Miscarriage, or pregnancy loss, can look and feel different for each woman. Common symptoms include bleeding and cramping.
It is important to note that bleeding is common during pregnancy — especially in early pregnancy. It does not necessarily mean that anything is wrong.
The only way to accurately identify a miscarriage is to test pregnancy hormone levels and have an ultrasound of the uterus.
Read on to learn more about what pregnancy loss can look and feel like.
Not all miscarriages involve bleeding. In fact, according to a 2010 study of 4,539 pregnant women, around 12% of those with bleeding experienced pregnancy loss, while 13% of those without bleeding experienced pregnancy loss.
Overall, there is no single pattern that miscarriages follow. This is why it is crucial to seek medical care for bleeding and any unusual symptoms during pregnancy.
Pregnancy loss during the first trimester may involve:
- heavy bleeding
- bleeding that starts light and gets heavier
- passing blood clots or tissue
- cramping, which may come in waves
- a sudden decrease in pregnancy symptoms
If a woman takes a pregnancy test after experiencing a miscarriage during this time, the result may be negative, or the test may have a positive line that gets fainter.
Experiencing pregnancy loss later in the first trimester and beyond will involve passing more tissue.
Second-trimester miscarriages can also cause intense cramping and sometimes even contractions.
In addition to bleeding and cramping, some women may notice larger blood clots. Rarely, a woman may see a tiny fetus.
According to the large-scale study from 2010, 26% of participants reported bleeding during pregnancy, and 12% of those women experienced pregnancy loss.
Some differences between bleeding due to a miscarriage and other types of bleeding during pregnancy include:
- The amount of blood: Heavy bleeding is more likely to signal a miscarriage.
- The bleeding pattern: Bleeding that gets progressively heavier may indicate a miscarriage.
- Pain: Cramping, especially when it forms a clear pattern, is more likely to signal a miscarriage.
- Passing tissue: Some — not all — women who experience a miscarriage pass large blood clots or tissue.
For women who do experience bleeding, the duration tends to depend on how far the pregnancy has progressed.
Miscarriages that occur in the first weeks of pregnancy tend to cause bleeding that lasts a few days. Those that occur later may cause bleeding that lasts for as long as 4 weeks.
Sometimes, the bleeding stops and starts again. Over time, it should get lighter.
Some women experience “missed miscarriage,” which refers to a delay between the loss of the pregnancy and the bleeding.
If a doctor believes that this has occurred, they may recommend surgery or medication to help the woman bleed and, if necessary, pass tissue. In this case, the bleeding may last from a few days to a few weeks.
It is not possible for healthcare providers to stop a miscarriage once it starts.
Call a doctor and schedule an appointment within 24 hours if any of the following occur:
- vaginal bleeding
- a fever
- intense pain or cramping
- bleeding that stops and starts again
- any other changes in the pattern of bleeding, even if a doctor has already addressed the cause
- bleeding that lasts for longer than 7 days, even if a doctor has already confirmed pregnancy loss
Pregnant women should receive emergency medical attention if they:
- experience heavy bleeding during the second trimester and cannot reach their doctor
- bleed heavily enough to soak through more than one pad per hour for more than 2 hours
- feel faint, lightheaded, or confused
- experience contractions, amniotic fluid leakage, the water breaking, or other signs of premature labor
Most miscarriages pass on their own.
In some cases, the fetus dies without causing any bleeding. When this happens, the woman may want to wait for the pregnancy to pass on its own or want the pregnancy loss to be over as quickly as possible.
If a woman wants to expedite a miscarriage, a doctor can supply medication that helps with miscarrying at home. This approach is safest during early pregnancy.
A healthcare professional can also perform surgery to remove the remains of the embryo or fetus.
Sometimes a pregnancy loss is incomplete, leaving behind tissue that can lead to infection and other health problems. When this happens, a doctor may recommend medication or surgery.
Doctors used to counsel couples to wait for 1 month, and sometimes much longer, before trying to conceive again after a pregnancy loss.
However, research now shows that there is no medical justification for this recommendation. If a couple feels ready, it is safe to begin trying to conceive again right away. One study showed that fertility may even be slightly higher immediately following a miscarriage.
Sometimes, however, it takes a while for a woman’s cycle to resume following pregnancy loss.
This can make it difficult to time sexual intercourse for conception and challenging to date a pregnancy accurately — especially if a woman becomes pregnant before the first period after a miscarriage.
To improve accuracy, it can be helpful to monitor basal body temperature, use ovulation tests, or try other ways to predict fertility.
Most miscarriages result from chromosomal irregularities. This means that the developing embryo or fetus has an irregular number of chromosomes.
These irregularities usually occur at random, meaning that they are unlikely to reoccur. In other words, experiencing one pregnancy loss does not increase the likelihood of experiencing another.
A 2017 study found that 15.7% of women with a previous miscarriage had another during the 2-year study period.
Meanwhile, a 2016 study found that women were more likely to become pregnant in the 3 months following a miscarriage.
Many women become pregnant again shortly after a pregnancy loss, and a smaller number experience multiple losses in a row.
Around 2% of women experience two pregnancy losses in a row, and only about 1% experience three in a row.
It is important to note that even among women who experience three or more consecutive miscarriages, the likelihood of having a successful pregnancy remains high, at about 60%.
Miscarriage is one of the less common causes of bleeding during pregnancy, especially when the bleeding occurs early on.
Some other indications of pregnancy loss include cramping and passing clots or tissue.
Only a healthcare professional can accurately identify a miscarriage. For this reason, it is important to consult a doctor or midwife about any bleeding during pregnancy.