How to Know If You're Having a Miscarriage - Baby Chick
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How to Know If You’re Having a Miscarriage

It's a hard thing to think about for any pregnant mom, but knowing the signs of miscarriage is important. Here's what you should know.

Updated April 10, 2024

by Marianella Orlando

Medically reviewed by Kristy Goodman

Obstetrician-Gynecologist Physician Assistant, MS, MPH, PA-C

Pregnancy can be one of the most beautiful yet terrifying experiences any mother could feel. The moment you find out the news that there’s a baby inside of you, you’re automatically strapped into a roller coaster of emotions. One moment you’re ecstatic and hopeful, and the next, you’re scared and concerned.

You start to picture all the next steps of preparing for an infant, from building a nursery and picking out those adorable little outfits to holding your bundle of joy and bringing them home for the first time. Not once do you foresee your home or family without this new addition.

Pregnancy loss is a heartbreaking experience that no mother is ever prepared for. The emotionally wrenching pain of losing a baby takes time to heal, leaving women feeling angry, confused, guilty, and shameful. While expecting mothers do not want to fathom the unthinkable, it’s important to understand it and recognize signs, symptoms, and risk factors.

What Is a Miscarriage?

A miscarriage is the sudden loss of the fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy.1 It is also known as mid-trimester pregnancy loss, fetal demise, spontaneous abortion, and early pregnancy loss. Unfortunately, miscarriages are relatively common, with about 10-20% of pregnancies in the U.S. ending in a miscarriage.2

That number, however, is believed to be higher than estimated, as some fetuses are lost before any hospital visit. This tragic loss could go undetected for some women if they were unaware of their pregnancy.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Miscarriage?

In most cases, miscarriages happen due to improper fetus development before the 12th week of gestation. Although there are no specific tell-tale indicators of pregnancy loss, there are some signs and symptoms that moms-to-be can pay attention to, such as:

  • Vaginal spotting or bleeding
  • Cramping or pain localized in the lower back or abdomen
  • Fluid or tissue passing from your vagina

It is important to note that many women who experience these symptoms can continue their pregnancy successfully!

What Causes Pregnancy Loss?

Improper fetus development may be due to issues at the molecular level, more specifically, as a result of genes or chromosomes. According to Mayo Clinic, there is an association between chromosomal abnormality (such as additional or absent chromosomes) in about 50% of miscarriages.2

Unlike an inherited cause, these chromosomal issues occur randomly at the zygote stage–the phase of conception when an egg and sperm join together to form a single cell–during its division process. This can lead to problems such as a blighted ovum (when a gestational sac develops without an embryo), intrauterine fetal demise (stillbirth), or molar pregnancy (when the egg and sperm join incorrectly during fertilization and a (usually) noncancerous tumor forms in place of a healthy placenta).

There are also some cases where the mother’s health condition may lead to miscarriage. Conditions such as uncontrolled diabetes, infection, hormonal problems, and uterus or cervix problems may play a factor. Keep in mind that common routine activities like exercise, sexual intercourse, and most types of work will not provoke a miscarriage. However, discuss with your provider whether or not you are exposed to harmful chemicals or radiation at your job that may be of concern.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Several variables can increase the chances of a miscarriage, such as age. For women 35 to 45 years old, there is a 20 to 80% risk of pregnancy loss.2 Previous miscarriages, especially two or more consecutive miscarriages, are another factor that may increase a woman’s risk.

Moms suffering from chronic conditions, uterine conditions, or cervical insufficiency are also at higher risk. Lifestyle habits like smoking, alcohol, and illicit drugs can lead to a miscarriage, in addition to being over or underweight.

Pregnancy loss can be marked by physical complications, too. They may happen due to a septic miscarriage, which is when an infection develops in the uterus, that can cause fever, chills, lower abdominal tenderness, and foul-smelling vaginal discharge.

Are There Prevention Methods?

There is no definite way to prevent a miscarriage, but taking great care of yourself and your baby can be beneficial, including:

  • Seek preconception care
  • Seek regular prenatal care
  • Take a daily prenatal multivitamin
  • Focus on mindfulness by doing what’s right for your mind and body (eat healthfully and get plenty of sleep)

Additionally, limiting caffeine intake can aid in prevention. One study found an association between higher risks of miscarriage with more than two caffeinated beverages per day.3

What to Do if You Experience a Miscarriage?

Medical tests, such as an ultrasound, can confirm whether or not a miscarriage has occurred. If it is confirmed and there is no pregnancy tissue left within the womb, no treatment is required.

On the other hand, there are a few options if pregnancy tissue remains in the womb. These include letting the tissue pass naturally or inducing passage through medication or surgical intervention.

The event of a miscarriage is shocking and heart-wrenching and can leave women and their partners overwhelmed with emotions. Counseling and support can help moms get through this tough time and provide them with a community they can turn to.

If a person wishes to conduct a memorial and burial service, forms of remembrance may be available, and cremation services may also be provided.

The emotional impact is sometimes felt immediately or can take several weeks, and it can present itself in different forms since people grieve differently. A miscarriage can produce anxiety, depression, or relationship problems. This is why receiving help from family and friends or even professional support is important. Additional information to aid in moving forward, trying again, or what happens to a miscarried fetus may be required or sought out. Remember that you are not alone. There are people who can help you through this tragic time.

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Marianella Orlando was born and raised in Philadelphia. She has a Master of Science in Journalism from Columbia University. Her work has since been featured in Philadelphia Magazine, The Philadelphia… Read more

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