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What is miscarriage?

A miscarriage is a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is a pregnancy loss before 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Going through miscarriage can be very difficult. There is more information about how you, and your partner if you have one, can get help and support.

How common is miscarriage?

Most parents worry about miscarriage in early pregnancy. Sadly around 1 in 8 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

About 8 in 10 miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy. Many happen before people even know they are pregnant.

After 13 weeks the chance of miscarriage drops very quickly. It is very unlikely that you will have a miscarriage at 16 weeks or later.

If you have three or more miscarriages in a row, it is  called recurrent miscarriage. This is uncommon and affects around 1 in 100 women.

What causes miscarriage?

For about half of miscarriages, the cause is not known.

In early miscarriage, it can be because your baby is not developing properly. This may be because of problems with your baby’s chromosomes, which carry their DNA. This is usually a one-off for parents, and many people go on to have a successful pregnancy.

It can be easy to blame yourself for a loss. But rest assured, a miscarriage is not caused by things like having sex, doing your usual exercise, or carrying on working.

What are the risks for miscarriage?

There are some things that put you at higher risk of miscarriage:

  • Age: miscarriages are slightly more common in women over 35 years and very common when women are aged over 40 years. Miscarriage is also more common when the father is over 40 years.
  • Ethnic background: The risk of miscarriage is higher if you have a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. The reasons for this are unclear. It may be linked to being at higher risk of health conditions. Or it may be because of inequalities in healthcare.
  • Lifestyle: Smoking, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs and drinking too much caffeine all increase your risk.

Some pre-existing conditions increase the chances of miscarriage. These include:

Some infections, including sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can also be linked to miscarriage.

If you have an infection in pregnancy or an existing long-term health problem, talk to your health professionals as soon as you can.

The NHS has more information on these risks and what can help.

What are the symptoms of a miscarriage?

  • Bleeding is the most common symptom. It might be a small amount of blood or bleeding like a period. The colour can vary from brown to bright red. The colour and amount may vary from day to day.
  • Cramps like period pains and back pain are also common symptoms of miscarriage

If you are pregnant and have any bleeding contact your early pregnancy assessment unit (EPAU) or GP as soon as possible. It does not always mean you are having a miscarriage. There are other causes of bleeding in pregnancy. About a quarter of women will have some spotting or light bleeding in very early pregnancy, but it is important to be checked.

Some symptoms can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy which can be serious in some women. Find out more about ectopic pregnancy.

Some people do not have any symptoms. The miscarriage may only be found on an ultrasound scan. This is sometimes called a silent or missed miscarriage.

What happens if I have a miscarriage?

If your midwife or doctor thinks you are having a miscarriage, they may:

  • Examine you
  • Send you for extra tests, such as an ultrasound scan or a blood test

You may be sent to an early pregnancy assessment unit for assessment.

The charity Tommy’s (who specialise in supporting people through baby loss) have more information about the tests and checks you may have.

Sadly, if you are having a miscarriage there is no treatment to stop it.

Your care team will focus on making sure that no pregnancy tissue is left in your womb.

If pregnancy tissue remains in your womb, or the miscarriage is picked up on a scan you have some choices.

  • You could wait to see if the tissue comes out by itself (expectant management). This can take up to two weeks. You may get some cramping during this time, similar to period pain.
  • You could take medicine to help the pregnancy come out of the womb (medical management). The tablets take a few hours to work and you will be able to stay at home while this happens. Again, you’ll have period-like cramps as well as heavy bleeding.
  • You could have surgery to remove the tissue (surgical management). You will probably be offered this if expectant management and medicine have not worked. This is minor surgery and you’ll be offered a general or local anaesthetic. In most cases you’ll be able to go home the same day.

These can be very hard and upsetting decisions to make. You may need some time to make them, and you may have many questions to ask.

Your health professionals should explain everything. They should also provide you with information so that you can take time to think things through.

The NHS and Tommy’s have more information.

Getting support

If you have been through or are going through a miscarriage there is lots of support and help available. This could be from your doctor, midwife, or other health professionals. You could ask to be referred for counselling. You can also find support online from:

Can I get pregnant again?

Most miscarriages happen as a one-off. You have a good chance of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. Most people go on to have a baby after having a miscarriage

Around 1 in 100 people have more than one miscarriage.  You may be able to have treatment to help with this. Talk to your doctor if you have had more than one miscarriage.

Your doctor may suggest you wait until you’ve had at least one normal period before you get pregnant again.

This is because it shows your body is ready again. It also makes it easier to work out your due date in your next pregnancy.

Let's Talk Miscarriage webinar

Director of Women's Health Research Centre and Principle Investigator of the Recurrent Miscarriage Tissue, Professor Dame Lesley Regan talks about the experience of pregnancy loss, moving from the biology and physical experience to the emotional impact. She is joined by broadcaster and journalist Tulip Mazumdar, who shares her experience of maternal health issues that women face and her own experience of pregnancy loss.

Our research on miscarriage

As a women’s health charity, part of what we do is fund research to save and change the lives of women, girls and babies.