Late Periods and Pregnancy Scares

10.21.11 Not just a girl thing


Almost every sexually active woman has felt anxious at least once in her life, wondering whether or not her period is going to start. It’s usually filed in her brain under the heading: “Oh crap, did I get pregnant?” In my case, that file is pretty large. I’ve been caught by surprise pregnancies a couple of times (and I come from a long line of severely fertile women) and felt that pang of anxiety more months than I care to remember. Most of those months there was no cause for alarm.

Even when a woman has used birth control with a 99 percent (or better) success rate; that still leaves one percent room for doubt. If she left her birth control in her purse, forgot to take her pill, the condom broke or…she just wasn’t prepared; there may be a whole houseful of doubt. If her anxiety is fueled by a period that’s a few days late, she might give herself tissue burns from checking too often for that tardy period.

Women aren’t the only ones who feel the burn. Men are just as vulnerable to this particular brand of anxiety as women. I received an email from Mike, a 25-year-old man who says he and his girlfriend haven’t had sex in months, but after the last time they did, her period was late. They took a pregnancy test, which turned out negative and within a few days her period started. Mike’s girlfriend was greatly relieved, but Mike wasn’t so easily convinced. He asked his girlfriend to take several more urine pregnancy tests (all negative) and she’s had a couple more periods since then.

Still, Mike’s not satisfied. He’s done some online research and learned about false negative pregnancy tests and first trimester bleeding. He’s worried his girlfriend isn’t actually having regular periods, but instead, is having decidual bleeding. Mike wants his girlfriend to take a blood pregnancy test, but even if that’s negative, he says, it might not convince him, once and for all, that she’s not pregnant. Mike wants to know if I think he’s being paranoid. My answer? Yeah, Mike, maybe a little.

I feel for the guy. He’s scared he and his girlfriend made a huge life-altering mistake and I can’t say as I blame him. Mike sounds like a smart man who respects how important and serious fatherhood is. He doesn’t want to mess things up by becoming a father before he’s ready. That said, I think Mike has good reason to chill out a bit.

Spotting and light bleeding happens in about 20 to 30 percent of pregnancies and it doesn’t always indicate miscarriage or a problem with the pregnancy. But, Mike, your girlfriend had three negative pregnancy tests followed by several normal periods. It would be super-uncommon for her to be bleeding, have negative pregnancy tests and still be pregnant. Yes, it could happen, but it’s not very likely. As you mentioned, a blood test is more accurate than a urine test, but even that might not convince you. What would it take, Mike? An ultrasound?

I suspect a better plan of action would be to have a serious talk with your girlfriend. Tell her you’re really freaked out about this. Then, listen to her. She knows her body and if at this point she were several months pregnant, she’d probably be feeling it. Instead, she’s been telling you she’s certain she’s not pregnant. She knows. If you think she’s lying about the tests, the periods and how she feels, then you’ve got an entirely different problem.

I’m guessing though that your biggest problem right now is not pregnancy, but anxiety, maybe a little guilt and a few loose feelings about being out of control of this situation. Take a deep breath, Mike. You’re probably not going to become a dad any time soon. When that day comes, I hope it’s under the right circumstances, with the right woman and at the perfect time in your life. I have a feeling you’re going to be a good father, if only because you are taking this pregnancy scare so seriously (and were willing to research decidual bleeding). Hang in there, Mike. Your day will come, but I don’t think it’s this one.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to and it may be answered in a future blog post."¨"¨

More about Jeanne

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.