What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is defined as a pregnancy that ends before 20 weeks. Up to one in five women who know they are pregnant will miscarry during this period, yet the rate of miscarriage is actually much higher as most miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks – a time when women might not realise they are pregnant.

What causes a miscarriage?

Most miscarriages occur by chance, so one miscarriage does not necessarily mean an increased chance for more; many women who experience miscarriage go on to have normal pregnancies. Only after three miscarriages is testing recommended to determine if there is a specific cause.

Miscarriage can be the body’s way of dealing with an abnormally developing embryo or an embryo that doesn’t take in the uterine lining. The concept of a miscarriage is therefore commonly, although perhaps inaccurately, linked to a woman’s fertility. Some of the reasons why a pregnancy can miscarry include:

  • Advanced age
  • Alcohol consumption, smoking or high caffeine intake
  • Running a high fever, which raises the body’s temperature
  • Pre-existing conditions like diabetes or an over/underactive thyroid
  • Hormonal imbalances, sometimes due to an unhealthy weight
  • Physical complications in the uterus
  • Certain tests, like an amniocentesis, which carry a very low risk to the health of the foetus.

What are the signs of a miscarriage?

The signs of a miscarriage aren’t overly easy to recognise. Signs include period-like pain, cramping in the abdomen and vaginal bleeding that precedes the passing of pregnancy tissue that is often quite clotted or thick. Women often report feeling faint or dizzy.

If you suspect a miscarriage and visit a doctor, consultation and examination will determine whether the miscarriage is ‘complete’ – all the tissue has passed; ‘incomplete’ – some tissue has passed but some remains in the uterus; or ‘missed’ – the foetus or embryo has stopped growing but remains inside the uterus.

Keep in mind that vaginal spotting is common in the first trimester and does not necessarily signify miscarriage. Once a miscarriage has begun, however, nothing can be done to stop the process.

How can I reduce the risk of miscarriage?

The easiest way to reduce the risk of miscarriage is to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Cut out alcohol and smoking entirely and increase your intake of whole fruit and vegetables. Avoid people with infectious illnesses who are at risk of transmitting to you. Sex is not a risk factor, and can be continued throughout pregnancy.

If you are planning your pregnancy, it is recommended that you supplement your diet with 0.5mg of folic acid per day in the month leading up to pregnancy and at least 12 weeks after. Folic acid assists with the development of the embryo’s nervous system and is associated with the prevention of conditions such as spina bifida.

It is important to keep in mind that doctors agree that a miscarriage is rarely due to something that a mother did or didn’t do.

What next if i have miscarried?

No one can tell you how to respond to a miscarriage – all feelings and responses can be valid. This goes for partners, too, whose feelings of loss and grief following a miscarriage can be just as visceral. Probably the most important step, however, is to avoid social isolation. Partners, family, friends and professionals can be strong sources of support during what can be a difficult time.

If you are intending to try again, your ovaries will usually release an egg after around 2 weeks, with your first period to follow in 4 to 6 weeks. It is possible to conceive again straight after a miscarriage, so if that is your intent it is important to be prepared mentally, physically and emotionally.

The above should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of trained medical professionals.