Understanding miscarriage and baby loss


Trigger warning: This post deals with sensitive subjects such as miscarriage and pregnancy loss. If you or someone you know has been impacted by issues raised in this story, help is always available. Please call the SANDS 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637 or visit their website here.

Miscarriage can be one of the most devastating things for a woman (and her partner) to go through. Miscarriage is especially difficult due to not only the physical toll on the body as recovers but also the emotional toll of losing a baby and grieving the many layers of loss that comes with it.

Miscarriage is extremely common, it is believed approximately 1 in 5 known pregnancies will result in miscarriage. However, exact rates are not known because many women will experience a miscarriage without even realising they were pregnant in the first place.

Here we help you to understand how a miscarriage happens as well as the signs and symptoms to look out for.

What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is the spontaneous loss of your baby before 20 weeks, a loss after this point is called a stillbirth.

The most common signs and symptoms of a miscarriage include cramping and bleeding, however, some mild cramping and bleeding can be common in the early stages of pregnancy. So it is important to speak with your doctor or if the cramping or bleeding is severe you should go to emergency.

The most common symptoms of miscarriage include:

  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Cramping
  • Lower back pain
  • Pregnancy tissue and fluid passing out the vagina
  • Fever

There are 6 main types of miscarriage:

Threatened miscarriage

When the body shows signs that it might miscarry, but the baby is still alive. Vaginal bleeding during pregnancy can be referred to as a threatened miscarriage.

Complete and incomplete miscarriage

This is when the baby has died, and the contents of the uterus have either completely emptied or partially emptied.

Missed miscarriage 

Is when the baby dies but is retained in the uterus.

Blighted ovum 

When a fertilised egg implants in the uterus but the embryo does not develop. 

Ectopic pregnancy 

This happens when a fertilised egg starts growing in the wrong place, somewhere outside the uterus, such as in the fallopian tubes. 

Molar pregnancy 

A complete molar pregnancy is related to chromosomal abnormalities and no foetus develops. A partial or incomplete mole occurs when the placenta is abnormal, but a foetus is present.

Source: SANDS 

How does a miscarriage happen?

Women will often feel as though a miscarriage was caused by something they did – or didn’t do. However, most of the time the miscarriage is caused by a spontaneous chromosomal abnormality

Often parents will not find out what the exact cause was in their case, however, some other causes may be:

  • Hormonal abnormalities
  • Immune system and blood clotting conditions
  • Other medical conditions, eg thyroid problems or diabetes
  • Severe infections causing high fevers (not common colds)
  • Physical problems with your womb or cervix

 Source: Pregnancy Birth Baby

How is a miscarriage treated?

Your treatment and care will depend on what type of miscarriage you have experienced and your doctor will usually do an ultrasound to gain more information and then act accordingly.

However there are 3 main courses of action, once your doctor has assessed your situation.

‘Watch and wait’ or natural management

This usually occurs when the miscarriage is in early pregnancy. Your doctor will advise you to stay home as you wait for the pregnancy tissue to pass from the womb naturally. This can happen anywhere from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. 

Some women may miscarry naturally at home quite quickly before they have had a chance to speak with their doctor. If you are at home you can use pads to manage the bleeding, take paracetamol for the pain and get plenty of rest.

If you miscarry at home you should always have a follow-up with your doctor to make sure all the tissue has passed from the uterus.

Medical management

Your doctor can give you medication to help pass the pregnancy tissue, you will usually remain in the hospital for this or in some cases, you may be able to go home.

‘D&C’ or surgical management

This is a form of minor surgery under general anaesthetic called a ‘dilatation and curettage’ (D&C or curette) which is usually performed in cases where the woman is experiencing extreme bleeding or heavy cramping if there are any other health concerns, if the other forms of management have not worked and if the pregnancy is later. 

How long does a miscarriage last?

How long a miscarriage will last can actually vary quite a bit. In most cases, it should take around 1-2 days, however, in some cases (usually a missed miscarriage) it can take up to two weeks. Medical management can be used to speed up the process but is not suitable with heavy bleeding, signs of infection or if the pregnancy is beyond 9 weeks. If the tissue does not pass naturally your doctor will recommend the D&C.

Even after the miscarriage has happened, your body will continue to experience elevated hormone levels for a couple of weeks and this will affect your body and emotions as they regulate. Your period should return to normal around 4-6 weeks after.

Allow yourself time to recover from the miscarriage both physically and emotionally by taking time off work, getting plenty of rest and talking with your partner, a friend or a professional. Your support network is key during this time – remember you’re not alone. 

There is no right or wrong way to cope with a miscarriage and it will take time. If you are struggling and need further assistance, do not hesitate to reach out and get help. There is so much support out there.

If you or someone you know has been impacted by issues raised in this story, help is always available. Please call the SANDS 24-hour support line on 1300 072 637 or visit their website here.

Related Articles
5 signs and symptoms of miscarriage
7 things you can say (and do) to support someone going through miscarriage and pregnancy loss

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