Menstruate and be pregnant, too?

Dear Alice,

I recently heard that women can still menstruate even when they are pregnant. In other words, women shouldn't believe that they're not pregnant if they receive their period. From what I understand of the process, I find this to be incorrect. Do you have any answers?


Dear Expecting,

Happy mamas, make happy babies! The pursuit of pregnancy often requires much attention to a woman's body because of the many, often new, changes. Along with these potentially confusing times, feeling empowered will increase your comfort asking necessary questions, like this question, to ensure a happy and healthy pregnancy. Getting to your question, menstruation usually stops when a woman is pregnant. However, in some cases, a woman might have a period with less blood or that lasts fewer days than usual and still be pregnant.

The appearance of having a period while pregnant seems misleading, but various kinds of bleeding may occur in early pregnancy. Women may get some "spotting," or having what appears to be even a light menstruation, in their first trimester:

  • When the fertilized egg implants in the uterus
  • If the pregnancy is abnormal in any way, i.e., ectopic pregnancy (implantation outside of the uterus, such as in a fallopian tube) or a threatening miscarriage
  • From bleeding as part of their menstrual cycle (this is extremely rare)

Since the outcome(s) is unknown, bleeding and pregnancy are to be taken seriously. If a woman is spotting and knows she is pregnant, she's recommended to immediately see a health care provider to make sure that she is okay.

If a woman is concerned about a possible pregnancy because of unprotected intercourse, an improper use of a condom, or missed pills, then she can take advantage of emergency contraception (EC) within 72 hours of the unprotected sex. For more information, visit the Emergency Contraception website. If it's after 72 hours and she hasn't taken emergency contraception, then she may take a home pregnancy test seven to ten days after unprotected intercourse. If someone suspects they are pregnant they can find a variety of pregnancy resources at their primary care provider's office. Please read Signs of early pregnancy and abortion info for additional information.

Expecting to get pregnant and being pregnant may stir up many emotions from the bodily and social changes, but remember that other people in your life (family, friends, and health care providers) may support you through these times. Continue asking questions as you're ultimately in charge of your reproductive rights, and good luck!

Last updated Apr 01, 2015
Originally published Sep 01, 1994

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