Your body goes through tremendous changes in the first few months of pregnancy. During this time you may notice vaginal discharge that looks unfamiliar. For instance, some people notice a brown stringy discharge in early pregnancy that may seem unsettling. Others describe a pink or pinkish brown discharge. Rest assured, however, most of the time a pinkish or brown discharge during the first trimester is not a cause for concern.
7 Possible Reasons for Brown Discharge in Early Pregnancy
If you notice unusual discharge, you should always reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance. You may find that one of these seven conditions is the reason behind the brown fluid.
If you've recently found out you are pregnant, brown, pink, or reddish-colored vaginal discharge may be a sign of implantation. Implantation bleeding occurs when the embryo burrows into the uterine lining, usually about 10-14 days after conception. For some, light spotting around the time their period is due is one of the first signs of pregnancy. After conception, the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus, where it implants (attaches) to the wall of the uterus.
Implantation bleeding occurs in about a third of all pregnancies, and typically happens around the time your period is due. If you're not sure if the discharge you're experiencing is your period starting or implantation bleeding, take a home pregnancy test or make an appointment with your healthcare provider.
Though rare, brown discharge in early pregnancy can be caused by an ectopic pregnancy. An ectopic pregnancy is when a fertilized egg implants and develops outside of the uterus. About 90% of ectopic pregnancies occur in the fallopian tubes. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy include:
- Abdominal pain on one side
- Cramping on one side of the pelvis
- Low back pain
- Vaginal bleeding and/or watery brown discharge
As the embryo grows, it may cause more serious symptoms, such as severe pain on one side of the abdomen or pelvis, shoulder pain, dizziness, and weakness. In some cases, an ectopic pregnancy may cause the fallopian tube to rupture and lead to internal bleeding. This is a life-threatening emergency and requires immediate medical care.
Cervical Irritation and Inflammation
One of the most common causes of brown discharge and spotting in early pregnancy is cervical irritation. A combination of hormonal changes and increased blood flow in the body makes the cervix extra sensitive during pregnancy. Sex or a pelvic exam can irritate the cervix and may result in light spotting or brown discharge.
Cervical ectropion (erosion) is when soft glandular cells that line the inner part of the cervix spread to the outer part of the cervix. Cervical ectropion is a red, raw-appearing area found on the external surface of the cervix. The condition is common during pregnancy, as it is often caused by hormonal changes. Light spotting and brown discharge can occur up to 12 hours after sex or a pelvic exam and is not a cause for concern.
Sometimes, bleeding in early pregnancy is a sign of miscarriage. It may start as brown discharge and eventually become heavier, bright-red blood. Bleeding due to miscarriage is usually accompanied by other miscarriage symptoms, such as:
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
- Abrupt or gradual disappearance of pregnancy symptoms (e.g., breast tenderness, fatigue, nausea)
- Bright red bleeding
- Low back pain
- Passage of fluid, watery discharge, and blood clots
Sexually Transmitted Infection
In some cases, brown discharge in early pregnancy may be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is possible to get an STI during pregnancy. STIs can cause health complications during pregnancy, and may have harmful effects on you and your baby. Practicing safe sex and getting regular medical care can help prevent potential problems. This includes getting STI screening tests both in early pregnancy and close to delivery. Talk to your healthcare provider if you suspect you have an STI.
Bleeding in early pregnancy can be a sign of undiagnosed cervical cancer, especially if the vaginal discharge has a pungent scent. Cervical cancer during pregnancy is rare. Tell your healthcare provider about any brown discharge that has a strong smell. Your healthcare provider will run tests, such as a pap smear, to diagnose or rule out cervical cancer. Early diagnosis provides more treatment options and better outcomes.
When to Seek Help for Brown Discharge
If you are pregnant or suspect you might be, it is important to contact your healthcare provide any time you notice brown discharge or have vaginal bleeding. This is especially important if:
- You are more than five to six weeks from your last menstrual period
- The brown or bloody discharge persists for more than two days
- Brown discharge turns into moderate to heavy red bleeding
- You have abdominal or pelvic pain along with the discharge and/or blood
- You have a fever
If you are unsure you are pregnant and have brown discharge, see your healthcare provider for a pregnancy test or take a home pregnancy test.