Miscarriage

A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks. The main sign of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding, which may be followed by cramping and pain in your lower abdomen. If you have vaginal bleeding, contact your GP or midwife.

Symptoms of a miscarriage

The most common sign of miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. This can vary from light spotting or brownish discharge to heavy bleeding and bright red blood or clots. The bleeding may come and go over several days.

However, light vaginal bleeding is relatively common during the first trimester (first 3 months) of pregnancy and doesn't necessarily mean you're having a miscarriage.

Other symptoms of a miscarriage include:

  • cramping and pain in your lower tummy
  • a discharge of fluid from your vagina
  • a discharge of tissue from your vagina (can look like clots)
  • no longer experiencing the symptoms of pregnancy, such as feeling sick and breast tenderness

When to see your GP

If you have vaginal bleeding, contact your midwife/maternity unit (if you have had a booking appointment). If you don't have an appointment, contact your GP or GP out of hours service.

Most GPs can refer you to an early pregnancy unit at your local hospital if necessary. You may be referred to an emergency department at a hospital if your pregnancy is at a later stage.

However, bear in mind that light vaginal bleeding is relatively common during the first trimester (first 3 months) of pregnancy and doesn't necessarily mean you're having a miscarriage.

What happens if you think you're having a miscarriage

If you have the symptoms of a miscarriage, you'll usually be referred to a hospital for tests. In most cases, an ultrasound scan can determine if you're having a miscarriage.

When a miscarriage is confirmed, you'll need to talk to your doctor or midwife about the options for the management of the end of the pregnancy.

Often the pregnancy tissue will pass out naturally in 1 or 2 weeks. Sometimes medication to assist the passage of the tissue may be recommended, or you may have minor surgery to remove it.

After a miscarriage

A miscarriage can be an emotionally and physically draining experience. You may have feelings of guilt, shock and anger.

Advice and support is available at this time from hospital counselling services and charity groups. You may also find it beneficial to have a memorial for your lost baby.

You can try for another baby as soon as your symptoms have settled and you're emotionally and physically ready.

Having a miscarriage doesn't necessarily mean you'll have another if you get pregnant again. Most women are able to have a healthy pregnancy after a miscarriage, even in cases of recurrent miscarriages.

Causes of a miscarriage

There are many possible reasons why a miscarriage may happen, although the cause isn't usually identified. The majority aren't caused by something that could have been avoided or anything the mother has done.

It's thought most miscarriages are caused by abnormal chromosomes in the baby. Chromosomes are genetic "building blocks" that guide the development of a baby. If a baby has too many or not enough chromosomes, it won't develop properly.

For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

Preventing a miscarriage

The majority of miscarriages can't be prevented.

However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of a miscarriage. Whilst pregnant you should avoid:

Being a healthy weight before getting pregnant, eating a healthy diet and reducing your risk of infection can also help.

How common are miscarriages

Miscarriages are much more common than most people realise. Among women who know they're pregnant, it's estimated about 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Many more miscarriages occur before a woman is even aware she has become pregnant.

Losing 3 or more pregnancies in a row (recurrent miscarriages) is uncommon and only affects around 1 in 100 women.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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