The appearance of brown vaginal discharge during pregnancy can come as a surprise, especially if you were not expecting it.
Usually, you’ll notice brown discharge when wiping after using the toilet.
You might be really worried and concerned about what’s causing it.
Let’s look at the causes of brown discharge during pregnancy and whether it’s something to worry about.
What is brown discharge during pregnancy?
This discharge is actually old blood that has been in the body for a while and has taken more time to leave your body. Blood oxidizes as it ages, turning from deep red to a rusty brown color.
Seek advice from your midwife or health care provider at any time if you’re concerned about this discharge.
Causes of brown discharge during pregnancy
Brown discharge can be alarming to see when you’re pregnant. It can instantly make you think of the worst-case scenario.
There are many reasons why you might have a brown discharge, and many of them are perfectly normal.
Here are 7 causes for brown discharge:
#1: Cervical irritation
During pregnancy, your cervix has a lot of blood vessels, so it is more likely to bleed if touched or irritated in any way.
Bleeding that happens from cervical irritation might be minor and could be caught in the cervical mucus for a time before coming out. This blood can appear as a brownish discharge.
If harmful bacteria overwhelm healthy bacteria in the vagina, this can result in bacterial vaginosis.
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria naturally found in your vagina. It causes an imbalance in the microflora and leads to vaginal inflammation.
If left unchecked, bacterial vaginosis can cause cervicitis, which is irritation or inflammation of the cervix.
As mentioned above, the cervix is more sensitive to irritation during pregnancy and this can lead to brown discharge.
#3: Ectopic pregnancy
An ectopic pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the womb, usually in one of the fallopian tubes.
Usually, an ectopic pregnancy causes persistent abdominal pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as a brown discharge. This will usually happen in the early weeks of pregnancy.
It’s important that you immediately report any persistent pain in the abdomen to your doctor, as an ectopic pregnancy is a medical emergency.
For more information, please read Ectopic Pregnancy – Symptoms, Signs, and Treatment.
#4: Cervical polyps
Polyps are also common during pregnancy, and they could be a reason for brown discharge with spotting or bleeding for women.
Cervical polyps are growths that appear on the cervix where it opens into the vagina. They seem to occur due to the increase of estrogen and can vary in size. They are similar in appearance to a flower bud on a long thin stem.
Polyps can rub against nearby tissue, causing tiny blood vessels to be exposed. These might cause bleeding, which appears later as brown discharge during pregnancy.
#5: Placenta previa
Placenta previa is when the placenta partially or completely covers the cervix. Usually, the placenta will shift away as the uterus stretches.
However, a brown vaginal discharge throughout pregnancy isn’t uncommon with placenta previa. If you experience any bleeding from the vagina and you know you have placenta previa, seek immediate medical assistance.
For more information be sure to read Placenta Previa | Symptoms and Bleeding.
#6: Sexual intercourse
Short-lived, pinkish, brown, or light red spotting, without pain, after sexual intercourse is a normal response to changes in your cervix, especially in the first few months.
Since your cervix becomes more sensitive during pregnancy, a small amount of blood loss can occur if the cervix is bruised during deep penetration, or during a physical exam.
For more information, please read Bleeding After Sex While Pregnant.
#7: Implantation bleeding
Pink or brown discharge or spotting before a period may be an early sign of pregnancy.
Not every pregnant woman will experience this symptom, and some will think it’s their expected period starting a bit early.
The discharge is caused by the fertilized egg burrowing into the uterus lining and disturbing blood vessels.
Read Implantation Bleeding – Everything You Need To Know for more information.
Is it normal to have brown discharge during pregnancy?
Brown discharge can make you worry, but it’s normal to have during pregnancy. As discussed, there are a number of causes for brown discharge during pregnancy.
You can always check with your midwife or doctor if you are concerned, or if you have other signs you think should be looked into, such as:
- Pain or pressure in your pelvis
- Smelly or foul odor with discharge.
Can brown discharge be a sign of miscarriage?
Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of miscarriage.
This varies from light spotting or brown discharge to bleeding that might be heavier than a normal period.
Light bleeding before 12 weeks (during your first trimester) of pregnancy can be quite common and is not always a sign of miscarriage.
If you think you are experiencing pregnancy loss, contact your care provider for immediate assessment.
If you would like more information, we recommend the following articles:
- Bleeding During Pregnancy – 7 Causes Of Blood Loss
- Early Miscarriage – Signs, Symptoms, and What To Expect
When should I be worried about brown discharge?
If your brown discharge continues, and becomes heavier and dark brown, the discharge could indicate that something else is going on.
Call your doctor or your midwife if you have persistent pain and foul odor associated with the discharge.
Brown discharge and cramps during pregnancy
Some brown discharge during pregnancy, with no other symptoms, is common and usually isn’t a cause for concern.
However, discharge with additional symptoms, such as pain, uterine spasms, or fever, is a sign of more serious conditions.
If you experience this discharge and cramps after your period, it could be caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or early pregnancy.
Early miscarriage could also cause these symptoms. Sometimes the blood loss and cramps caused by miscarriage are mistaken for a period.
Brown discharge during third trimester
The third trimester is usually when you expect to see some exciting changes happening, in preparation for labor starting.
You’re likely to be looking for signs your mucus plug is coming away, which means your cervix is thinning. These changes can cause some bleeding(remember how sensitive your cervix is).
Sometimes the mucus plug has older blood trapped in it and this can appear brownish.
If the discharge becomes darker or looks black, contact your doctor for advice.
Your doctor will want to check any bleeding during pregnancy, and especially make sure the placenta is working properly.
Placental abruption happens when the placenta starts to come away from the wall of the womb. If this is the cause of the darker discharge, it is a medical emergency for you and your baby.
For more information please read Placental Abruption – 13 Facts You Need To Know.
Pinkish brown discharge during early pregnancy
Pinkish brown discharge often occurs with spotting right before a period.
However, it can also be a sign of implantation bleeding, as mentioned above.
Some women experience a little bit of spotting after ovulation; this can also cause a pinkish-brown discharge.
First-trimester pinkish-brown discharge can be random and might be a cause for concern. Check-in with your care provider if you are worried.
Later in pregnancy, it can mean your waters have broken. If you think this is the case, make sure you contact your healthcare provider straight away, especially if you’re not yet 37 weeks.
For more information please check out Waters Breaking – What To Do When Your Waters Break..
Can exercise during pregnancy cause brown discharge?
Exercise is essential to keep you healthy in pregnancy, but it might also lead to brown spotting, particularly after strenuous exercise.
It’s usually not a concern unless you become overheated, or experience contraction-like cramps or pain.
See your doctor if this is the case.
Exercise And Pregnancy – Can I Exercise In Pregnancy? has lots more information.
How to avoid brown discharge recurring in pregnancy?
Preventing brown discharge really depends on why you have it. For most women, this could be just a normal part of pregnancy; other cases might require treatment.
Always contact your care provider for an assessment if you’re concerned.
Here are ways you might avoid recurring discharge:
- Avoid using soaps with moisturizing cream and antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- Underwear should be light, loose, and cotton.
- Don’t wash your underwear with softeners or bleach; use mild soap and water instead.
- Avoid using panty liners.
- Only wash your genital area twice a day.
Consult with your doctor or other health care provider for more information on how to avoid brown discharge in pregnancy.
Does brown discharge during pregnancy mean I have an STD?
Brown discharge during pregnancy can be an early sign of sexually transmitted diseases, if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, such as:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Pain during or after sex
- Abdominal pain or stomach pain
- Foul-smelling discharge.
Some STDs is known to cause vaginal discharge are:
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
If you are concerned, contact your health care provider for a consultation to have tests and treatment.