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Brown Discharge & Period Blood: What’s Up?

Brown Discharge & Period Blood: What’s Up?

Written by Yoppie

22 Nov 2021

What should my period blood look like? 

My discharge is brown after my period. What’s going on? 

What about brown discharge before my period? Is that normal? 

Could it be anything more serious?  

Oh yes, we’re getting into the reeeally good stuff in this one. If you’ve ever experienced brown blood or discharge and been too embarrassed to ask what the heck is going on, we’re spilling the beans. Here’s your guide to brown-looking blood and discharge before and after your period, why it happens, and if there’s anything to watch out for. 

What should my period blood look like? 

There’s no one-colour-fits-all when it comes to period blood, nor is there a consistency that you ‘should’ see. Your bleed will change depending on where you are in your cycle and could look different each month. Discharge is common throughout, and can vary in colour from classic bright red, to the dark brown that we’ll be talking about here, but it can even be black, grey, green and many other shades. 

If you’re interested in what the colours of your period rainbow could mean, we’ve got a guide on that here, and a blog post about what the consistency could be telling you. Here, we’re focusing on the brown stuff. (No, the other brown stuff.) 

My discharge is brown after my period. What’s going on? 

Brown discharge or blood is pretty common after your period ends. Pink blood is fresh, darker red means it has oxidised, and brown means it’s usually older. After your period ends the leftover blood will leave your uterus via discharge, and can be brown in colour. 

If you tend to have a slow flow each month the same thing could happen, as blood takes longer to pass through your system and therefore has more time to oxidise. In rare cases brown discharge can be a sign of an underlying problem if accompanied by other symptoms, but mostly it’s nothing to worry about on its own. 

What about brown discharge before my period? Is that normal? 

In most cases brown discharge is super normal, but it tends to happen after your period. If it happens before, it could be due to hormonal changes that affect both the colour and texture of your period blood. Some reasons for this could be:

  • Ovulation spotting: Some people (an estimated 3%) experience ovulation spotting around the middle of their cycle, which can appear brown in colour. 
  • Hormonal birth control: If you’re taking birth control, you may have ‘breakthrough bleeding’ between periods as your body adjusts to the hormones (usually in the first 3-6 months), which can sometimes appear brown. 
  • Pregnancy: Brown blood can sometimes be an early sign of pregnancy called ‘implantation bleeding’, where a small amount of blood is passed when an egg attaches to the uterus. 
  • Lochia: If you have recently given birth, you may get dark red or brown discharge called ‘lochia’, also called ‘postpartum bleeding’. This is normal, and it’s how your body gets rid of excess blood and tissue from the uterus after the birth. Pretty nifty! If you experience heavy bleeding after giving birth, see your GP right away.   

Could it be anything more serious?  

Though brown discharge is usually nothing to worry about, there are certain conditions where this can be a symptom, so it’s good to know about them just in case you need to seek advice from a doctor. Some other reasons for brown blood and discharge include:

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: PID is an infection of the cervix and uterus that can cause brown discharge and symptoms like pelvic pain, fever, pain during sex, and a burning sensation when you pee. Your doctor can usually treat this with antibiotics.
  • Sexually transmitted infection: Some STIs cause brown discharge before a period, like gonorrhoea or chlamydia. If you also experience a burning sensation when you pee, pain during sex or smelly discharge, have your GP check this out. Not everyone will get symptoms, so it’s best to get a regular STI check-up just in case. 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: PCOS is a condition that causes a hormonal imbalance, and sometimes irregular bleeding can cause brown discharge. You may experience heavy periods or no period at all, and other symptoms include pelvic pain, fertility issues, excess hair on the face/body, and more. If you think your brown discharge could be related to undiagnosed PCOS, speak to your GP. 
  • Foreign body: Sounds like an obvious one (who doesn’t know what’s in their vagina?!) but you’d be surprised by how many people don’t realise something is stuck there. Smelly brown discharge can be a sign that something is stuck inside, like a forgotten tampon, a condom, or another contraceptive like a sponge, diaphragm or ring. To avoid infections or TSS (toxic shock syndrome), see your GP, pronto. 
  • Missed miscarriage: Although bleeding during pregnancy is often nothing to fret about, it can sometimes be associated with miscarriage. In the case of brown blood or discharge, this can be a sign of a ‘missed miscarriage’, which is when a fetus stops developing but doesn’t pass from the uterus for at least four weeks. If you think this may be the case for you, don’t delay speaking to your doctor.
  • Cervical cancer: Although rare (affecting only 0.6% of women), brown discharge can be a symptom of cervical cancer, so it’s vital to keep track of changes in your discharge and any symptoms, like heavier or longer periods, pain during sex, or bleeding after sex. Speak to your doctor to rule this out and get to the bottom of it.

Got questions about discharge or period blood? There are no embarrassing Qs here! Join our Full Stop FB group to chat about all things periods, or DM us on Insta at @itsyoppie. Don't forget that our personalised menstrual cycle care box covers everything from organic tampons to hydrating face masks (and plenty more!) delivered regularly through your letterbox - so however your cycle is acting, we've got you covered.

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