First Trimester | About Miscarriage Skip to Main Content
Menu

Health Library

Womens Health

Miscarriage: About Early Pregnancy Loss

One in five pregnancies that are confirmed by a doctor end in pregnancy loss. Learn why this occurs and what to expect if it happens to you.

image of wildflowers in a field

Losing a pregnancy can be devastating. Though you may feel alone, confused or even at fault, these feelings are normal. Usually the loss could not have been prevented.

This loss is quite common, occurring in about 10 to 15 percent of confirmed pregnancies. Pregnancy loss is called:

  • Miscarriage (spontaneous abortion) if it happens before 20 weeks gestation
  • Stillbirth if it occurs after 20 weeks

Most losses occur within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, often before a woman knows she's pregnant.

Reasons for the loss

Usually, the unborn fetus is not developing normally and wouldn't survive. Reasons for pregnancy loss include:

  • Genetic factors. About half of all miscarriages in the first trimester are due to chromosomal abnormalities. Chromosome problems are usually not caused by the parents' health and are not likely to happen again in a future pregnancy. The chance of chromosome issues goes up as a woman ages.
  • Maternal health issues. Some medical problems with the mother can cause miscarriage:
    • Hormonal imbalances. When there are problems with hormones, miscarriage can occur. Your doctor may be able to help treat these imbalances if found early.
    • Problems with the uterus or cervix. An abnormally shaped uterus or incompetent cervix (when the cervix opens too early) can lead to pregnancy loss.
    • Illnesses. Women who have diabetes and some other serious diseases have a higher risk for miscarriage.
  • Lifestyle factors. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using illegal drugs raises the chance of miscarriage. Don't use any of these substances if you're pregnant or trying to conceive.

Most of the time, miscarriages happen for unknown reasons. Note that exercising, having sex or using birth control pills does not raise the risk for miscarriage.

Warning signs

Vaginal bleeding is the most common sign of miscarriage. (But many women have some spotting in pregnancy and go on to give birth to healthy babies). Call your doctor if you have:

  • Spotting
  • Heavy vaginal bleeding with clots or cramps
  • A gush of fluid from your vagina
  • Passed fetal tissue; if you pass what you think is fetal tissue, take it with you to the doctor, so it can be tested

Your doctor may examine you to confirm if you've had a miscarriage.

Treatment

You may not need any treatment if the loss occurred early. The fetal tissue may empty from the uterus on its own and look like a heavy period. If it doesn’t, your doctor may remove the tissue or prescribe medicine to help your body pass it.

Because miscarriages are fairly common, your doctor likely won't do any tests to find out why it happened unless you've had multiple losses.

Physical recovery

As early as two weeks after a miscarriage you can ovulate and become pregnant. Be sure to use brith control if you are not intending to become pregnant right away.The amount of time needed after a miscarriage before becoming pregnant again is not defined and varies by couple.

Emotional healing

You and your partner may feel sad after your loss. This is normal, and healing emotionally may take longer than recovering physically. If your grief is profound or lasts for more than several weeks, talk to your doctor.

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

Sources
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Your Pregnancy and Childbirth: Month to Month. 6th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG; 2015.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Early pregnancy loss (miscarriage). Accessed: June 20, 2016.
Tulandi T. UpToDate. Miscarriage (Beyond the basics). Accessed: June 20, 2016.
Women's Health.gov. Pregnancy loss. Accessed: June 20, 2016.

Last Updated: June 21, 2016