The loss of a baby through a miscarriage can be a devastating experience, but unfortunately this is a terribly sad reality for many women. Up to 1 in 4 confirmed pregnancies are believed to end in a miscarriage before 20 weeks, this amount may be even higher as many women miscarry without having known that they were pregnant. Most miscarriages will occur in the first 12 weeks, and to experience more than three miscarriages is quite rare.
What is a miscarriage?
A miscarriage is the loss of a baby before 20 weeks. When a baby has passed away after 20 weeks then this is referred to as a stillbirth. The experience of a miscarriage can vary greatly depending on whether this was an early (first trimester) or late (second trimester) miscarriage, however, some common physical signs of a miscarriage include:
- Lower backache
- Stomach cramps which are similar to period pain
- Vaginal spotting or bleeding
Types of Miscarriage
There are many different reasons why a miscarriage may occur, these will be discussed below. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing any of these symptoms, then it is important to see your doctor or go to an emergency department. There are three main types of miscarriages, this includes:
When the embryo implants outside of the uterus, this is called an ectopic pregnancy. A foetus generally doesn’t survive an ectopic pregnancy and will often go unnoticed until bleeding occurs, or there is severe lower abdomen pain, vaginal bleeding, vomiting or pain in the tip of one shoulder.
When a pregnancy fails to developed as expected from the point of conception, then this is referred to as a molar pregnancy. Usually this requires surgical removal.
When a sac develops but there is no baby inside, this is referred to as a blighted ovum. This type of miscarriage is also known as an “anembryonic pregnancy”, and is the result of an embryo not developing but rather being reabsorbed in to the uterus very early in the pregnancy. Fortunately, this condition is identified on a scan and treatment options can then be discussed with your doctor.
What causes a miscarriage?
In most cases, a miscarriage has nothing to do with anything that the women may or may not have done. It is found that in more than half of miscarriages it is the result of the genetic makeup of the foetus. There is no evidence to suggest that exercising, stress, work, or having sex can cause a miscarriage. Most parents don’t usually find out the exact cause of their miscarriage. However, it is known that a miscarriage are often the result of the baby not developing properly due to a spontaneous chromosomal abnormality – not an inherited abnormality.
Other causes of miscarriages may include:
- A physical problems with either the cervix or the womb
- Immune system and blood clotting
- Chronic medical conditions – uncontrolled diabetes, fibroids or thyroid problems.
- Severe infections (not the common cold)
How can I prevent a miscarriage?
Miscarriages may occur for all women of all ages and health status; nevertheless, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can increase your chance of having a healthy pregnancy. The best that you can do for yourself and your baby is to follow the basic medical advice for a healthy lifestyle and a healthy pregnancy:
- Don’t smoke or use illicit substances
- Limit your caffeine intake
- Avoid alcohol
- Where possible, avoid contact with others who have an infectious illness.
What about future pregnancies?
Following a miscarriage, most women will go on to have a healthy pregnancy. If, however, you have experienced a miscarriage the chance of having another miscarriage stays at 1 in 5. Although, if you have had recurrent miscarriages (3 or more in a row), then your doctor may suggest testing to find out if there is a specific cause.
Miscarriage. (2013). Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health, 58(4), 479-480.
Sands: Miscarriage, stillbirth and newborn death support.
The Women’s: The Royal Women’s Hospital