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Spotting between periods

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What is spotting?

Spotting or irregular bleeding is the term referred to any blood or bleeding that you notice between your periods, this could be after your most recent period or before your next one. When you experience any irregular bleeding it could make you believe that you are having a long period or an early period, however spotting is not part of your period.

What does spotting look like?

This bleeding tends to be a lot lighter than your period and can be any colour from red blood to brown discharge. You may notice a small amount of blood or discoloured discharge in your underwear or on the toilet paper after you wipe. The amount of blood is very minor, and usually you will not need to use a sanitary towel to soak it up or stop it from soaking through to your clothes.

How long should my period be?

Usually a woman’s menstrual cycle is 28 days in length and you will be on your period for five days however women can bleed for anywhere from two to 10 days. Menstrual cycles can also vary in length too, and these can range from 21 to 40 days.

What can cause bleeding between periods?

There are many different reasons why you might be bleeding between your periods or having light periods. Irregular bleeding or spotting between your periods is a common side effect of hormonal contraception, especially if you have just begun a new contraceptive method.

Types of hormonal contraception:

  • Combined contraceptive pill
  • Progestogen only contraceptive pill
  • Contraceptive patch
  • Contraceptive implant or injection
  • Intrauterine system (IUS)

When you first start using one of these birth control methods you may notice bleeding, if this lasts longer than three months then it is advised that you should talk to your GP or visit a nurse at your local sexual health clinic.

There are other ways that hormonal contraception can affect your periods and cause you to bleed between.

You may also bleed between your periods if you:

  • have missed any combined pills
  • miss any progesterone only pills
  • are on the pill and are sick or have diarrhoea
  • have a problem with your patch
  • miss out your pill

Besides the effects of contraceptives there are other reasons why you might notice spotting between your periods, these can include:

  • taking the morning after pill
  • injuring your vagina e.g. during sexual intercourse
  • STIs including chlamydia 
  • having a recent abortion
  • stress
  • vaginal dryness
  • changes to your hormones such as experiencing menopause
  • cervical cancer – if you’re aged 25 to 64 you should be having regular cervical screening tests.
  • cervical or endometrial polyps – benign growths in the womb or cervix

If you’re worried about your bleeding you can speak to your GP or visit your local sexual health clinic. You’ll be able to talk about your symptoms and depending on your consultation you may be tested for STIs or asked to take a pregnancy test. The tests will all depend on your symptoms and what you have told your healthcare practitioner.

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What does spotting between your period mean?

Bleeding between your period does not mean one specific thing and it can be caused by a number of factors. Although spotting isn’t usually a sign of something serious it isn’t normal, also if you notice excessive bleeding in between your periods you can talk to your GP or a nurse at you nearest sexual health clinic about your symptoms.

Can spotting mean you're pregnant?

Spotting is common within the early weeks of pregnancy, however just because you notice spotting it doesn’t mean that you are necessarily pregnant. If you think that you might be pregnant you can purchase a pregnancy test to complete in the privacy of your own home, visit your GP or your local sexual health clinic.

Can stress cause spotting?

Yes, stress has a wide array of effects on the body from physical to mental. For women it can also affect your menstrual cycle and cause your periods to be later and lighter. You may also notice that you bleed in-between your periods this is known as spotting and is usually lighter than your regular periods.

Why is my period late?

There are a number of reasons that your period may not have started on the day that you thought it would. Lifestyle factors from stress to diet can affect your periods as well as the contraceptive methods you are using. To find out more read our why is my period late article.