What happens during a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is a pregnancy that ends before 24 weeks, which is before most developing babies can survive outside the womb.

The majority of miscarriages happen during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is often referred to as the first trimester and are much more common that people realise. Many women who miscarry do not like talking about.

An estimated 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage, according to the NHS, but many cases go unreported because a woman often loses the baby before she even realises she’s pregnant.

What causes a miscarriage?

About half of all early miscarriages happen when a problem in the way chromosomes from the egg and sperm combine during the fertilization process, according to Bupa, leading to problems with the foetus. Many couples never find out why this has happened, and it is often put down to chance rather than another underlying cause.

While these chromosome problems often happen by chance, there are some known risk factors, which increase the chances of these issues occurring in the first 3 months of pregnancy (first trimester):

  • Age – women under 25 are at lowest risk with 9%, whereas those over 45 have a 75% chance of miscarrying, the NHS states.
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Drug use
  • Alcohol and caffeine consumption – drinking more than one cup of coffee a day and 2 small glasses of wine a week increases risk.

Second trimester miscarriages can often be caused by:

  • Underlying health conditions such as diabetes, lupus, kidney disease or thyroid problems
  • Infections such as rubella or bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • A higher than usual level of the antibody called antiphospholipid (aPL) in the blood
  • A weakened cervix
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome

The NHS dispels myths by stating that miscarriage risks ARE NOT linked to:

  • The mother’s emotional state during pregnancy
  • Being shocked or having a fright
  • Exercising during pregnancy (the most appropriate type of exercise should be discussed with a doctor)
  • Lifting or straining
  • Working during pregnancy or having sex

What are the symptoms of miscarriage?

The most common symptom of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. This can vary from light to very heavy, including blood clots and brown discharge. There may also be:

  • Cramping and pain in the pelvis and back
  • Usual pregnancy symptoms such as sickness and breast tenderness suddenly stopping

[adsense]You should contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you start experiencing bleeding during your pregnancy. A gynaecologist can diagnose a miscarriage through an ultrasound scan and blood tests.

How is a miscarriage treated?

Treatment depends on whether or not the miscarriage is complete or incomplete. In cases of a complete miscarriage, no further medical treatment is needed. If the latter occurs, however, the foetal tissue needs to be removed otherwise it may become infective. This can be done in three ways:

  • Surgical treatment where minor surgery is used to remove the tissue,
  • Medical treatment – where medication is used to remove the tissue, or
  • Expectant treatment – where you wait for the tissue to pass naturally out of your womb.

If you are experiencing recurring miscarriages, it is important to talk to your doctor about what treatments are available to maximise the chance of having a successful pregnancy.

Celebrities who have previously had miscarriages include screen siren Sharon Stone and songstress Lily Allen. Also read about Kym Marsh’s agony over giving birth to a premature baby and how Chris Evans’ wife nearly died during an ectopic pregnancy.

Images: Wikimedia Commons