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6 subtle signs of an early miscarriage and how to care for yourself at home

INSIDER 5/13/2022 (Ashley Laderer,Lauren Demosthenes)
Using a heating pad can help with any pain after a miscarriage. Grace Cary/Getty Images © Grace Cary/Getty Images Using a heating pad can help with any pain after a miscarriage. Grace Cary/Getty Images
  • Signs of an early miscarriage are abdominal pain, dizziness, and vaginal bleeding.
  • You may also pass tissue or pink fluid from your vagina, but some people have no symptoms.
  • You should see a doctor immediately if you experience excessive bleeding or have a fever. 

A miscarriage is when a pregnancy ends before the 20th week of pregnancy, which is in the middle of the second trimester. An early miscarriage, sometimes called an early pregnancy loss, occurs before the 13 week mark, but most will occur before 10 weeks

Miscarriages are common, with 10% to 20% of pregnancies ending in miscarriage. The vast majority of all miscarriages are early ones, with 80% occuring within the first three months of pregnancy.

Here's what you need to know about the signs of an early miscarriage, how to deal with it, and its causes. 

Signs of an early miscarriage 

Every person is different and may experience a range in severity and duration of miscarriage symptoms. The main signs of an early miscarriage may include:

1. Vaginal bleeding (can range from brown discharge to bright red blood and clots) 

2. Passing tissue out of the vagina

3. Clear or pink fluid coming out of the vagina

4. Cramping or abdominal pain

5. Feeling dizzy or lightheaded 

6. Noticing original pregnancy symptoms (like nausea or tender breasts) disappearing

However, it's possible that you may have a miscarriage without any symptoms. In that case, you won't know you've miscarried until your doctor does an ultrasound, says Laurie Scott, MD, OB-GYN and medical director of the maternal fetal medicine program at the Memorial Healthcare System

Additionally, it's possible to have a miscarriage without even knowing you're pregnant, especially in the earliest stages of pregnancy. In this case, Scott says it may just seem like your period is a little later and heavier than usual.

Once you're past the first trimester of pregnancy, you are much less likely to have a miscarriage. Only up to 3% of pregnancies are miscarried in the second trimester.

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If you do have a later miscarriage, you may experience additional symptoms like fluid leakage or your cervix dilating, says Scott. There might be other signs including feeling like the baby isn't moving anymore, contractions, and early labor.

How to deal with a miscarriage at home

It's best to contact your doctor if you think you're having a miscarriage, and they can give you further guidance. You should see a doctor in person ASAP if you are experiencing:

  • Severe cramping
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fever

In this case, your doctor will likely want to conduct an exam and ultrasound to confirm whether or not a misscarriage has occurred. 

Note: If you have heavy bleeding and are passing tissue, Scott says it's helpful to collect any of this tissue and put it into a plastic bag or container to show your doctor so they can identify it and test it if necessary.

If you aren't experiencing any intense symptoms, and you're just having what appears to be something like a longer period without any other alarming signs, it's safe to take care of yourself at home, says Karen M. Murray, MD, OB-GYN and assistant professor of obstetrics & gynecology at New York Medical College. 

The duration of a miscariage is different for everyone, but symptoms like bleeding and cramping can last for up to two weeks. In this case, Murray says some home care tips include:

  • Take over the counter pain relievers: To relieve pain from cramping, you can take OTC pain meds like ibuprofen (Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
  • Use heating pads: On top of taking pain relievers, applying a heating pad to your abdomen or lower back can also help reduce your pain and provide some comfort.
  • Avoid putting anything in your vagina: Since you may be more prone to an infection after a miscarriage, you should use pads instead of tampons to control the bleeding, and also hold off on penetrative sex for two weeks
  • Take care of your physical health: Take time to rest so your body can recover, and be sure to drink enough water and eat a balanced diet to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.
  • Tend to your mental health: For some people, a miscarriage can be very upsetting and take an emotional toll. Allow yourself to grieve, have self compassion, and reach out to trusted loved ones for support.
  • Be on the lookout for infection: An infection with a miscarriage is known as a septic miscarriage, which can be very serious. If you exhibit signs of an infection it's crucial to seek medical attention ASAP. Monitor yourself for symptoms such as:
    • Fever
    • Chills
    • Vaginal discharge with a bad smell
    • Tenderness in the lower abdomen 

In cases where the miscarriage is not completed at home, when all of the tissue does not pass out of the vagina on its own, Scott says you may need a procedure called a D&C, or dilation and curettage. This is when your doctor dilates your cervix and scrapes out the contents of the uterus. 

In other cases you may be prescribed misoprostol pills which can also help to empty out the uterus's contents.

What does and does not cause a miscarriage

Some people blame themselves for a miscarrige, but a miscarriage is almost always out of your control, says Scott.

For example, there are myths about how sex, exercise, or stress can cause a miscarriage. These are absolutely untrue, says Murray. A miscarriage is never your fault.

But some medical issues can cause a miscarriage, such as common miscarriage causes are: 

  • Chromosomal abornamilities: In many cases, a miscarriage may be due to a missing or extra chromosome, says Scott. This can prevent an embryo from forming, which is known as a blighted ovum, or cause an embryo to stop developing later on, resulting in death of the fetus, known as intrauterine fetal demise.
  • Molar pregnancy: A molar pregnancy is a specific type of chromosomal abnormality where fetal tissue does not grow properly, and fluid-filled cysts will develop. If a fetus does start to develop, it can't survive.
  • Health conditions: If you have certain maternal health conditions, particularly if they are uncontrolled, your risk of miscarriage is increased. Some examples of these conditions are:
    • Autoimmune conditions 
    • Diabetes
    • Thyroid disease
    • Kidney disease
  • Cervix or uterus abnormalities: Since your cervix and uterus play a huge role in your pregnancy, any abnormalities such as a weakened cervix or a uterine septum can increase miscarriage risk. 

Insider's takeaway

An early miscarriage occurs in the first trimester, sometimes even before you realize that you're pregnant. If you're experiencing miscarriage symptoms like cramping or bleeding, especially if they're severe, be sure to contact your doctor or seek in-person medical care immediately. 

Remember, the cause of a miscarriage is likely out of your control, and it is not your fault. Be kind to yourself and take care of your mental and physical health as you navigate the process.

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