment are a few examples. The best time to take a home pregnancy test is at the time of a missed menstrual cycle. However, even on the first day after a missed period, more than a third of pregnant women will have a negative home pregnancy test result. Some women report having positive results before the date of their expected menstrual cycle, though this isn’t common.

Kimberly Dishman, MSN, WHNP-BC, RNC-OBAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.