Everyone who menstruates has a different experience. Even if your period is fairly consistent, some variation between cycles is completely normal.
Here's a bit more information about what's happening behind the scenes when you experience this side effect and when to see a doctor. If you're worried that it could be abnormal or continues for longer than 2-3 months, make sure to contact your health provider.
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First things first: brown blood is not a cause for concern on its own
Though brown blood can be a surprise, it is not out of the ordinary. In fact, this kind of blood can be common toward the end of your cycle. While your blood is normally red in the first few days of your cycle when your body sheds its uterine lining, discharged blood at the end of your period is oxidized and can be discolored.
What does period blood color mean?
The Cleveland Clinic says that the color of menstrual blood depends on how long the blood stays in the uterus and vagina. Fresh period blood can appear pink or bright red at the start, while darker blood has simply reacted with the oxygen in our bodies. If you're getting a brown-colored period, this could indicate that it's old blood moving on out. In the same way, discharge can mix with old blood, resulting in brown-colored discharge before the start of your next menstrual cycle.
What causes brown discharge?
Birth control pills contain hormones that help prevent an unplanned pregnancy. Specifically, the pill thickens the cervical mucus and thins the uterine lining to discourage fertilization. Based on the way birth control works, the pill can affect the body's natural hormone levels and result in irregular bleeding or brown vaginal discharge.
Brown discharge could be "spotting"
People can experience spotting between periods while taking birth control pills because it can take time for your body to get adjusted to estrogen and progesterone, the hormones in the pill. This spotting can appear darker in color, with women and people who menstruate often reporting it as a brown discharge. Researchers say that spotting is common during the first 3 to 6 months of taking oral contraceptives, but should go away in time.
If you're taking your birth control pills as directed, then experiencing brown discharge shouldn't mean you're pregnant.
What kind of vaginal discharge or bleeding is abnormal?
While brown discharge on birth control is often caused by a hormonal change or breakthrough bleeding, keep an eye out for symptoms that could indicate another issue.
Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sometimes, an unexpected vaginal discharge could be a sign of something more serious. Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis can cause itching or an abnormal discharge that is brown or green. This discharge can also have an odor and cause irritation.
Brown discharge can be a sign of implantation bleeding, or light bleeding that occurs when a fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. If you've missed a period or experiencing other common symptoms of pregnancy (think breast tenderness, nausea, and vomiting), consider taking a pregnancy test.
Other Health Conditions
Alternatively, brown discharge could be a symptom of underlying health conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or cervical cancer. Brown discharge can also be seen with yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (the most common cause of discharge, frequently associated with a “fishy” odor).
How to stop brown discharge while on birth control
Doctors say that breakthrough bleeding, or spotting between periods, can happen more often in people who smoke cigarettes, or who don't take their birth control pills consistently. While it's normal to see changes to your period while on birth control, spotting also happens more often for people who use birth control pills to skip their periods or have recently taken emergency contraception like Plan B™ or My Way.
If your brown discharge is connected to breakthrough bleeding, then the following may help:
Taking birth control pills everyday as directed
Scheduling your period to come every few months if you're taking active pills continuously to skip your periods
Waiting it out (side effects of birth control often subside over time)
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