Every week I receive very similar emails from different women all over the world. They all ask the same question about pinkish-brown discharge during the first trimester. Very often, they notice the discharge the day after they've had sex. Each one of these emails is tinged with worry about what that discharge means and fear that it might mean miscarriage. The last few emails came from women in England, Alabama, San Francisco and Saudi Arabia, which just lets you know how universal this question is.
Each one of these letters represents a woman who has already become deeply attached to her baby, even though she's only just weeks into her pregnancy. The fear of losing that attachment is so strong and yet, so out of her control, that there's not much she can do but worry, pray, hope and ask for reassurance.
Providing reassurance is what I do best so let me say it right off the top here: The chances are very, very good, that you and your pregnancy are just fine. Spotting, staining, and discharge are extremely common during the first trimester and most of the time (sorry, I can't say all of the time) they don't indicate a miscarriage. Instead, it indicates a cervix that's loaded with tiny blood vessels and filled with extra blood supply and hormones that make it super-sensitive to irritation, like the kind that happens with sexual activity.
The reason why this discharge shows up the next day is because most likely, there was a little bleeding that occurred as a result of the cervix being bumped during sex. That little bit of blood gets mixed with normal cervical mucous and vaginal discharge that comes out the vagina when the woman gets up to pee the next day. It might be pink or it might be the brown color of old blood. It doesn't take much blood to make your discharge change color.
Spotting in very early pregnancy might also indicate implantation bleeding when the fertilized egg burrows into the uterine lining that will be its' home until its' birthday. This usually happens before there's even a heartbeat and often, before a woman even knows she's pregnant. In fact, it's sometimes mistaken for a light period
What should you do when you notice a weird discharge? First, take a deep breath. Second, give your doctor or midwife a call. There's not a lot they can do to prevent early miscarriage, but they can schedule an appointment and listen for your baby's heartbeat (if you're eight weeks or further in your pregnancy).
If the only symptom you have is a funky-colored discharge, you're probably not miscarrying and hearing that heartbeat might be all you need – some audible reassurance that your baby is well. Your healthcare providers can also provide emotional support until you feel settled. That's important. Most likely, you've never lived with this very specific type of worry before and there's no reason why you have to tough it out alone.
Emotional support and reassurance are possibly the most important parts of your healthcare provider's job. That's because there are a lot more ways to be normal, than there are ways to be abnormal, even if some of the normal ways (like pinkish-brown discharge) are kind of unsettling.
What are clear signs of miscarriage? Sometimes the signs are subtle, but bright red bleeding, similar to a period, cramping and abdominal pain are hallmark symptoms. Cramping and low abdominal aches and pains by themselves are very common at various stages of pregnancy, and most of the time they don't indicate miscarriage.
Miscarriage happens in about 20% of all pregnancies, usually in the first trimester and often before a woman knows she's pregnant. But here's the reassuring part again...80% of all pregnancies don't end in miscarriage. Instead, they go on to deliver lovely babies. Chances are good, readers, even if you have a pinkish-brown discharge, you're in the majority and just fine.
Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children.