Miscarriage symptoms and signs
This article covers subjects including vaginal bleeding and 'threatened', 'inevitable', 'missed' or 'delayed' miscarriage.
Miscarriage is hard to understand and so are the symptoms of a miscarriage. Sometimes you might experience signs and can sense that 'something isn’t right' while other times only a scan can tell.
It’s quite common to lose some stale brown blood or even a little bright red blood in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy. A heavy loss of blood, particularly if you are passing clots and have low backache, could be signs of a miscarriage. Sadly, about one quarter of confirmed pregnancies end this way. Some women want to consult their midwife if they they are having miscarriage symptoms, and others prefer to cope on their own.
Occasionally, the baby dies in the uterus, but isn’t expelled from the body. You may know that ‘something isn’t right’ and feel ‘less pregnant’, or you may have no symptoms. This is called a missed miscarriage and can only be confirmed on a scan. You may prefer to wait for the miscarriage to complete itself, or choose to have a minor operation to empty your uterus.
Vaginal bleeding: what’s happening?
It’s helpful to know some medical jargon so that you have a better understanding of what your doctor and midwife are saying to you.
- A threatened miscarriage is when you have symptoms of a miscarriage, such as some vaginal bleeding and perhaps uncomfortable stomach cramps, which could be early miscarriage symptoms. There is no need to go to bed unless you want to, and there are no drugs the doctor can give you to protect your pregnancy. You have to wait and see what happens. You could ask your doctor to arrange an ultrasound scan. If this shows that your baby is a normal size and that his heart is beating, then it is likely that your pregnancy will continue safely.
- An inevitable miscarriage is when bleeding from the vagina is accompanied by painful stomach cramps and the neck of the womb (cervix) starts to open up. The miscarriage may happen quickly or take some time. You are likely to bleed for about 10 days afterwards. If you bleed for longer than this, or you go on having stomach cramps, or you notice a smelly pinkish discharge from your vagina, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. You might still have some tissue from the pregnancy left inside you, which could cause an infection or haemorrhage.
- A missed or delayed miscarriage is when the baby dies but is not expelled from the womb. There may be a brownish discharge from the vagina. You may have an intuition that something is not right, or you may have no missed miscarriage symptoms or signs at all and only find out that the baby has died when you have a routine scan. This can be very shocking.
Doctors used to call a miscarriage an ‘abortion’ and this word is sometimes still used. It can be confusing if you think of an abortion as a decision taken by a woman to bring her pregnancy to an end.
What happens next?
You might choose to wait for nature to end the pregnancy. This could happen in a few hours or take several weeks. Or you might choose to have a small operation (called ERPC or D&C) to empty your womb. This is done under general anaesthetic but you probably won’t have to stay in hospital overnight. You might be given medication that will speed up the process of miscarriage and your doctors will explain this to you.
After the miscarriage you may feel fine or you may wish to find some support for the feelings you and your partner may experience. See miscarriage support for more information on this and on when you can consider getting pregnant again.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
NCT's Shared Experience Helpline supports parents who have had a difficult experience during pregnancy, birth or early parenthood.
The Miscarriage Association offers support and information to anyone affected by the loss of a baby in pregnancy, and works to raise awareness and to promote good practice in medical care.
NHS choices also offers information on miscarriage, including causes, diagnosis and treatment.
Tommy's, a charity which funds research into stillbirth, premature birth and other subjects around this sensitive issue publishes it's booklet 'Miscarriage: Your questions answered'.