Understanding a Miscarriage

Reviewed by James Brann, MD
When pregnancy ends before week 20, it is called a miscarriage. A fully developed pregnancy will last approximately 40 weeks.

How is a miscarriage caused?

A miscarriage may be caused by different problems. It may result when either the fetus, or rather your unborn child, stops growing. Oftentimes this is due to genetic problems. Other times, though, a miscarriage may be caused due to medical problems in the mother. This may include poorly controlled diabetes or issues with the shape of her uterus, also called the womb in which a baby grows.

Symptoms of miscarriage

Commonly, the signs of miscarriage include vaginal bleeding, cramping or belly pain. Contact your nurse or doctor right away if you’re pregnant and develop these types of symptoms. If you don’t know whether you’re pregnant, you’ll want to go ahead and take a home urine pregnancy test.

Call your nurse or doctor right away during pregnancy if:
  • There’s anything solid that comes out of your vagina
  • You experience thick, foul-smelling fluid from your vagina
  • You’re running a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more (37.8 degrees Celsius)
If for any reason you can’t reach your nurse or doctor, or if you’re bleeding is so heavy that you’re soaking through a sanitary pad in one to two hours, go to the ER.

While these types of symptoms don’t signify a miscarriage every time, your doctor should be able to help determine if there’s anything wrong.

Should I have tests?

Possibly by just asking you some questions and conducting a pelvic exam, your doctor may be able to tell if you’ve had a miscarriage. She or he may also want to take a look at your uterus via ultrasound. This type of machine creates a picture of inside your body by using sound waves. By doing this, your doctor can see the fetus and know whether there’s a heartbeat. If there is, you haven’t had a miscarriage. You doctor may be able to tell you, though, if you’re likely to have one in the future. You may also need to have a blood test, and then repeat it again in a few days to check up on the pregnancy.

If you have a blood type that’s negative, you may need to have a special injection which helps prevent potential problems with future pregnancies. If you’re unsure of what your blood type is, you can always ask your nurse or doctor to check.

Treating a miscarriage

Once a miscarriage begins, you can’t stop it. With a miscarriage, your body will need to get rid of the extra fluid and the fetus. In some cases, your doctor may just want you to wait until this naturally occurs. In other cases, though, this isn’t an option. Instead, your doctor may either give you medicine which will help your body go through the process or need to conduct a surgery that removes the contents of the pregnancy from your uterus.

Preventing a miscarriage

Unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent a miscarriage altogether. You are able, though, to decrease your chances of it occurring by avoiding any type of belly injury, as well as avoiding alcohol and cigarettes. Certain infections or a fever may also put you at risk, so talk to your doctor about what you can do to avoid infections.

There are certain invasive tests during pregnancy that, in rare cases, may cause a miscarriage. If your doctor should suggest testing your fetus, find out whether that test could put you at risk of miscarriage. There are also some treatments or medicines that may harm a fetus. Before you take any prescription, over-the-counter or herbal medicines, and before you have any type of medical treatment or an X-ray, make sure you find out from your nurse or doctor whether it could harm your unborn child.

After a miscarriage

If you’ve had a miscarriage, you don’t want to put anything inside your vagina for two weeks, or have sex during this time. You’ll want to talk to your doctor before you restart birth control, too.

While many women do feel anxious or sad following a miscarriage, there are cases where women really become depressed. If this happens to you, make sure you talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to suggest some ways you can cope, or even some treatments.

Having a normal pregnancy

While some women who’ve had a miscarriage may find themselves more likely to have future miscarriages, many women who’ve had a miscarriage do later have a healthy pregnancy.

Some doctors suggest waiting between two and three months, though, before trying to get pregnant again. If you’ve had at least three miscarriages, your doctor may want to conduct some testing to try to find out why.

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