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Spotting is considered as either pink, red or brown ‘spots’ of blood that comes from the vagina and occurs in-between periods. You’ll usually notice it on your underwear or on toilet paper when wiping.
Spotting can happen for several different reasons - from fluctuations in hormones, to pregnancy, your stress levels and other underlying conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome (POS) - we outline some of the main culprits, below (keep reading!).
Depending on where in your cycle you experience spotting, it might be a one-time thing or it might last a few days (or, it can come and go). It's a good idea to monitor it's frequency and get checked by a doc if you're concerned, if it's happening really frequently or if it becomes heavier, more like a period.
In terms of the spotting itself… pink and brown blood/discharge is actually considered quite normal, though is caused by different reasons, which we’ll detail further on. If your spotting is red, or looks like your regular period, then we’d recommend getting checked out by a doctor or trusted health professional ASAP.
…Is quite normal and most often just means that your period is on it’s way (thanks for the warning, mother nature!). Our reco? Pop a panty liner on as back up on the days just prior to when you’re expecting your next period - just in case.
This one is a classic and catches so many of us unawares – the story goes something like this: you’ve popped the tampons away for the month, thinking Aunt Flo was all done and dusted and then BAM! You’ve (she’s) ruined your fave new Moxie knickers (actually they’re not ruined – check out our hack for how to make them new again). This is quite common and just means that your body wasn’t quite finished flushing out everything that it needed to during your period. This can also sometimes be called a ‘partial period’, and usually consists of old blood, endometrial lining and dead tissue (sounds delightful, doesn’t it?!).
Spotting mid cycle is usually light pink in colour and is caused by the spike in your estrogen levels as you ovulate. That said, some women will actually experience a decline in their estrogen levels during ovulation and this type of spotting will usually be brown. Be careful not to mistake spotting during ovulation as an early period, as this is actually the time when you’re most fertile and so if you’re having sex, you may well fall pregnant!
Spotting and pregnancy can be a tricky one, because it can mean different things…
If you’ve been having unprotected sex and experience pink or brown spotting, then it may be a sign that you do in fact have a mini-me on the way. In this case, spotting most likely occurs because of the implantation phase of pregnancy, when the fertilised egg attaches itself to the wall of the uterus. Spotting can occur on and off during the early stages of pregnancy and is quite normal, but if you are concerned (or are not sure if you’re pregnant!) we recommend visiting your doctor who can properly test for pregnancy. On the flip side, if you are already pregnant and experience red spotting, or any kind of bleeding, please see your doctor immediately.
Spotting is considered a normal side effect if you’ve recently started, stopped or switched your contraceptive medication – whether that be the oral contraceptive pill, a ‘rod’ that contains slow release progesterone (like ‘Implanon’), injections of long-acting artificial progesterone (like ‘Depo Provera’) or an IUD, which is inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. Such contraceptives alter hormone levels and it’s these changes that can cause spotting. As your body adapts to these new levels, the spotting should subside (generally within a few months). Please note that skipping or accidentally missing one or more of your oral contraceptive pills can also cause spotting. If you are taking a contraceptive orally, try and be as religious as possible with its administration (i.e. remember to take your contraceptive pill daily). If you’re using any of the implant or injection methods and are experiencing frequent spotting, please see your doctor – it may be a case of switching contraceptives or it may be that your spotting is actually caused by something else.
For those playing at home, the morning after pill is what is known as ‘emergency contraception’, administered ‘after the act’, so to speak (basically if you’ve had unprotected sex recently, you have a small window afterwards whereby you can take a morning after pill to prevent pregnancy). Similar to other contraceptives, the morning after pill can cause spotting as it also alters your hormone levels. Please note that light spotting associated with this medication doesn’t necessarily indicate that you have your period, and so it also doesn’t mean that you’re not pregnant! Best to get checked.
For anyone with PCOS, you know that it can be a real pain-in-the-vagina to deal with sometimes. Not only can it cause spotting and abnormal bleeding, but it sometimes comes with other side affects like unwanted hair growth on your face and body, acne, weight gain, ovarian cysts and irregular periods. Ummm, no thanks! PCOS is caused by the presence of higher than normal amounts of male hormones, which disrupt the menstrual cycle - it’s this imbalance in hormone levels that causes these symptoms. If you suspect you have PCOS, please do consult your doctor, as it can often be managed with contraceptive medication.
YES this is a thing! Whether it’s emotional or physical stress, it can wreak havoc with your system and your hormones, sometimes resulting in spotting. Stress causes your body to release more of the hormone cortisol, which results in less estrogen and progesterone being released. This imbalance can not only cause spotting, but it might result in a late or completely missed period. Best ways to manage stress? Check out our top tips for reducing and managing stress like a BOSS.
Spotting after intercourse can sometimes be caused by deep penetration, resulting in some cervical bleeding or lacerations in the vagina; though it may also be a sign that you have a sexually transmitted disease (STD). STDs that are most likely to cause spotting are gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Whilst symptoms include spotting, a burning sensation whilst urinating, abdominal pain, nausea and pain during intercourse, chlamydia in particular often doesn’t produce any symptoms at all, so it’s super important to get tested by your doctor every year. If untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause serious health issues and even infertility. Don’t go untested!
Ovarian cysts are little fluid-filled sacs that are present in the ovaries and can be caused by hormonal imbalances in the body, endometriosis, pregnancy or pelvic infections. Along with spotting, it’s likely you’ll also experience other symptoms like abdominal bloating, pain in the abdomen or pelvis, pain during sex, nausea and vomiting. The treatment and cause of a cyst can vary, depending on what has caused it and how it’s behaving. If you suspect you may have an ovarian cyst (also common in women who have PCOS), please consult your doctor.
Spotting doesn’t necessarily mean you have cancer, so there’s no need to fret just yet – though it is important to pay attention to your body, as often the symptoms of cancer relating to the female reproductive system (namely endometrial, ovarian and cervical cancers) do not become apparent to the sufferer until the cancer has widely metastasized. Symptoms include spotting, heavier bleeding, abdominal bloating, nausea and pelvic pain, to name a few. If you feel like something’s not right, it won’t hurt to get checked out. Cervical cancer in particular can only be detected by a pap smear and so it’s important to maintain these regular check ups with your doctor.
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Believe it or not, Moxettes, the above is not an exhaustive list! Other things that can cause spotting are thyroid issues (once again caused by hormone imbalance), menopause (though if you experience bleeding after menopause then see your doctor immediately), other medications you’re taking that are not associated with contraceptives, miscarriage, polyps and ectopic pregnancies, to name a few.
Please do not use tampons or a menstrual cup to deal with spotting – the blood/discharge you lose is not enough to warrant use of a tampon, where the absorbency might be too high for your flow, potentially resulting in other issues. A panty liner should be enough to do the trick.
If you are unsure of the cause of your spotting, are pregnant, experiencing any pain or dizziness associated with it, if it continuous intermittently across more than once cycle or if you are concerned about it at all, please see your doctor or a trusted health professional as soon as possible.
* Illustration by Katie Ford for Moxie.