If you experience cramping or bleeding in early pregnancy and think you might be having a miscarriage, it can be understandably isolating and frightening. But try to remember that you’re not alone, and if what you’re feeling is pregnancy loss, then it’s never your fault: there’s nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage.
Having as much information as possible during this time can be helpful, especially in terms of the signs and symptoms that you could expect. That’s why we’ve asked Dr. Allison Rodgers, an obstetrician and gynecologist, Illinois, US, to talk us through the miscarriage symptoms and signs to be aware of.
What is a miscarriage?
You might be familiar with the term miscarriage but still not be 100% sure about what it is. Essentially, a miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks. A pregnancy loss beyond this point is called a stillbirth.
Of course, no matter the stage of your pregnancy, pregnancy loss can be incredibly distressing. “It’s normal to be worried, scared, and freaked out,” assures Dr. Rodgers. But it’s important to remember that miscarriages only happen in the minority of pregnancies; around 10% to 20% of known pregnancies will end in miscarriage. It can also be helpful to understand that a miscarriage doesn’t occur because of something you’ve done. “Remember that miscarriage is not your fault,” adds Dr. Rodgers. “There is nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage or cause a miscarriage.”
It’s completely understandable to worry about changes in your body when you’re pregnant.
Below, we take a closer look at some of the symptoms of miscarriage; but try to remember that if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are having a miscarriage.
“lt’s good to educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of miscarriage and trust your instincts if you feel something isn’t right,” says Dr. Rodgers. “But if you are worried or unsure about what your symptoms mean, call your health care provider, who can run tests and give you a professional opinion.”
Vaginal bleeding or spotting is the most common symptom of miscarriage to look out for. “Bleeding in pregnancy can be very scary,” says Dr. Rodgers. However, she adds that it’s important to “remember that not all bleeding is a miscarriage.” For this reason, it’s important not to panic as you may cause yourself more stress than necessary.
Light bleeding early in pregnancy is not unusual; in fact, bleeding in the first trimester is common and happens in around 15% to 25% of pregnancies. It could simply be due to implantation bleeding, which occurs when the embryo burrows into the lining of your uterus within the first two weeks after conception. If you do experience bleeding during pregnancy, Dr. Rodgers suggests that you monitor it closely. “The only way to know is to see your medical provider to determine if the pregnancy is progressing as it should,” Dr. Rodgers advises.
She adds that if you’re saturating more than one pad per hour and that flow lasts more than two to three hours, you should call your doctor or go to an emergency room.
If the bleeding is due to a miscarriage, there are some additional signs and symptoms to be aware of. “The bleeding can be heavier than a pad per hour, but this part shouldn’t last too long (no more than 1 to 2 hours),” explains Dr. Rodgers. “[Afterward], you will find the bleeding and pain lightens.” Sometimes, miscarriages can also occur very early on in pregnancy, before the gestational sac has fully formed; these are called chemical pregnancies. In these cases, the bleeding and cramping will be lighter.
Dr. Rodgers also describes what you might expect to see. “The pregnancy tissue and uterine lining are more of a gray or tan color, while the blood clots that follow are dark red, like red wine.”
Experiencing this can be understandably distressing, so be sure to speak to your doctor and seek as much support from loved ones as you need. And above all, always be kind to yourself, and take as much time as you need to recover both physically and emotionally.
Cramping is another symptom to be aware of. But try to remember that, as with vaginal bleeding, it’s not always a sign of pregnancy loss. In fact, one study found that 85% of women experienced lower abdominal cramping in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and of those women, 27% experienced a loss. This shows that in more cases than not, cramping doesn’t necessarily mean you’re having a miscarriage.
However, it’s important to seek emergency care if you’re experiencing any severe cramping or pain, as this could be a sign of a serious pregnancy complication, such as an ectopic pregnancy. This sounds scary, but try not to panic; make sure you prioritize getting the help you need, and hopefully, a doctor will be able to reassure you.
Loss or reduction of pregnancy symptoms such as nausea and breast tenderness
In the early stages of pregnancy, often the only “evidence” you have that you’re expecting is a positive pregnancy test and a handful of pregnancy symptoms. But not everyone will experience these, and that can be totally normal. So, as hard as it may be, try not to assume that no pregnancy symptoms equate to a miscarriage.
If the pregnancy symptoms you were previously experiencing stop, however, this may be a sign of miscarriage. Some of the common early signs of pregnancy that you may have experienced include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Food aversions and cravings
- Breast tenderness
- Mood change
- Needing to pee more
- Bloating and constipation
- Sensitivity to smells
- Mild cramping
Having said that, as scary as it can be, try to remember that a loss or reduction of these pregnancy symptoms isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. It’s natural for pregnancy symptoms to peak and trough. Every pregnancy is different, and there are a number of different reasons why symptoms may come and go. If you’re concerned about a change in symptoms, always speak to your doctor to put your mind at ease.