Bleeding Between Periods: What is Spotting?

You may have heard of spotting or have experienced bleeding between periods yourself and wondered why it happens, and if it’s normal. Here at Natural Cycles, we’re going to walk you through the differences between periods and spotting, the causes of spotting and why tracking your menstrual cycle can unlock hidden knowledge about your fertility.
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Spotting vs period

There are some key differences between spotting and menstrual bleeding. Of course all our menstrual cycles are different, but below we’ve outlined the main differences when it comes to spotting vs period. 

Menstrual Bleeding

Regular menstrual cycle length is considered to be between 21 and 35 days in length. During each cycle, the lining of the uterus becomes thick as a woman’s body prepares for pregnancy. If that doesn’t happen, then the uterus sheds its lining, causing a period and the start of a new menstrual cycle. 

How to identify menstrual bleeding:

  • Regularity: We are all different and our menstrual cycles can vary from month to month. 
  • Bleeding pattern: It’s common too for women to experience light bleeding at the begining of their periods, a few heavy days in the middle, and then lighter bleeding again towards the end. 
  • Days without bleeding: A regular menstrual cycle is also characterized by days when there is no bleeding at all. 
  • Other symptoms: In the days leading up to your period it’s usual to experience PMS (premenstrual syndrome), this is caused by a change in hormones. Common symptoms include breast tenderness and headaches. It’s also usual to have period cramps as the uterus lining sheds. 
  • The color of blood: Period bleeding is usually red in color, which can help tell it apart from spotting. However, menstrual blood can also be brown at the start and end of the period. With a menstrual bleed, it’s also pretty common to have period clotting.

Spotting

Spotting is often a normal part of a healthy menstrual cycle. There are many reasons for spotting to happen, for many of us it’s a routine part of any cycle, for others, it might be an indication of something more serious. 

How to identify spotting: 

  • Irregular bleeding: Unlike menstrual bleeding, spotting can be quite sporadic. Women may start spotting, have a day with no bleeding and then spot again. Some women experience spotting on and off throughout their cycle. 
  • Linked to key stages in the cycle: Some women will experience spotting around the time of ovulation due to the change in hormone levels. 
  • Change in color: Some women find they spot brown blood and that the texture of their spotting is different to other menstrual bleeding.
  • Birth control: Hormonal methods of contraception can also cause spotting. Switching between birth control methods can often affect spotting while the body adjusts to different levels of hormones. 

Withdrawal bleeding

Withdrawal bleeds occur around the time of your period but are much lighter. This is still the lining of the uterus shedding, but due to an imbalance of hormones, it doesn’t happen quite the same as with a period. Withdrawal bleeding can also be a symptom of an anovulatory cycle – meaning ovulation didn’t happen in that particular cycle.

What is spotting in pregnancy?

Spotting during pregnancy can be quite common. While it doesn’t always mean something might be wrong, it also shouldn’t be ignored. In early pregnancy, there is often light bleeding around the time you might usually get your period – this is known as ‘implantation bleeding’.

If you experience bleeding in the first 12 weeks – vaginal spotting can be an indication of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy (when the fetus forms in the fallopian tubes) and, so it’s important you consult your gynecologist if you experience spotting or have concerns. Many women do experience spotting in the first 12 weeks and go on to have healthy pregnancies.

Later in pregnancy, spotting can occur for several reasons. Changes in the cervix can cause bleeding and might be noticeable after sex. Vaginal infections can also cause spotting and a midwife or doctor can help prescribe treatment. There is also something called ‘a show’ which is when mucus which has been in the cervix during pregnancy comes away, signaling that labor is about to begin. This can happen in the days leading up to contractions starting, or during labor.

Menopausal spotting

Spotting around the time of menopause is fairly common. This also is due to the changes in hormone levels that regulate the cycle. Because of the disruption of hormones, you may experience bleeding at different times in your cycle and the amount of bleeding may vary as well. If you experience very heavy and/or lengthy bleeding during menopause you should speak to your doctor, the same goes for bleeding between periods. Any bleeding that happens after menopause should be discussed with a healthcare professional.

Spotting after sex

There are lots of reasons for women to bleed after sex. Spotting after sex can be a sign of infections, an inflammation, or polyps (non-cancerous growths in the uterine lining), as well as other conditions. Vaginal dryness can also cause bleeding after sex – lubrication can help with this and reduce spotting after sex. Bleeding can also occur after damage to the vagina which can happen from sex, or in childbirth.

While spotting can be a perfectly healthy part of the menstrual cycle, we recommend that you talk to a healthcare professional about any unexplained bleeding between periods. Regular cervical screening is also a good way to help make sure spotting is not a symptom of anything more serious.

Tracking your cycle

If you keep track of the patterns in your menstrual cycle you are more likely to notice both consistencies and changes in your routine. This includes bleeding between periods, anovulatory cycles, PMS symptoms and so much more. Thousands of women use Natural Cycles to prevent or plan pregnancy, with the welcome side effect of learning more about their bodies along the way.

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By Jennifer Gray

A writer with passion for women’s health, Jennifer Gray is Content Owner here at Natural Cycles. She’s making it her mission to close the knowledge gap on reproductive health.