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Brown Discharge during Pregnancy

Updated on January 28, 2014

Brown discharge during pregnancy is one of the many things that an expecting woman has to put up with. The female body goes through a lot of changes in pregnancy, one of which is the increase in vaginal discharges. Generally, the increase in amount of discharge aids in protecting the body from infections. However, many expecting mothers become alarmed when the discharge turns brown in color. Though a brownish tinge could mean that there is blood involved which could be a bad sign for pregnancy, but this is not always the case. Brownish vaginal discharge could be harmless. But we cannot blame a pregnant woman for worrying; indeed, being cautious is preferred over being careless when one is carrying.

What causes brown discharge during pregnancy?

Brown discharge indicates that there is old blood mixed with the vaginal secretion. Many people fear this because when blood is present, the chance of miscarriage is high. But the truth is this is not always the case. In fact, many cases of brown vaginal discharge during pregnancy are perfectly normal. In the US for instance, between 20% and 30% of pregnant women have bleeding in the early stages of pregnancy and yet only a portion results in miscarriage. Besides, a forthcoming miscarriage has more than brown discharge as an alarming sign.

Brown discharge in the early stages of pregnancy could be due to:

  • Implantation bleeding - Between the seventh and fourteenth day following conception, an odorless, brownish vaginal secretion may be noticed. Some women may misconstrue this as a sign of impending menstruation. But if fertilization has taken place, this brown discharge is implantation bleeding. It arises when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. This discharge which could have a beige, pinkish or brownish color, typically lasts a few hours.

  • Hormonal changes - Brown vaginal secretion could also be attributed to the constantly changing hormonal levels during pregnancy. These raging hormones could cause havoc in the woman’s body. If the brownish discharge continues for more a few months, hormonal disorder might be the culprit.

  • Ectopic pregnancy - Ectopic pregnancy is a condition wherein the fertilized ovum or embryo embeds itself in the fallopian tube rather than in the uterine wall. Vaginal spotting or bleeding along with abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting are the hallmark symptoms of this condition.

  • Molar pregnancy - Molar pregnancy is characterized by the improper development of the embryo as well as the placenta. This could cause brown discharge during pregnancy.

  • Miscarriage - One of the early signs of miscarriage is a vaginal discharge which could be brownish or reddish. This is accompanied by severe abdominal cramping and passing clots or products of conception.

In the late stages of pregnancy, brown vaginal secretion could be attributed to any of the following:

  • Mucus plug – When labor is looming, the mucus plug from the cervix will be expelled through the vagina. This will manifest as either red or brown spotting.

  • Placental abnormalities – Problems with the placenta such as abruptio placentae and placenta praevia could cause brown discharge during pregnancy or severe vaginal bleeding, which is more likely. Abruptio placenta is a problem in which the placenta detaches from the uterus; whereas placenta praevia occurs when the placenta obstructs the opening in the cervix. Both conditions require immediate medical attention.

There are other causes of brown discharge which could develop at any point in the course of pregnancy. Injury to the cervix during sexual intercourse could result in brown spotting. Due to hormonal changes, the cervix becomes more sensitive and susceptible to tear which causes light bleeding. In addition, infections or other medical conditions suffered by the pregnant woman may also show brown discharge. Some of these are vaginitis, cervicitis, urethral polyp, cervical ectropion and cancer. Even though there is a wide assortment of factors that could cause brown discharge, many cases still prove to be idiopathic. That is, the cause cannot be determined.

What should be done if brown discharge is observed during pregnancy?

If brown discharge during pregnancy is noticed, it is advised to consult an OB/Gyne. Even if the discharge is only mild or no other symptoms are present, it is better to err on the side of caution. A pregnant woman experiencing brown vaginal secretion must have herself checked by the doctor to determine the cause and the appropriate steps to be taken.

The doctor, usually, will perform a pelvic exam to check on the possible reason behind the spotting. He or she may also require a Doppler ultrasound or pelvic ultrasound to check on the baby’s status as well as the presentation of the placenta. If brown discharge during pregnancy is accompanied by severe bleeding, pain or cramping and other forms of discomfort, it is best to seek emergency medical attention.


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