Losing a pregnancy, no matter when or how it happens is incredibly difficult. And having a miscarriage before you find out you’re pregnant can be really confusing. It can feel like you’re mourning the loss of something you didn’t even know you had. This can happen if you have a chemical pregnancy — a very early miscarriage that happens before your fifth week of pregnancy.
Chemical pregnancy can be really difficult to understand due to the fact that it happens so early on. You may not have even missed a period yet, which is one of the first key signs that you’re pregnant. To make it more confusing, many of the symptoms that are linked to chemical pregnancies can feel a little bit like a very heavy period.
To help you spot the differences between a period and a chemical pregnancy and to share information about the other symptoms, we spoke with two Flo experts. Plus, a Flo user shares their experience of chemical pregnancy — because the emotional side of it is just as important to talk about as the physical.
What is a chemical pregnancy?
Chemical pregnancy (sometimes called biochemical pregnancy) is a pregnancy loss that happens within the first five weeks after conception because the embryo stops developing in the uterus. The name can sound really harsh or detached, so please remember this isn’t your doctor commenting on your loss or how you should feel about it.
Chemical pregnancy gets its name from the different chemicals or hormones that develop in your body around week five of pregnancy. After you conceive, your embryo will implant into the wall of your uterus. Around one week later, a placenta will start to develop.
Your placenta produces the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (or hCG), which supports your body while your baby develops. It’s hCG that at-home urine pregnancy tests and blood tests look for in order to confirm that you’re pregnant because, at this stage, the embryo is far too small to see on an ultrasound scan.
If you experience a chemical pregnancy, your hCG levels will drop. Dr. Allison Rodgers, obstetrician and gynecologist, Illinois, US, explains that many chemical pregnancies happen between weeks three and five of pregnancy.
Losing your pregnancy so early might leave you with lots of questions, so it’s important to lean on your health care provider for information and support. Remember that a loss like this is never your fault, and you don’t need to have all the answers.
Chemical pregnancy and clinical pregnancy: Is there a difference?
You might have heard the term clinical pregnancy and wondered how it’s different from a chemical pregnancy. Although the terms sound similar, there’s an important difference between the two. Dr. Barbara Levy, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Washington, DC, US, explains that a clinical pregnancy is “when an ultrasound can detect a gestational sac or an embryo.” However, “if the pregnancy test is positive, but there is no sign of pregnancy tissue, that’s called a chemical pregnancy.”
It’s estimated that between 8% and 33% of all pregnancies will end as a chemical pregnancy, but it can be really difficult to know how common it actually is. This is because some people will have one and won’t even have known they were pregnant.
A chemical pregnancy means you won’t end up with a clinical pregnancy, and while this happens early on, the loss that you might feel afterward is completely valid. You should always have the support and space to express your feelings.