When you get pregnant, you want to think about all the good things about having a baby – the little clothes, the giggles, the milestones.
Nobody wants to think about something going wrong.
But sometimes things do go wrong, and it’s good to know what signs to look out for.
This is especially true if you’ve experienced a miscarriage or pregnancy loss before; it’s good to know if your baby is at risk.
Sometimes you just need some reassurance that everything is okay.
How do you know what signs to look out for in a miscarriage?
Signs of miscarriage
The early stages of pregnancy come with all kinds of aches and pains.
It can be difficult to know which types are normal pain and which aren’t.
These are some examples of normal feelings during early pregnancy which don’t feel great:
- Light cramping
- Breast tenderness
- Nipple sensitivity
- Sciatica pain
- Back pain.
Most women expect some unpleasant sensations during early pregnancy.
But how do you know which of those unpleasant feelings you should take seriously, and see a doctor about?
What symptoms might a miscarriage include?
Signs of miscarriage at 6 weeks
Many women experience a miscarriage without even knowing. A miscarriage is also known as spontaneous abortion.
This study found:
- Around 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage
- Around 10% of known pregnancies end in miscarriage
- 80% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester.
This means your chance of having a pregnancy loss is 1 in 4.
However, most of these pregnancies happen in women who aren’t even aware that they’re pregnant. They might think they’re having a late or especially heavy period.
Once you’ve seen the baby’s heartbeat, the chance of miscarriage drops to around 10%.
The heartbeat can usually be seen on an ultrasound scan around 6 or 7 weeks.
If you’re especially nervous about having a miscarriage, it might be worth asking your healthcare provider for an ultrasound to see the heartbeat.
If that isn’t possible, you can pay out of pocket to visit an independent ultrasound office.
Seeing the heartbeat can give you some peace of mind.
If you don’t see a heartbeat, though, there might be a good reason, such as:
- You’re not as far into your pregnancy as you thought you were
- The baby implanted a couple of days later
- The ultrasound equipment isn’t advanced enough.
Remember that in the early stages of pregnancy, a day or two can make a huge difference.
You may not see the heartbeat at 6 weeks but then see it at 6.5 weeks.
Although it’s difficult, try to remain patient at this early stage.
Read our article When Can You See Baby’s Heartbeat On Ultrasound? for more information.
Signs of first trimester miscarriage
Around 80% of miscarriages happen in the first trimester.
That means the first 13 weeks are the time to be vigilant for any possible problem symptoms.
Try not to worry about it too much, but you should be cautious if you:
- Have had recurrent miscarriages
- Have recently experienced a miscarriage
- Have experienced a late-term loss
- Have been told your pregnancy is high risk
Some things that might make your pregnancy high risk are:
- History of miscarriage
- LEEP procedure
- Low progesterone
- Pregnancy with multiples
- Experience with fertility problems
- Lifestyle factors, such as obesity
- Other health conditions.
These are all risk factors that can increase the chance of miscarriage.
Keep in mind that stress during pregnancy isn’t good for your health, so try to remain as calm as possible, even if you’re experiencing a high-risk pregnancy.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your health care provider if you’re worried that any of these conditions might cause a miscarriage.
Your doctor might be able to suggest some things you can do to reduce your risk of miscarriage.
Your healthcare provider should be available to provide health information if you are at higher risk.
There’s no reason to expect a miscarriage unless you start to experience the signs and symptoms of a miscarriage.
Signs of miscarriage at 7 weeks
Since around 80% of miscarriages occur within the first trimester, early pregnancy is the time you should be aware of the symptoms of a miscarriage.
A heartbeat can usually be detected by about the 8th week of pregnancy.
Once it’s detected, the chance of miscarriage drops to around 10%.
At this point, you can relax more, but should still be aware of the signs.
Signs of miscarriage on progesterone
Progesterone is an important hormone in pregnancy.
After you ovulate, progesterone levels rise until a pregnancy happens. If it doesn’t, the levels drop and signal your body to shed the uterine lining in your next menstrual period.
If a pregnancy does happen, however, progesterone stays elevated and keeps rising. This is important in maintaining the uterine lining so the pregnancy can continue.
Women with low progesterone levels are more likely to have abnormal bleeding when not pregnant and are more likely to miscarry if they do fall pregnant.
Progesterone supplements may be prescribed to women who have had recurrent miscarriage.
Research shows 5-15% of miscarriages could be prevented with progesterone treatment. It’s not certain whether progesterone therapy delays a miscarriage that would’ve happened regardless.
Signs of miscarriage after amniocentesis
Amniocentesis is a form of testing used in the second trimester, between 15 and 20 weeks. This test is done to determine whether a baby has chromosomal abnormalities leading to birth defects.
The procedure involves a thin needle being inserted carefully into the uterus to remove amniotic fluid for testing. The fluid contains fetal cells and proteins that are markers for certain disorders.
Amniocentesis has a risk of miscarriage in 1-2% of women.
Symptoms of miscarriage after an amniocentesis include:
- Spotting or vaginal bleeding
- Leaking of amniotic fluid.
Be sure to read Amniocentesis – Definition, Risks, And What To Expect for more information.
What are the signs and symptoms of a miscarriage?
These are the 5 main signs and symptoms of miscarriage.
#1: Vaginal bleeding
Some amount of spotting can be normal in pregnancy.
Implantation bleeding or spotting is common but typically occurs well before you get a positive pregnancy test result. Once you get a positive test, you should pay attention to any bleeding.
Bleeding doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have a miscarriage. The pregnancy could continue without problems but it’s important to pay attention to:
- The amount of bleeding
- The color of the blood.
A small amount of spotting can be normal. The color of miscarriage bleeding depends on how many weeks pregnant you are.
If you’re experiencing a lot of bleeding, whatever color it is, you should call your health care provider or midwife immediately, or go to the emergency room.
Heavy bleeding during pregnancy is not normal.
Please read Early Pregnancy Bleeding | How Much Bleeding Is Normal? for more information.
#2: Passing clots or tissue
In a pregnancy that is more than 6 weeks along, there’s a chance of passing clots and what looks like tissue. This would be what’s termed a complete miscarriage.
An absence of tissue is more likely to be a missed miscarriage or threatened miscarriage.
Later on, when the baby is more developed, tissue that looks like a tiny baby could come out of the vagina.
In these situations, you must call your doctor and go to the emergency room.
#3: Symptoms suddenly stopping
It’s normal for pregnancy symptoms to come and go.
They can be strong one day and the next day you might feel great.
Many women worry this is a sign of miscarriage.
Midwife Michelle Heart Graf-Dixon says:
‘Early pregnancy symptoms can rise and fall due to hormone levels, hydration, blood sugar, and activity. As hCG levels rise, the body reacts according to its resources’.
Experiencing the rising and falling of symptoms is a normal part of pregnancy.
When should you worry?
Symptoms shouldn’t suddenly come to a complete stop.
If they drop off for a few days, usually they will come back, as your hormone levels rise higher.
The sudden stopping of all symptoms is a sign the baby might have stopped growing.
An ultrasound scan can confirm whether this is the case, or that you’re just a lucky person who’s simply experiencing an easier pregnancy.
#4: Extreme pain
Some body pains are a normal part of pregnancy.
You might have:
- Tender breasts
- Sore nipples
- Aching back
- Sciatic nerve pain
- Light cramping.
However, if these annoying feelings turn into something more serious, it’s time to talk to your doctor. You should never feel any kind of pregnancy-related pain that’s extreme.
The biggest concerns with extreme pain would be:
- Abdominal pain.
Cramping could suggest a miscarriage is coming, especially if it’s accompanied with vaginal bleeding.
Abdominal pain is a more serious concern. It could suggest ectopic pregnancy.
Ectopic pregnancy is when the baby has implanted in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus.
There’s no chance for the baby to grow in this situation and the pregnancy won’t progress.
However, if the pregnancy gets far enough without the woman knowing she has an ectopic pregnancy, it can become dangerous.
If the baby grows big enough in the fallopian tube, the fallopian tube can burst. This is an emergency situation.
Some women who miscarry can experience serious internal bleeding. In some situations, it can be fatal.
If you’re pregnant and feel extreme pain in your abdomen, don’t wait.
Visit the emergency room immediately.
#5: No more positive pregnancy tests
Up to 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
A couple of decades ago, many of these miscarriages wouldn’t have been noticed.
The woman would have thought she was having a heavier or more painful period that month.
But with newer, more sensitive, pregnancy tests, women find out much earlier that they’re pregnant.
This means that more women will know they’ve had a miscarriage.
If you have several positive pregnancy tests, you can be sure that you’re pregnant.
But what if that happens and then you begin to get negative tests?
If you’re taking many tests in a short period of time, it could be that some are less sensitive than others.
However, if you get some positive test results and then all further tests are negative, you might be concerned that you’re experiencing a miscarriage.
Sometimes a miscarriage doesn’t immediately show as bleeding and cramping.
In many cases, it can take a week or two for your body to recognize the pregnancy has ended.
If the baby has stopped growing, however, your body won’t produce hCG anymore, and hCG is what triggers a positive pregnancy test result.
If you begin to see negative pregnancy tests, talk to your doctor or midwife to see what they recommend.
Signs of miscarriage at 24 weeks
Miscarriage is defined as a loss of pregnancy up to 20 weeks. After 20 weeks, it’s considered a stillbirth.
The main danger signs to look for after 20 weeks are:
- Heavy bleeding
- Regular contractions
- Loss of movement from the baby.
If you notice any of these signs, talk to your health care provider right away.
For more information, read our article Stillbirth – What Expectant Parents Need To Know.