Miscarriage is when a baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Among women who know they are pregnant, about 10 to 15 out of 100 pregnancies (10 to 15 percent) end in miscarriage. As many as half of all pregnancies may end in miscarriage—we don’t know the exact number because many may happen before a woman knows she’s pregnant.
Most miscarriages happen in the first trimester (13 weeks) of pregnancy. Second-trimester miscarriage happens in just 1 to 5 out of 100 pregnancies (1 to 5 percent) between 13 and 19 weeks.
What causes miscarriage?
We don’t understand all the causes of miscarriage. Possible causes include:
- Chromosome problems. This is the cause of more than half of miscarriages that happen in the first trimester. Chromosomes are tiny, thread-like structures in cells that carry our genes. Each person has 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 in all). One chromosome in each pair comes from the mother, and the other comes from the father. Most chromosome problems happen when an egg or sperm cell has too many or too few chromosomes. Pregnancy happens when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg. If either has the wrong number of chromosomes, miscarriage may happen.
- Blighted ovum. This is when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus but doesn’t develop into a baby. This is sometimes caused by chromosome problems. In early pregnancy, the woman may notice that her pregnancy symptoms have stopped, and she may have dark-brown vaginal bleeding.
- Smoking, alcohol and drugs. If you smoke, drink alcohol, use street drugs or abuse prescription drugs, you may increase your chances of having a miscarriage.
- Mom’s health. Some health conditions may increase a woman’s chances for having a miscarriage. Treatment of these conditions before and during pregnancy can sometimes help prevent miscarriage. If you have any of these health conditions, tell your health care provider before or as soon as you know you’re pregnant.These include:
- Hormone problems. Hormones are chemicals made by the body.
- Diabetes. This is having too much sugar in your blood. This can damage organs in your body, including blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys.
- Thyroid disease. The thyroid is a gland in your neck that makes hormones that help your body store and use energy from food.
- Lupus and other autoimmune disorders. Immune disorders mean your immune system doesn’t work correctly and can’t protect your body from infection.
You may have heard that getting too much caffeine during pregnancy can cause miscarriage. Caffeine is a drug found in foods, drinks, chocolate and some medicine. It’s a stimulant, which means it can keep you awake. Some studies say caffeine may cause miscarriage, and some say it doesn’t. Until we know more about how caffeine can affect pregnancy, it’s best to limit the amount you get to 200 milligrams each day (about one 12-ounce cup of coffee).
What are the signs and symptoms of miscarriage?
Signs and symptoms include:
Many women have these signs and symptoms in early pregnancy and don’t miscarry. If you have any of the signs or symptoms, call your health care provider. Your provider may want to do some tests to make sure everything’s OK. These tests can include blood tests, a pelvic exam and an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a test that uses sound waves to make pictures of your baby on a computer.
How long does it take to recover from a miscarriage?
It can take a few weeks to a month or more to physically recover from a miscarriage. Depending on how long you were pregnant, you may have pregnancy hormones in your blood for 1 to 2 months after you miscarry. Most women get their period again 4 to 6 weeks after a miscarriage.
It may take longer to recover emotionally. You may have strong feelings of grief about the death of your baby. Grief is all the feelings you have when someone close to you dies. You may feel sad, angry, confused or alone. At times, your feelings may seem more than you can handle. You may have trouble concentrating. You may feel guilty about things that happened in your pregnancy. It’s OK for you to take time to grieve, ask your friends for support, and find special ways to remember your baby.
If you miscarry, when can you try to get pregnant again?
This is a decision for you to make with your partner and your health care provider. You’re most likely medically OK to get pregnant again after you’ve had at least one normal period. But you may not be emotionally ready to try again so soon. Miscarriage can be hard to handle. You may need to take time to grieve the loss of your baby. You may want to wait a while before trying to get pregnant again.
Your provider may want you to have some medical tests to try to find out more about why you miscarried. If so, you may need to wait until after you’ve had these tests to try to get pregnant again.
Last reviewed July 2012
See also: Repeat miscarriage, Treatment after miscarriage, Ectopic and molar pregnancy, Stillbirth, Loss and grief
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know if you’re having a miscarriage?
Signs of a miscarriage can include vaginal spotting or bleeding, abdominal pain or cramping, and fluid or tissue passing from the vagina. Although vaginal bleeding is a common symptom of miscarriage, many women have spotting early in their pregnancy but don’t miscarry. But if you’re pregnant and have bleeding or spotting, contact your health care provider right away.
What is dilation and curettage?
Dilation and curettage (also called D&C) is when a doctor removes tissue from the lining of a woman's uterus. Dilation ("D") is a widening of the cervix to allow medical instruments into the uterus. Curettage ("C") is the scraping of the walls of the uterus.
Some women have a D&C after a miscarriage to remove tissue. Providers also use D&C to treat heavy bleeding or to help diagnose infection, cancer and other diseases.
After a D&C, you can return to your regular activities as soon as you feel better, maybe even the same day. You may have vaginal bleeding, pelvic cramps and back pain for a few days after the procedure. Talk to your provider about medicine you can take for pain. Don’t use tampons or have sex for 1 to 2 weeks after the procedure.
When can I try to get pregnant again?
For most women, it's best to wait at least 18 months before getting pregnant again. This amount of time is best if you miscarry, or if your baby is stillborn, or if your baby dies after birth. Waiting this long gives your body enough time to heal between pregnancies. Also, giving yourself this time may help you feel less worried about your next pregnancy. Depending on your age or other medical reasons, you may not be able to wait this long. Talk to your provider about what's right for you.