Miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, is classified as a pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks. It is more common than many people think, occurring in about 8–20 percent of clinically recognized first-time pregnancies.
Pregnancy loss after this time is rare. Losses in the second trimester, between 13 and 19 weeks, occur in just 1–5 percent of pregnancies.
Some women want to understand the process of a pregnancy loss so that they can take time out from daily life and reach out for emotional support. Other people might want information to help a loved one who is experiencing a pregnancy loss.
How long does a miscarriage last?
It can take up to a month for the body to recover after a miscarriage.
Every woman’s experience of a pregnancy loss is different. The stage of their pregnancy affects how long it lasts, as well as how long it may take them to recover.
A pregnancy loss can involve a variety of both physical and emotional symptoms. Physical symptoms can include bleeding, stomach cramps, a feeling of the uterus emptying, or sensing the hormonal shifts as the body adjusts. The emotional impact often involves a period of grieving. These shifts can take several weeks and are often subtle.
Doctors cannot give an exact timescale of miscarriages. Each pregnancy is unique. The timeframe varies significantly between different pregnancies. Sometimes, a doctor can estimate how long bleeding, cramping, and other symptoms might last, depending on the type of miscarriage, the gestational age, and dating accuracy.
At an early stage, pregnancy loss may last for several days, with the bleeding becoming lighter nearer the end. In the later stages of pregnancy, women may experience bleeding that lasts for much longer.
Sometimes, people in the later stages of pregnancy may not experience any symptoms at all and may not discover what has happened until they have a routine scan.
It can take up to a month for the body to recover after a pregnancy loss. According to March of Dimes, women may still have pregnancy hormones in their blood for up to 2 months after the pregnancy loss, but this depends on the length of the pregnancy. Typically, women get their period again after 4 to 6 weeks.
Types of pregnancy loss
Pregnancy loss can occur at any stage throughout a pregnancy.
A very early miscarriage is sometimes called a chemical pregnancy. This type of pregnancy loss happens before any signs of pregnancy are visible on an ultrasound, and it often occurs before a woman even knows that they are pregnant.
Some women may notice a chemical pregnancy when they take a pregnancy test very soon after conceiving, which may be before or around the time they miss a period. They may only know that they have lost the pregnancy when they begin bleeding several days later.
Because chemical pregnancies happen so early, the bleeding associated with this loss often resembles a typical period. Although vaginal bleeding is often the only symptom, some women report that the bleeding is more substantial or lasts a little longer than usual. The bleeding should stop within a few days.
First and second trimester
First-trimester pregnancy losses happen before 12 weeks. However, most pregnancy losses happen within 8 weeks of a woman becoming pregnant.
Women may experience more severe symptoms the further along the pregnancy is. The symptoms of a first-trimester pregnancy loss, such as bleeding, cramping, and abdominal pain, typically last for several days.
Women experiencing pregnancy loss in the second trimester may feel like they are going into labor. The symptoms are often more intense than in the first trimester, as the uterus contains more tissue that needs to come out.
Bleeding may occur for a few days before or after delivery of the fetus. People experiencing a miscarriage at this stage will likely need medical care.
A pregnancy loss that occurs after 20 weeks is considered a late-stage loss and doctors refer to it as stillbirth or fetal death. A woman may only discover they are having a late-stage pregnancy loss by going into premature labor or through a routine ultrasound scan.
What to do during a pregnancy loss
A woman should see a doctor if she feels she has experienced a pregnancy loss.
Not all women experiencing a pregnancy loss will require treatment, especially in the early stages. In many cases, a woman’s uterus will empty on its own with no complications.
However, it is important to see a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis. Not all vaginal bleeding means a woman will lose the pregnancy. It is important to determine if a health problem has caused the miscarriage.
Several days after the pregnancy loss begins, see a doctor or midwife for an examination to make sure the uterus has emptied, as any remaining material can cause complications.
Occasionally, a miscarriage is incomplete, which means the uterus does not empty entirely on its own. There are three options to manage this: waiting for the process to occur naturally, speeding up the process of miscarriage by using medication, or carrying out a surgical procedure.
Surgery sometimes takes place when there is an infection, or when someone feels emotionally unable to await a natural miscarriage. In these instances, a doctor will perform a medical procedure called a dilation and curettage (D&C) to remove the fetus, placenta, and other tissue from the uterus.
The doctor may perform the procedure using general or local anesthesia. Some individuals experience cramping afterward, and many bleed for several days.
Sometimes, an infection develops that may require antibiotics, or in rarer cases, hospitalization.
Women should see a doctor for a miscarriage when:
- they experience vaginal bleeding
- a pattern of vaginal bleeding previously checked by a doctor becomes heavier or more painful
- the fetus stops moving
- there are signs of premature labor, such as intense cramping
- a pregnancy loss previously diagnosed by a doctor causes intense pain or a fever
How to prevent pregnancy loss
Avoid alcohol during pregnancy.
Most pregnancy losses are not preventable. Genetic abnormalities in the developing fetus are the most common reason for a miscarriage.
In miscarriages that occur before 10 weeks of pregnancy, genetic problems may account for as many as 80 percent of miscarriages.
To reduce the risk of miscarriage:
- Treat any underlying medical conditions. Uncontrolled diseases, such as diabetes and thyroid disorders, can cause pregnancy loss.
- Avoid alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications marked as unsafe for pregnancy. Drugs can increase the risk of genetic changes in the fetus that can lead to complications or pregnancy loss.
- Take prenatal vitamins and maintain a healthful, balanced diet.
- Seek care from a doctor or midwife early in pregnancy. Good prenatal care can detect and treat some conditions that increase the risk of miscarriage.
In most cases, a pregnancy loss occurs because of a problem with the developing fetus and has nothing to do with the woman who is pregnant. Most women will not have two pregnancy losses in a row.
A 2016 study found that it is generally safe for people to begin trying for another baby immediately if they wish to do so. In fact, the chances of a successful pregnancy in the 3 months following a miscarriage may even be slightly higher.
A pregnancy loss can be a difficult and emotional time. Many women and their partners feel bereft and overwhelmed and may go through a process of grieving.
It is a good idea to talk with a doctor about the reason for the loss of the pregnancy and for reassurance about the safety of trying again.
While it is relatively common for a woman to have multiple miscarriages in her lifetime, those who experience multiple losses in a row should speak to a doctor. Multiple pregnancy losses may indicate an underlying that requires treatment.
In most cases, people who choose to try again will go on to have a healthy pregnancy.