Miscarriage is when a woman loses a pregnancy within the first 20-24 weeks of conception. It happens in around 5 in 100 pregnancies, but some women are at more risk than others depending on age, health, lifestyle and other related factors.
Many women can become worried that they are having a miscarriage if they experience any of the associated symptoms. Because symptoms aren’t the same for everyone and can occur for other reasons other than miscarriage, it’s always advisable to check with your midwife or medical professional if you’re concerned.
In most cases, there is nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage, as the reasons for it are often a chromosomal abnormality in the fetus meaning that the pregnancy would not be able to reach full-term.
In this article, we’ll go over some of the signs that you could be having a miscarriage, however, keep in mind that most of these symptoms and signs can also be present in a healthy pregnancy. We’ll also talk about other potential causes of symptoms.
How do I know if it is a miscarriage?
If you’re worried that you may be having a miscarriage, call the emergency number for your midwife (if you have one), your GP or 111. They will be able to tell you if you have had, or are at risk of having a miscarriage and be able to offer you the appropriate treatment.
You may need to have diagnostic tests that check for the levels of hCG (the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin) in your blood and/or urine and an ultrasound to check the baby’s heartbeat.
What are the first signs of miscarriage in early pregnancy?
An early miscarriage can happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. In weeks 13 to up to week 24 it’s known as a late miscarriage (the NHS classes early loss from week 13-23 but there are varying views and information on this).
As most miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks, they can occur before a woman knows she is pregnant. Although it can be very hard to tell, a sign of a very early miscarriage could be a late but unusually heavy period. Sometimes, no symptoms are present at all.
Although abdominal cramps and bleeding, as well as the other symptoms below, can potentially be a sign of early miscarriage, they aren’t always something to be worried about (see the end of the article) If you’re not sure if it’s normal - notify your midwife.
Some of the more common symptoms can be:
- Abdominal cramps
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal bleeding
- Discharge of fluid or tissue from the vagina
- Loss of the early signs of pregnancy, eg sudden loss of nausea and breast tenderness
Towards the end of your first trimester, it’s normal to start feeling less nausea or tenderness - but if symptoms suddenly completely stop, you should speak with your midwife.
If you’re experiencing abdominal cramps and bleeding at the same time, this could be a stronger indicator that it could be a miscarriage.
What are the first signs of miscarriage in late pregnancy?
A miscarriage in weeks 13-24 is known as a late miscarriage. The later in a pregnancy a miscarriage occurs, the more pronounced the symptoms usually are (although this isn’t always the case).
In a late miscarriage, it’s possible that you may experience:
Abdominal pain and cramps
If you have a miscarriage in late pregnancy, the severity of cramps and abdominal pain will most likely be more pronounced. You may feel prolonged pain or/and cramping that can’t be relieved by expelling wind, bowel movements, paracetamol, a warm bath, or by moving around and/or changing positions.
Spotting or light bleeding isn’t always an indicator there is something wrong, especially in the first trimester - but if you have heavy bleeding - especially if it’s accompanied by cramps may be more likely to be an indicator of miscarriage.
Loss of fetal movement
Loss of fetal movement can be an indicator or early indicator of miscarriage. You may not have felt your baby move until much later in the pregnancy (at least after 16 weeks) especially if it’s your first pregnancy. And that can be normal. But if you’ve already been feeling your baby move frequently and you notice the movement is a lot less than usual, call the emergency number of your midwife. You can keep track of movements with a Kicks Count wristband.
How many days does a miscarriage last?
This can depend on the person, or how many weeks into the pregnancy you are when a miscarriage occurs. In early pregnancy, it may just last for a few hours with minimal bleeding or cramping. Yet it can also last for up to two weeks, with any bleeding being heavier at first, sometimes containing clots and bodily tissue before gradually becoming lighter. If the pain is severe, you might be advised to visit your hospital’s emergency department. If you’re unsure, your midwife or doctor will be able to advise you on the best steps to take.
If, after or during a miscarriage you have a fever, abnormal discharge, or are feeling nauseous and unwell, this could be a sign of infection and you should call your doctor, midwife, 111 or visit your hospital’s emergency department.
Other reasons you may be experiencing symptoms similar to a miscarriage
Bleeding - in early pregnancy, you may experience light bleeding or spotting from a fertilized egg implanting in the uterus. It could also be from slight irritation in the vagina caused by having sex. Spotting can also be common in early pregnancy.
Abdominal pain and cramps - this can be caused by your rapidly changing body shape as muscles stretch to accommodate a growing uterus. Constipation and trapped wind can cause stomach and abdominal pains which can be more common in pregnancy due to changing hormones. It can be very painful and easy to become concerned.
To ease any pain, try standing up and moving around, rubbing your stomach and sipping a warm peppermint tea made with freshly boiled water.
When in doubt, always consult your midwife. Even if your symptoms are nothing to worry about, it’s better to have peace of mind.