Learn about miscarriage symptoms, what might cause a miscarriage and how to cope with pregnancy loss.
Miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy before the 20th week. About 10 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage. But the actual number is likely higher because many miscarriages occur very early in pregnancy — before you might even know about a pregnancy.
The term "miscarriage" might suggest that something went wrong in the carrying of the pregnancy. But this is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing as expected.
Miscarriage is a relatively common experience — but that doesn't make it any easier. Take a step toward emotional healing by understanding what can cause a miscarriage, what increases the risk and what medical care might be needed.
Most miscarriages occur before the 12th week of pregnancy.
Signs and symptoms of a miscarriage might include:
If you have passed fetal tissue from your vagina, place it in a clean container and bring it to your health care provider's office or the hospital for analysis.
Most women who have vaginal spotting or bleeding in the first trimester go on to have successful pregnancies.
Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn't developing as expected. About 50 percent of miscarriages are associated with extra or missing chromosomes. Most often, chromosome problems result from errors that occur by chance as the embryo divides and grows — not problems inherited from the parents.
Chromosome problems might lead to:
Molar pregnancy and partial molar pregnancy. With a molar pregnancy, both sets of chromosomes come from the father. A molar pregnancy is associated with abnormal growth of the placenta; there is usually no fetal development.
A partial molar pregnancy occurs when the mother's chromosomes remain, but the father provides two sets of chromosomes. A partial molar pregnancy is usually associated with abnormalities of the placenta, and an abnormal fetus.
Molar and partial molar pregnancies are not viable pregnancies. Molar and partial molar pregnancies can sometimes be associated with cancerous changes of the placenta.
In a few cases, a mother's health condition might lead to miscarriage. Examples include:
Routine activities such as these don't provoke a miscarriage:
Various factors increase the risk of miscarriage, including:
Some women who miscarry develop an infection in the uterus. This is also called a septic miscarriage. Signs and symptoms of this infection include:
Often, there's nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage. Simply focus on taking good care of yourself and your baby:
If you have a chronic condition, work with your health care team to keep it under control.
Your health care provider might do a variety of tests:
Possible diagnoses include:
For a threatened miscarriage, your health care provider might recommend resting until the bleeding or pain subsides. Bed rest hasn't been proved to prevent miscarriage, but it's sometimes prescribed as a safeguard. You might be asked to avoid exercise and sex, too. Although these steps haven't been proved to reduce the risk of miscarriage, they might improve your comfort.
In some cases, it's also a good idea to postpone traveling — especially to areas where it would be difficult to receive prompt medical care. Ask your health care provider if it would be wise to delay any upcoming trips you've planned.
With ultrasound, it's now much easier to determine whether an embryo has died or was never formed. Either finding means that a miscarriage will definitely occur. In this situation, you might have several choices:
In most cases, physical recovery from miscarriage takes only a few hours to a couple of days. In the meantime, call your health care provider if you experience heavy bleeding, fever or abdominal pain.
You may ovulate as soon as two weeks after a miscarriage. Expect your period to return within four to six weeks. You can start using any type of contraception immediately after a miscarriage. However, avoid having sex or putting anything in your vagina — such as a tampon — for two weeks after a miscarriage.
It's possible to become pregnant during the menstrual cycle immediately after a miscarriage. But if you and your partner decide to attempt another pregnancy, make sure you're physically and emotionally ready. Ask your health care provider for guidance about when you might try to conceive.
Miscarriage is usually a one-time occurrence. Most women who miscarry go on to have a healthy pregnancy after miscarriage. Less than 5 percent of women have two consecutive miscarriages, and only 1 percent have three or more consecutive miscarriages.
If you experience multiple miscarriages, generally two or three in a row, consider testing to identify any underlying causes. Such causes could include problems with the uterus, blood clotting or chromosomes. If the cause of your miscarriages can't be identified, don't lose hope. About 60 to 80 percent of women with unexplained repeated miscarriages go on to have healthy pregnancies.
Emotional healing can take much longer than physical healing. Miscarriage can be a heart-wrenching loss that others around you might not fully understand. Your emotions might range from anger and guilt to despair. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your pregnancy, and seek help from loved ones.
You'll likely never forget your hopes and dreams surrounding this pregnancy, but in time acceptance might ease your pain. Talk to your health care provider if you're feeling profound sadness or depression.
If you have signs or symptoms of miscarriage, contact your health care provider right away. Depending on the circumstances, you might need immediate medical care.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your health care provider.
Before your appointment, you might want to:
Below are some basic questions to ask your health care provider about miscarriage:
In addition to the questions you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask other questions during your appointment — especially if you need clarification or you don't understand something.
Your health care provider is likely to ask you a number of questions, too. For example: