Due to technological advances, we can tell sooner than ever that we are pregnant by buying a pregnancy test at a local drugstore. In times past, very early pregnancies, like a chemical pregnancy, were rarely detected. Although it is exciting to know when you are pregnant as soon as possible, one of the drawbacks to detecting pregnancy so early is that we can now catch these very early miscarriages.
What is a chemical pregnancy?
A chemical pregnancy is an early miscarriage that takes place just after implantation.
What are the symptoms of a chemical pregnancy?
The most obvious symptom of a chemical pregnancy is a positive pregnancy test followed by bleeding and/or a negative test. However, bleeding can also occur in a healthy pregnancy due to implantation. Therefore, it is essential to see your doctor or healthcare provider if you experience bleeding, spotting, or other symptoms. Many women will never experience any other chemical pregnancy symptoms; that is why so many go undetected. Some women may experience early signs of pregnancy, like nausea or fatigue. Others may notice mild to severe cramping with or without bleeding.
I knew when I had a chemical pregnancy because I am one of those people who chart my cycle and test days before my period is due. I got a positive pregnancy test five days before my expected period. Just a few days later, I started having moderately painful stomach cramps. It was not long after that that I started experiencing bleeding. A visit to my doctor revealed that I had miscarried. If you’re not quite as OCD, you might not even notice a chemical pregnancy. You might just think your period came a few days late.
What causes a chemical pregnancy?
While there are multiple causes, about 50% of all early pregnancy losses are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the baby.2 In other words, when the baby was conceived, there were either too few or too many genes. The mother’s body recognizes the genetic problem and naturally terminates the pregnancy.
There are other, less common, causes of a chemical pregnancy. If the mother has an overactive immune system, there can be problems with proper implantation. Genetic abnormalities in one of the parents can also increase the chances of a miscarriage.6 This can be ascertained if you and your partner have genetic testing done, although most doctors will not recommend this unless there have been multiple miscarriages. Abnormalities with the mother’s uterus can also lead to miscarriage.3 Infections can cause a miscarriage, so seeing a medical professional before you begin trying to conceive is important.4 The risk of miscarriage also increases with age. By the time a woman is 40, her chance of miscarriage is 40%.2
Is treatment necessary?
No treatment is necessary for a chemical pregnancy.5 Losses that occur later in pregnancy may need to be monitored or even require surgery if a miscarriage is incomplete. However, since a chemical pregnancy occurs so early, it rarely requires treatment or monitoring.5 You should see your medical professional, though, since the symptoms of a chemical pregnancy can also be symptoms associated with a normal pregnancy or other pregnancy complications.
No matter how early, it is still a loss.
While it is an early miscarriage, a chemical pregnancy is still a miscarriage. It is still devastating. You still need to grieve the loss. I have had two other pregnancy losses – one at 11 weeks and one at 12 weeks. All miscarriages are hard. Understand that you and your partner may grieve differently. You may find counseling helpful or talking to a trusted friend. It helped me to talk to friends and coworkers who knew the pain of having a miscarriage. Journaling can also help deal with grief. You may also find online support groups helpful because you can talk to other women who have experienced what you are going through.
How soon should you try to get pregnant again?
On the bright side, a chemical pregnancy means your body is able to conceive. There is no reason to think you will miscarry again. Even though I had multiple miscarriages, I went on to have three beautiful, healthy children afterward.
Maybe you want to wait to try and conceive again. If so, discuss contraception options with your healthcare provider. You will most likely be able to begin using any option immediately. On the other hand, you may want to get pregnant immediately. Either way, it is a personal decision that should be made between you and your partner. Your doctor may recommend you wait 1-2 weeks after your chemical pregnancy before having intercourse to reduce the risk of infection. However, you can try to conceive once that period has passed. There is no evidence to suggest that waiting to conceive increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.2
The good news is that most women who suffer a chemical pregnancy or miscarriage have healthy babies later.4,5 Try not to become discouraged by your loss. Keep hoping and trying for a baby. It will all be worth it someday when you hold a sweet little one in your arms.