Almost all women experience spotting between periods at least once during their lives. One study found that in a given year, the average woman’s period varies in length by 9 days, which can make it really difficult to determine whether bleeding is your period, spotting, or something else. If you’re concerned about becoming pregnant, though, knowing the early warning signs is key. So could spotting mean you’re pregnant? Here’s what you need to know.
What Causes Spotting?
Spotting has many causes. Sometimes it’s withdrawal bleeding, which happens when estrogen levels drop. This can occur if you have PCOS, with some thyroid disorders, during times of stress, when you’re taking birth control, and sometimes for no reason at all.
Sometimes spotting is a sign of endometriosis. If you have a lot of pelvic pain and pass frequent clots, or if you have trouble getting pregnant, your spotting could be an important clue.
If spotting happens just once, it’s probably nothing to worry about. But if you continuously bleed between periods, the bleeding is heavy, or your spotting is so unpredictable that you can’t track your cycles, it’s time to see a doctor or midwife.
When is Spotting a Sign of Pregnancy?
Spotting is common during pregnancy. In fact, as many as a quarter of pregnant people experience spotting early in pregnancy. And contrary to popular belief, spotting does not mean you’re about to have a miscarriage.
So what does cause spotting? Some of the most common causes include:
- Implantation: This is when the egg embeds itself in the lining of the uterus. It usually lasts for a day or so, and happens before a positive pregnancy test. If you’ve already tested positive, it’s not implantation spotting. But if you haven’t had a positive test, you recently missed a period, and you had just a day or two of spotting, consider taking a test.
- Subchorionic hemorrhage: A subchorionic hemorrhage is a harmless bleed early in pregnancy. It can cause bleeding that ranges from mild to heavy. However, you can’t distinguish it from a miscarriage on your own. So any bleeding that lasts longer than a day or that is heavy warrants a trip to the doctor.
- Hormonal bleeding: Hormonal swings early in pregnancy sometimes trigger spotting, especially if you’re on the pill. An IUD can also cause bleeding. If you think you might be pregnant, you need to get your IUD removed and see a medical provider as soon as possible.
- Miscarriage: Spotting in pregnancy that gets heavier, or that happens along with a decrease in pregnancy symptoms, may be a miscarriage. If you notice clots, or spot for longer than a day, call a health provider. Even if you don’t want to be pregnant, it’s important to treat a miscarriage to ensure you miscarry the entire pregnancy and do not get an infection.
Is a Home Pregnancy Test Reliable?
Home pregnancy tests work by measuring for the presence of the pregnancy hormone HCG. HCG rises early in pregnancy, but in the first days that you’re pregnant, it may not be high enough for a home pregnancy test to detect. This means that, early after your first missed period, false negatives are exponentially more common than false positives.
The best way to know if you’re pregnant is to test. But if your first test is negative, it makes sense to test again a few days later if you’re not sure when you ovulated, recently had unprotected sex, or have other reasons to believe you might be pregnant. If you’re still unsure, or you have pregnancy symptoms and spotting, see a doctor or midwife.
Early prenatal care can reduce the risk of pregnancy complications. And if you’re not sure whether you want to be pregnant, you have more options early in pregnancy, including the abortion pill.