From causes and signs of miscarriage to what to do if it happens, being informed is an important part of keeping safe and sane in those early weeks.
How likely is miscarriage?
No woman wants to lose their baby but it important to know that it is a relatively common experience.
Heartbreaking but common.
Current studies suggest that up to 1 in 5 confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage (which is defined as the spontaneous loss of a pregnancy in the first 20 weeks), but many other women miscarry without having realised they are pregnant. This means the actual number is probably much higher Some of the medical community believe the number is more around the 30%-40% mark.
What can cause you to have a miscarriage?
So first up, let’s get really clear on what doesn’t cause a miscarriage.
Miscarriage is not caused by moderate exercise or sex. It is not caused by a small daily cup of coffee, black tea or green tea. Miscarriage doesn’t happen because you’re working or because you feel stressed or anxious or depressed.
What we do know is that most miscarriages happen because the baby isn’t developing properly. This is usually because of a chance chromosomal or genetic abnormality. So what does this mean? It means that most of the time whether or not we experience a miscarriage is completely out of our control.
This doesn’t mean we are powerless. There are some risk factors we can influence. These include:
- Drinking alcohol
- Drug use (this includes illegal drugs, and sometimes prescription and over the counter medication)
- Exposure to listeria, a bacteria that may be present in foods like undercooked and cold meats, raw eggs, unpasteurized dairy products and sushi, and
- Consuming excessive daily amounts of caffeine (more than 200mg) .
So to be safe it’s best to:
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes completely,
- Don’t take any drugs,
- With your medical practitioner, do a pregnancy safety review of any medication you take . This includes prescription medication, medicine you buy at the pharmacy and any vitamin or mineral supplements.
- Make sure the things you eat are pregnancy safe. If you’re not sure, best to give it a miss.
- Make sure you are informed about the current caffeine consumption guidelines in pregnancy and you’re sticking to the recommended caffeine limits.
Other possible reasons for miscarriage include trauma to your body while pregnant (like a car accident), hormonal or structural issues (such as low progesterone levels or uterine fibroids), chronic illnesses such as uncontrolled diabetes, lupus, or thyroid disease and some infections.
Another unfortunate risk factor is age. Being over 35 does mean the risk miscarriage is higher, but it’s not something you can change and it doesn’t mean you are not going to have a beautiful healthy baby. It’s just that – a risk factor.
Most women who miscarry never find out the exact cause and go on to have beautiful babies.
What are the actual signs of miscarriage? How will I know I’m having one?
So this next bit isn’t nice to talk about but it’s important to understand the signs of miscarriage so you can recognise them.
These are the most common signs of early miscarriage:
- Period pain like cramps. The cramps are quite low down in your abdomen.
- Bleeding. The bleeding can range from light spotting to a really heavy bleed.
- Dull pain around your lower back which is sometimes mixed up with an unusual feeling of pressure.
- A change in your vaginal discharge.
If you think you are miscarrying or you experience any of the signs of miscarriage listed above, you should get medical help and advice right away.
It’s worth knowing that these symptoms don’t mean that you are definitely miscarrying. For example spotting in pregnancy is relatively common and doesn’t in itself cause a miscarriage or mean you’re experiencing a pregnancy loss. But it’s a possibility that needs to be checked out (to protect your own wellbeing) and confirmed either way.
Unfortunately, nothing can be done to prevent or stop a miscarriage once it has begun.
One important safety note: use sanitary pads not tampons during pregnancy bleeding. If it is a miscarriage, tampons can increase the risk of infection.
Confirming a miscarriage
Another very crappy part about this experience is that once you experience signs of miscarriage you need to go through the process of medically confirming whether or not you have had a miscarriage.
It can be a very stressful time, full of waiting and tests and medical terminology which can seem really insensitive. So make sure you take a support person with you.
When you see your medical practitioner they may confirm a miscarriage by doing things like:
- Arranging for blood tests to check your pregnancy hormone levels
- Doing an examination
- Arranging for an ultrasound.
Through this process they’ll be able to find out what’s happening and what will happen next.
Depending on your circumstances you may be able to make choices about whether to let the process play out naturally or take some medication so you have more control over the timing. It’s very much a personal preference. In some cases a procedure called a dilatation and curette (or D&C) may be necessary.
The impact of miscarriage
You can’t really know how you are going to be affected by a miscarriage until you have one.
Some woman find the experience truly devastating. For others it’s not as significant and then there is everyone in between. Your circumstance and perspective plays a role but grief is grief and it can be unpredictable. Some women find themselves surprised by the depth of grief for their loss, even though it was very early on.
There is no wrong way to cope or react. There is no right way either.
One other challenge women can face after a miscarriage is that it can feel like everyone around you moves on faster than you do, even your partner. You can’t rush grief, it doesn’t conform to anyone’s timeframe.
You’ll move on in your on time and your own way but it can leave you feeling isolated.
Reaching out to other women who have experienced pregnancy loss can really help. The internet makes it so much easier to connect with women who have had shared experiences. There are lots of support forums and groups, some anonymous. A good place to start is to google “pregnancy loss support” and “miscarriage support group” and you’ll find a long list of groups and forums available. You might need to check out a couple before you find one that feels right for you.
For some women it can help to honour their loss by dedicating a special piece of jewellery or something beautiful to their lost baby. It doesn’t need to cost much, it’s more about the intention of remembrance and healing.