The year before I had my twin boys, I sadly experienced a miscarriage. It was fairly early on in the pregnancy, but I was devastated, and felt that loss emotionally, until I became pregnant again six months later. At the time, I felt so alone, not realizing how many women experience a pregnancy loss.
In fact, according to the March of Dimes, 10 to 15 percent of all confirmed pregnancies end in miscarriage, most often within the first three months. Most miscarriages are caused by chromosomal abnormalities, but they can also be due to a health problem the mother has, including hormonal disorders, thyroid disease, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders like lupus.
Since it is so common, I reached out to Yvonne Bohn, MD, a California-based ob-gyn, and co-author of the book Mommy Doc’s Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy and Birth, to share everything there is to know about miscarriage.
What does a miscarriage feel like?
A lot of women have spotting during early pregnancy, so a little bit of bleeding is no cause for alarm. “If the bleeding gets progressively worse, heavier with clots, and you’re getting cramping pain, then you may actually be having a miscarriage though,” says Dr. Bohn. “It will feel like intense menstrual cramps.”
How long does a miscarriage last?
Typically, the pregnancy loss happens quickly, over the course of several hours — but usually less than six hours, according to Dr. Bohn. In some cases though, you may not even know that you’re going to miscarry until a doctor’s visit. “This type of miscarriage occurs when the embryo stops developing in the uterus, but the body doesn’t recognize that yet,” she says. “So you may go in for an ultrasound, having no symptoms of miscarriage, but then learn that the baby is not viable.” Sometimes, the miscarriage will happen on its own later on, but some women may need a dilation and curettage procedure, also called a D&C. It’s a surgical procedure in which the uterine lining is scraped to remove the fetus’ remains.
What should you do if you suspect you are having a miscarriage?
If you’re early on in your pregnancy, call your doctor. “He may want to see you to figure out if you’re miscarrying, or if you’re having a threatened pregnancy, from a polyp or infection, which doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to lose the pregnancy,” explains Dr. Bohn. If it’s the middle of the night and you’re starting to bleed heavily, you’ll likely be okay to just wait it out. Dr. Bohn recommends using a heating pad on your belly to help with the cramping, and take an OTC pain reliever. If you feel light-headed, and the pain is particularly severe, get to urgent care or the ER right away.
Is a miscarriage ever life-threatening?
If the pregnancy hasn’t been confirmed by your ob-gyn (meaning, she hasn’t seen the fetus on an ultrasound), extreme pain and cramping could indicate an ectopic pregnancy, which happens when the embryo has implanted outside of the uterus. It can be deadly, so you’ll want to get in to see your doctor ASAP; if it’s after hours, go to the nearest emergency room.
Do you need to follow up with your doctor after a miscarriage?
Yes. You want to make sure that the pregnancy has passed completely and that you don’t need surgical intervention. “The doctor will do an ultrasound to check your uterus, and if you’re still bleeding heavily, and there’s a lot of blood clots, you may need a D&C,” says Dr. Bohn. (If you have RH negative blood, your doctor will also want to give you a RhIg shot following a miscarriage.)
When can you try to get pregnant again?
You can try to get pregnant again after your next period. In fact, doctors aren’t quite sure why but many women are very fertile following a miscarriage, says Dr. Bohn.
That being said, the emotional pain of a miscarriage can linger long after the physical loss, as I learned myself. Dr. Bohn recommends giving yourself time to grieve that loss. “It’s also important to know that just one loss doesn’t make you more likely to have another,” she says. “Your chances only increase if you’ve had more than three miscarriages.” So, allow yourself to feel that pain, and don’t let people dismiss it, but take comfort in knowing that your next pregnancy is likely to bring you the healthy baby that was meant to be.