Miscarriage is more common than you think.
Out of people that know they’re expecting, 10-15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. That number shoots up for people who don’t know they’re pregnant and experience early miscarriages. Overall, about half of pregnancies end in miscarriage.
Later on in your journey, the signs could be more obvious. But how do you know if you’ve experienced an early loss?
In this guide, you’ll learn about the 7 symptoms of early miscarriage.
What Happens During a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage, also called spontaneous abortion, happens when a pregnancy ends before 20 weeks (after 20 weeks, it’s called stillbirth). During a miscarriage, the body expels the fetus. Since the baby is still too underdeveloped, it’s unable to live.
You may experience early miscarriage symptoms, the most obvious being heavy bleeding. However, some women don’t have symptoms.
After you stop bleeding, your hormones will slowly return to normal. Along with emotional changes caused by hormones—once you know a miscarriage has happened—you might experience other moods. Some women have anxiety, depression, or sleep problems related to the grief.
Miscarriage is very common but it might not feel that way. Since people share their successes quicker than their pains, some parents may feel alone. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for support.
How Early Does Early Miscarriage Happen?
The loss of a fetus is called a miscarriage up until 20 weeks, but most occur within the first 12 weeks. Losses within this period are considered early miscarriages.
Many times, people have miscarriages before they even know they’re pregnant. For example, heavy bleeding in the first week or two may be mistaken for a late period. Since an early miscarriage symptom is cramping, it can be hard to tell the difference.
7 Symptoms of Early Miscarriage
Below are the common symptoms of early miscarriage. Keep in mind that having a symptom doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve had a miscarriage.
How much you bleed during a miscarriage depends on a number of factors. People who experience very early miscarriages typically bleed less, sometimes not at all. The further along you are, the more blood you may experience.
Although spotting can be a sign of miscarriage, it may also be a sign of implantation, required for a pregnancy. Implantation bleeding happens within 6 to 12 days after conception and may also appear pink or brown.
When evaluating for early miscarriage symptoms, it can be difficult to tell whether bleeding is a miscarriage or period. Research suggests that if you miscarry 2 weeks or less after an expected period, your miscarriage bleeding is more likely to resemble a period.
Like a period, you might notice the bleeding is heavy for the first day and then gets lighter, similar to spotting. Since it’s not a period and could heighten your risk of infection, do not use tampons. Use pads instead.
#2 Tissue Expelled
Depending on how far along you are, you might also notice tissue being expelled, which could look like blood clots. They can range from small to large in size.
Miscarriages after 6 weeks will need to expel more tissue. However, just because you experience miscarriage bleeding doesn’t mean you’ll notice tissue being expelled.
#3 Cramps and Miscarriage Pain
When a pregnancy isn’t viable, your body expels the fetus. To do that, the womb contracts, which causes cramping. It can feel similar to period cramps; however, many times they’re stronger—ranging from mild to severe. You’ll probably experience the strongest miscarriage pain on the first day. The next day or so, cramps should lessen.
If you have an early miscarriage, you might only feel very light cramping, if at all.
#4 Lower Back Pain
Some people don’t know that cramps can also affect your lower back—which is why sore backs are common during periods. Even if you experienced back pain as a pregnancy symptom, it may become more intense.
Lower back pain could be your first symptom of early miscarriage. Because you might assume it’s related to pregnancy, you may not question it until you start to feel stomach cramps.
#5 Hormone Changes
Hormone changes won’t be your first noticeable symptom of early miscarriage. However, you may notice a difference with in mood afterward.
After you’ve stopped bleeding, your pregnancy hormones dissipate. During this process, you might feel different as your body transitions from pregnancy mode back to its normal hormones. This could include changes in mood, fatigue levels, and more.
It’s also worth noting that your changed mood might not be caused by your changing hormones. The grief of miscarriage can be emotionally taxing, especially for hopeful parents. Anxiety and depression are common as you work through the grief process.
#6 Loss of Pregnancy Symptoms
If you had a very early miscarriage, you might not have had pregnancy symptoms yet.
However, if you’ve experienced signs, you’ll notice they also fade away as your pregnancy hormones do. For example, early signs of pregnancy like swollen breasts, fatigue, and morning sickness will go away.
#7 Loss of Fetal Heart Rate
Fetal dopplers are at home devices that allow you to detect your baby’s heartbeat while they’re still in the womb.
If you’re consistently using an at home fetal doppler, an absence of the heartbeat—combined with other symptoms—may be a cause for concern. First, consider that only trained professionals can use the device to diagnose problems.
Although some parents detect their baby before or after, many can start using the device around 12 weeks.
If you’re consistently hearing your baby’s heartbeat and one day you don’t, you might begin to worry. Before you do, ask yourself:
- If you can’t detect it anymore, are you sure you picked up the heartbeat before? Some people mistake the placentaand other noises for a heartbeat.
- Were you consistently detecting the heartbeat before? Detecting heartbeats during early pregnancy can be inconsistent and that’s normal.
- Are you experiencing other symptoms, like bleeding and cramps?
- Are you experiencing a loss of pregnancy symptoms?
If so, contact your doctor about your symptoms ASAP.
How to Know for Sure
It’s possible the above symptoms of early miscarriage indicate you’ve had one. However, they could also have other causes. So, how can you be sure?
If you’ve already received a positive at home pregnancy test, it’s possible that another pregnancy test would show negative after a miscarriage. However, since it takes time for the pregnancy hormones to dissipate, it could also give you a false positive and real negative days later.
The only way to know for sure whether you’ve had a miscarriage is to talk to your doctor. Let them know the symptoms you’re experiencing and they’ll likely encourage you to come in to be examined.
Even if you’re sure you’ve had a miscarriage, you should still see your doctor to ensure it’s complete.
What To Do If You Experience Symptoms of Early Miscarriage
If you think you’re having a miscarriage, contact your doctor or midwife. They will evaluate you and determine if you need any treatment.
Many times, your body expels all of the tissue and the miscarriage completes itself. Other times, an incomplete or missed miscarriage might require treatment, like medication or a surgical procedure.
Why Does Early Miscarriage Happen?
Most people who experience miscarriage wonder why it happened.
Typically, miscarriages occur because a fetus isn’t developing as it should. What causes that is less clear in many cases.
The developmental problems are caused by chromosomal abnormalities about 50% of the time. These problems are usually random and aren’t likely to happen again. If someone has recurrent miscarriages, they or their partner might undergo genetic counseling and/or consider assistance, like in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Hormone imbalances can affect the way a fetus is developed. This can be tested for and treated with medication.
Cervix and Uterus Problems
An abnormally shaped uterus or cervix can make keeping a pregnancy difficult for some people.
Although people with diabetes and high blood pressure often have healthy pregnancies, unmanaged conditions can affect the fetus.
Pregnancy loss can also be caused by autoimmune disorders, like thyroid disease and lupus.
Untreated, serious infections, including sexually transmitted infections, can affect the normal development of a baby.
Smoking, drinking, and using other drugs can lead to miscarriage. Even some prescribed medication can affect the fetus, so be sure to check with your doctor if you’re trying to conceive.
What’s most important is to understand that miscarriage isn’t your fault. Most cases happen because of random chromosomal abnormalities, meaning future successful pregnancies are still likely.
P.S. Do you have a fetal doppler yet? These handheld devices can be used at home to detect your baby’s heartbeat. They’re an amazing bonding experience that provides reassurance to worried mothers.