What’s the Difference Between Periods and Spotting?
Have you ever found yourself puzzled as to why there are spots of red or brown on your favourite pair of underwear? You’re not alone. Although your first instinct may be to race to your gynaecologist, there’s nothing to fear: you’re just spotting!
It can feel confusing at first, but spotting is completely normal and is usually nothing you need to be too concerned about. To help give you peace of mind, we’re here to explain everything there is to know about spotting and how it differs from your period.
What is spotting?
Spotting is light vaginal bleeding that occurs outside of your regular periods. You’ll usually only find a few drops of blood either on your underwear or toilet paper after using the restroom. Spotting can be caused by a number of reasons and is common for many people who menstruate.
What are the key differences between a period and spotting?
When you’re bleeding
The main difference between spotting and your period is timing.
A period signals the start of your menstrual cycle each month — although it’s not always easy to pin down exactly when your period will begin, they’re usually fairly consistent.
Spotting, on the other hand, can happen at any point during your menstrual cycle and is much more difficult to anticipate.
How much you’re bleeding
The amount that you bleed can also signal whether you’re spotting. A period will, on average, release about two tablespoons of blood (if you don’t have Menorrhagia). When spotting, you’ll only find that you’re releasing a small amount of blood — enough to leave the telltale spots on your underwear.
The colour of the blood is another clear giveaway. When on your period, the blood you release can range in colour, anywhere from pink to rusty brown. Spotting will more often than not result in light brown blood, making it easier to, well, spot!
What are the causes of spotting?
Spotting is a common occurrence for many menstruators. In fact, there are a number of reasons why you may be experiencing spotting:
- Menstruation — We know, we know, we’ve already said that spotting and periods are different; and they are. Still, it’s totally normal to find that you have some spotting to kick off your cycle. Trust us!
- Ovulation — Another likely culprit of spotting. Ovulation occurs as soon as an egg is released from the ovaries. Not only can this lead to spotting, but the increase in estrogen caused by an egg not being fertilized can also be a cause. This makes ovulation a spotting double whammy!
- Implantation — Spotting can also happen due to ‘implantation bleeding’; that is, when an embryo implants into the uterus. So, is your period coming or are you pregnant? Well, it’s difficult to distinguish so it could be either. The best way to tell is to check for other signs of pregnancy like nausea, fatigue or sore breasts — or just take a pregnancy test!
- Abnormal pregnancy — Although spotting is usually nothing to worry about, it can also occur alongside miscarriages, premature labour and ectopic pregnancies. You should check with your doctor right away if you’re concerned.
- Labour - Another pregnancy-related cause for spotting is actually going into labour. In this situation it will usually happen around 37 weeks once your body has passed the mucus plug. If you’re bleeding as heavily as a normal menstrual period, however, you should contact a healthcare professional immediately.
- Infections or disease — Finally, spotting can also be caused by a number of infections and diseases including STIs, reproductive issues and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). If none of the above causes of spotting affect you, consider checking in with your doctor. While most infections are easily treatable, they can lead to complications further down the line if you don’t take action.
- Contraceptive — If you choose to use contraceptive pills, and you’re using them continuously without a break, there’s a chance you could experience spotting.
Are there treatments for spotting?
Although not everyone will experience spotting, it’s very common and completely normal. As it can be caused by a number of factors, there isn’t a treatment per se.
However, you may wish to treat one of the causes of spotting — for example, an STI. Depending on the situation, a doctor may prescribe treatments for the causes of spotting, including antibiotics or hormone regulators.
What to do if you’re not sure
For most people, spotting is a normal part of their menstrual cycle that doesn’t lead to any complications. Of course, there’s no harm in getting a professional opinion if you have any questions or concerns.
If you’re not sure what to do, speak to your doctor if:
- You’re pregnant or you think you might be
- You’re experiencing consistent spotting
- You have had unprotected sex and start spotting
NHS Period Advice Service
Find out what the National Health Service says about the differences between spotting and periods, and the causes of unusual bleeding between periods.Learn more
Health advice around bleeding outside of your period. Find out more on the causes of spotting and when you should seek the help of a medical professional.Learn more
What to expect
Written by the author of the ‘pregnancy bible’, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, learn more about implantation bleeding and all things pregnancy-related.Learn more
Can you use a menstrual cup if you’re spotting?
You sure can! If you’ve noticed that you’re spotting more than usual — or you’d simply feel more comfortable with some additional protection — then it’s completely safe to wear your menstrual cup.
Follow our Cup Basics for advice on how to use your Lunette Menstrual Cup as well as period advice from our menstrual mentors.
6 reasons your period could be late besides being pregnant
Understanding your menstrual cycle