Miscarriage: the signs and symptoms

How do you know if you're having a miscarriage? We talk through the signs to watch out for and how to get the help you need

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Miscarriage is, sadly, a common occurrence, with statistics indicating that around one in five pregnant women are affected, usually within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

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It’s important to understand the symptoms of miscarriage and what they mean, along with the different types of miscarriage a woman can suffer from, so you can get the help that you need, if necessary.

The common signs

Bleeding is the most common sign of miscarriage. Ruth Bender-Atik, from The Miscarriage Association, recommends that you should always have a check-up with your doctor or midwife if you are suffering from any bleeding at all. 

Bleeding during a miscarriage can vary from light spotting to a heavy, period-like flow. The colour of your blood can vary from dark to bright red and some women suffer with a brown coloured discharge. “If it’s a heavy bleed, with clotting, then, unfortunately, it’s more than likely that a miscarriage is being suffered,’ says Ruth. “However, bleeding doesn’t always mean a miscarriage.”

She adds: “If you’re between 7-8 weeks pregnant and suffering with spotting then your doctor might send you for a scan. If you have had an ectopic pregnancy in the past, your doctor can send you for a scan earlier than 7 weeks. However, this can also cause worry or confusion as it could still be too early to hear a heartbeat or the baby is still too small to be picked up. Sometimes, doctors perform a transvaginal scan, which scans internally and can sometimes pick up an early heartbeat.”

The length of bleeding after a miscarriage varies, but it can last for several weeks. 

Pain and cramps

Lower stomach pain is also a very common sign of miscarriage. These pains can feel very much like period cramps – if they are present with bleeding, then it’s vital for you to see your doctor straight away.

The strength of these cramps depends upon the individual, as everyone’s pain threshold is different.

Signs of an ectopic pregnancy can sometimes be misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or even appendicitis, due to some similar symptoms.

“With an ectopic pregnancy, women suffer more of an acute pain, and even get pain in their shoulders, which not many people realise. Another symptom can be pain/pressure in the bowel when going to the toilet,” explains Ruth.

Are there any other symptoms?

While bleeding and cramps are both signs of suffering a miscarriage, some women do not have any symptoms at all. Ruth says that some women may just “know” that something might be wrong.

If you have had strong early pregnancy symptoms, such as morning sickness or tender breasts, and they start to disappear at around 8-9 weeks of pregnancy, then you should see your doctor.

Different types of miscarriage

Ruth talks us through the different classifications of miscarriage:

Silent/Delayed miscarriage is when the woman only discovers that she’s lost her baby at a scan, as there were no other regular miscarriage symptoms.

Threatened miscarriage doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to miscarry, although some threatened miscarriages progress to actual miscarriage. Women with threatened miscarriage have more bleeding than spotting, and no pain is usually felt. If the pregnancy continues normally, a threatened miscarriage doesn’t cause harm to the baby. 

Late/Mid-trimester miscarriage occurs after 13-14 weeks, meaning that the woman has to go through labour. This, however, is less common than the other types of miscarriage. 

Early embryonic loss is when everything is developing correctly during the pregnancy, apart from the embryo itself.

One procedure that’s also important to talk about is ERPC – an Evacuation of Retained Products of Conception – meaning that if the foetus or any tissue from the pregnancy is still in the womb, it will be removed under general anaesthetic.

Always ask for help

“Remember, that if you’re anxious, bleeding, in pain or just uncertain in any way, it’s always a good idea to see or call your doctor or midwife. They can discuss with you the pros and cons of having a scan to check things out,” says Ruth. “You can also always get in touch with The Miscarriage Association to talk things through, gain advice or if you just want someone to listen to your thoughts.”

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For advice or just someone to talk to The Miscarriage Association is there to help.

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