Miscarriage, also known as pregnancy loss, is the spontaneous loss of a fetus before 20 weeks. The first period after a pregnancy loss may be different from a person’s usual menstruation.
Pregnancy loss is a common complication of pregnancy, occurring in 25% of pregnancies. Researchers estimate that 85% occur in the first trimester.
A person’s body can take a few weeks to a month or more to recover from a pregnancy loss.
This article explores what someone can expect from their first period following a pregnancy loss, including when to see a doctor.
The first period following a pregnancy loss can be longer and heavier than normal.
Someone might experience the following symptoms from this first period:
- discharge and a strong odor
- heavier than usual bleeding
- longer lasting bleeding than usual
- a period that is more painful than usual
- tender breasts
People who are not sure if they have had a pregnancy loss should visit a doctor if they experience any of the above symptoms. Medical professionals can carry out tests to determine if a pregnancy loss has occurred.
To confirm a pregnancy loss, doctors may perform the following tests:
Human chorionic gonadotropin test
The placenta produces human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) during pregnancy, which can be detected as early as 1 week after fertilization. After a pregnancy loss, a doctor can measure hCG levels with a blood test to determine if a person has been pregnant.
A doctor will recommend two hCG tests at least two days apart. Falling levels of this hormone may indicate a pregnancy loss. Further hCG tests and ultrasounds 1–2 weeks later can help confirm this.
A doctor can use a transvaginal ultrasound to check for a fetal heartbeat. Here, they will insert a small probe into the vagina. Alternatively, doctors can use an external ultrasound, though these are less accurate.
Most people get their period 4–6 weeks after a pregnancy loss. However, it may take longer for a regular cycle to resume.
Someone with irregular periods before becoming pregnant is likely to have irregular periods after a pregnancy loss. On average, the first period after a pregnancy loss lasts 4–7 days.
People who experience pregnancy loss between 12–20 weeks may find that it takes longer for their cycle to return to its usual pattern.
People can ovulate and become pregnant as soon as 2 weeks after a pregnancy loss. Someone who does not want to become pregnant again during this time should use contraception when having sex.
A person should also abstain from having sex until there is no bleeding from the pregnancy loss. This can help reduce the risk of infection.
A person who does not have a period after 6 weeks following a pregnancy loss may want to take a pregnancy test. If there is no pregnancy, but a period does not occur, people should speak with a doctor.
A medical professional may recommend waiting until after a period arrives to try for another pregnancy. This will make calculating the due date easier.
Learn more about when ovulation starts again after a pregnancy loss here.
People can follow several methods to manage painful periods:
- taking ibuprofen or naproxen
- refraining from having sex
- avoiding using tampons
- wearing a soft, supportive bra
- using a heating pad or hot water bottle on the lower abdomen
- doing light exercises, such as taking a walk or yoga
- taking a hot bath
- performing relaxation techniques, such as meditation
A person who has not had a period for more than 6 weeks following a pregnancy loss should speak to their doctor.
Some people can have what some refer to as incomplete miscarriage or pregnancy loss. This occurs when tissue from the pregnancy remains in the womb after a pregnancy loss.
Symptoms of an incomplete pregnancy loss include:
- heavy bleeding — if bleeding soaks through a sanitary pad in an hour, people should seek immediate medical help
- continuous bleeding
- passing blood clots
- increasing stomach pain
- flu symptoms
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should seek immediate medical help.
Infection is also a risk after a pregnancy loss. Anyone who notices the following symptoms should seek immediate medical assistance:
- heavy vaginal bleeding
- bleeding that lasts a long time
- vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor
- passing golf ball-sized clots
- severe pain in the stomach or shoulder
- fever or chills
- pain when attempting to empty bowels
- feeling dizzy or faint
- feeling weak
- flu symptoms
Experts recommend people visit a doctor 6 weeks after a pregnancy loss. Medical professionals can assess the recovery process and ensure the womb is healing properly.
People should also consult their doctor immediately if they notice any of the following symptoms:
- several periods that are heavier or more painful than usual
- periods do not resume
- periods becoming extremely irregular
The first period after a pregnancy loss will likely differ from a person’s regular menstruation. It may occur up to 6 weeks after and could be heavier and more painful than usual.
Ovulation can occur as early as 2 weeks after a pregnancy loss, meaning contraception is vital if a person does not want to become pregnant again.
Anyone who experiences any signs of infection or incomplete pregnancy loss should seek immediate medical help.