Miscarriage is the term used for a pregnancy that ends on it's own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation. Normally the term "stillbirth" refers to pregnancy loss after 20 weeks. Miscarriage is the most common type of pregnancy loss, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Approximately 15% of all pregnancies end in miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur during the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, and many go unnoticed, due to the fact that some woman do not realize they are pregnant. Pregnancy can be such an exciting time, but with the great number of miscarriages that occur, it is beneficial to be informed on miscarriage, in the unfortunate event that you find yourself or someone you know faced with one. The following is a quick overview of some of the inside facts on miscarriage. For more detailed information, it is best to check with a physician specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Why do miscarriages occur?
The reason for miscarriage is varied and most often, the cause can not be identified. During the first trimester, the most common cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality-meaning that something is not correct with the baby's chromosomes. Most chromosomal abnormalities are the cause of a faulty egg or sperm cell. Other causes for miscarriage include (but are not limited to):
- Hormonal problems, infections or health problems in the mother
- Lifestyle (i.e. smoking, drug use, malnutrition, excessive caffeine and exposure to radiation or toxic substances)
- Implantation of the egg into the uterine lining does not occur properly
Factors that are not proven to cause miscarriage are sex, working outside the home (unless in a harmful environment) or moderate exercise.
Warning signs of miscarriage
If you experience any or all of these symptoms, it is very important to contact your doctor or get to a medical facility as soon as possible:
- Mild to severe back pain
- Weight loss
- White-pink mucus
- True contractions (very painful happening every 5-20 minutes)
- Frequent bowel movements
- Brown or bright red bleeding or spotting with or without cramps
- Tissue with clot like material passing from the vagina
- Decrease in signs of pregnancy or loss of breast tenderness
The main goal of treatment during or after a miscarriage is to prevent hemorrhaging and/or infection. The earlier the pregnancy, the more likely that your body will expel all the fetal tissue by itself, and will not require further medical procedures. If the body does not expel all the tissue, the most common procedure performed to stop bleeding and prevent infection is a dilation and curettage, known as a D&C. Drugs may be prescribed to help control bleeding after the D& C is performed. Bleeding should be monitored closely once you are at home and if you notice an increase in bleeding or the onset of chills or fever, it is best to call your physician immediately.
Emotional recovery from a miscarriage is even more difficult then the physical recovery. Your emotions may come in waves and there is not a right or wrong way to react to a miscarriage. Allow yourself time to grieve and deal with this sudden change in life. Many around you may not understand the emotions you are feeling and therefore, are not sure how to support you. If possible, let them know you need their support and what they can do to help you the most. Seeking out support groups, web sites and literature is a great way of getting help through this difficult time. Remember your hormones will be going through some pretty severe adjustments too, so speak with your doctor if you feel you are having a hard time coping with all these changes at once.
Some helpful websites that deal with miscarriage and pregnancy loss include:
Since the cause for most miscarriages is due to chromosomal abnormalities, there is not much that can be done to prevent them. One vital step is to get as healthy as you can before conceiving to provide a healthy atmosphere for conception to occur.
- Exercise regularly
- Eat healthy
- Manage stress
- Keep weight in healthy limits
- Take folic acid daily
- Do not smoke
Once you find out that you are pregnant, again the goal is to be as healthy as possible, to provide a healthful environment for your baby to grow in:
- Keep your abdomen safe
- Do not smoke or be around smoke
- Do not drink alcohol
- Check with your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications
- Limit or eliminate caffeine
- Avoid environmental hazards such as radiation, infectious disease and x-rays
- Avoid contact sports or activities that have risk of injury
Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association