A miscarriage is a pregnancy that ends naturally before the embryo is sufficiently developed to survive. It’s thought that about 1 in 4 pregnancies will result in miscarriage.
Most miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. There are no reliable statistics or studies breaking down the risk of miscarriage by pregnancy week but it is know that the risk of miscarriage decreases dramatically after week 8 and, from week 13, only 1% of women miscarry.
Who is at risk of miscarriage?
Miscarriage is more common in older women, especially those over 35. According to a 2000 study, published in the BMJ:
- In women of 20, around 15% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
- In women of 25, around 16% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
- In women of 30, around 18% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
- In women of 35, around 22% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
- In women of 40, around 38% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
- In women of 45, around 70% pregnancies will end in miscarriage
Recent research also suggests that being very underweight before you get pregnant makes you more likely to miscarry.
What are the signs of a miscarriage?
Bleeding can be a sign of miscarriage but, by itself, it doesn’t always mean you are miscarrying. In fact, between 20% and 40% of pregnant women experience bleeding but 75% of these pregnancies will continue to term.
If bleeding is a miscarriage, it is usually accompanied by abdominal cramps (like period pains) and may be heavy, with clots.
You should see your GP or midwife if you experience any bleeding: there are often other causes that need checking out, such as an infection or problems with the placenta.
Why does a miscarriage happen?
Many women worry that they have somehow caused the miscarriage, but this is rare. It is often nature’s way of stopping an unhealthy pregnancy – if the foetus has a genetic disorder, for example.
As miscarriage is common and most women go on to have normal subsequent pregnancies, a cause isn’t usually looked for until a woman has had 3 miscarriages.
Where can I go for support?
If you do suffer a miscarriage, you may feel angry or resentful, or guilty that you were somehow to blame – which you almost certainly weren’t.
Talk about your feelings with your partner (and listen to his feelings), and with friends and family. Talk to your doctor or midwife, too, who may refer you for counselling.
The Miscarriage Association has a forum, a Facebook page, an online Live Chat and a helpline on 01924 200799 that’s open Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm).
Dr Sarah Jarvis is a GP and GP trainer and Clinical Consultant to Patient.co.uk. She appears frequently on TV and is the resident doctor on Jeremy Vine’s show on Radio 2. She is the author of 6 books, including Women’s Health for Life. She was awarded an MBE in 2018 for services to general practice and the public understanding of health. She trained in medicine at Cambridge and Oxford.