Bleeding from the vagina - Warning signs during pregnancy

During pregnancy, it is quite common to have bleeding from the vagina. This symptom does not always mean that there is something wrong.

But occasionally it can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage.

Immediate action required: Contact your GP, midwife or obstetrician immediately if

  • you are bleeding from your vagina

Causes of vaginal bleeding in the first trimester

The causes of bleeding from your vagina during the first trimester (0 to 12 weeks) include:

Implantation bleeding

This is light bleeding (also known as 'spotting'). It happens very early on in your pregnancy (after 6 to 10 days), around the time that your period would have been due. It is caused by the fertilised egg attaching to the inner lining of your womb.

Hormonal changes

The hormones of pregnancy can cause changes to your cervix (the neck of the womb). These changes may mean that you bleed more easily, for example after sex.

Threatened miscarriage

If you have bleeding with or without tummy pain in the first trimester, you will often be referred for an ultrasound scan.

You may be diagnosed with a 'threatened miscarriage' if the pregnancy is developing normally and no other cause is found. Many women who have a threatened miscarriage go on to have a healthy baby. You may be offered a follow-up scan.


Unfortunately sometimes bleeding in pregnancy may mean that you are having a miscarriage. During the first trimester, this is sometimes called 'an early miscarriage'. This means the loss of a pregnancy during the first 12 weeks.

Signs of miscarriage

Ectopic pregnancy

Occasionally bleeding from the vagina can be a sign that you have an ectopic pregnancy. This means that the pregnancy is developing outside the womb.

Ectopic pregnancy symptoms

A molar pregnancy or hydatidiform mole

This is a rare condition where the placenta is not normal and the pregnancy does not develop as it should. Abnormal cells develop in your womb.

A molar pregnancy is usually treated by a simple procedure. This removes the abnormal cells from your womb. You may have appointments afterwards with your obstetrician for blood tests and/or ultrasound scans. These are to make sure all the cells have been removed.

Molar pregnancy

Causes of vaginal bleeding in second and third trimesters

Many women have vaginal bleeding during the second (13 to 26 weeks) and third trimester (26 to 40 weeks).

This does not always mean that there is something wrong. But it can be a sign that there is a problem with your pregnancy. You should always contact your GP, midwife or obstetrician urgently if you experience any bleeding.

Possible causes of bleeding in the second and third trimesters include:

'Late' miscarriage

In the second trimester, bleeding from the vagina can be a sign of a late miscarriage. This is the term used to describe the loss of a pregnancy between 12 and 23 weeks.

Problems with the cervix or neck of the womb

This includes infection or inflammation.

Placenta praevia

This is a condition where the placenta or afterbirth is located lower in the womb than normal. This partially or completely blocks the birth canal.

Placenta praevia can cause bleeding which may be severe at times. If you have placenta praevia you will be advised to have a caesarean birth if the placenta does not move up the womb.

Placental abruption

This is a rare and very serious condition. The afterbirth separates from the inner lining of the womb. It can cause bleeding and severe tummy pain and can be dangerous for you and for your baby.

A 'show'

Bleeding from your vagina can be a sign that you are going into labour, particularly if you also have tightenings or pains in your lower tummy. If you are less than 37 weeks pregnant, this could be a sign of preterm or premature labour.


Other warning signs during pregnancy

There are other warning signs to watch out for during pregnancy. They could mean you're experiencing pregnancy complications or a medical emergency.

They can also be signs of a common ailment during pregnancy.

Warning signs include:

Immediate action required: Contact your midwife, GP or obstetrician immediately if

  • you are worried about any aspect of your pregnancy
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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 8.

Page last reviewed: 26 March 2018
Next review due: 26 March 2021