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 so early in pregnancy that a woman doesn’t realize she’s pregnant.
Miscarriage is a somewhat loaded term — possibly suggesting that something was amiss in the carrying of the pregnancy. This is rarely true. Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn’t developing normally.
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.
Keep in mind that most women who experience vaginal spotting or bleeding in the first trimester go on to have successful pregnancies.
Abnormal genes or chromosomes
Most miscarriages occur because the fetus isn’t developing normally. 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.
Chromosomal abnormalities might lead to:
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 a uterine infection, 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:
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 doctor 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.
Keep in mind that 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 as uterine abnormalities, coagulation problems or chromosomal abnormalities. 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.