What causes a miscarriage?
Losing a baby within the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is called a miscarriage. It’s a terrible thing to go through and, with around one in seven pregnancies ending in miscarriage, it sadly happens all too often. Although some women experience a late miscarriage, the majority happen within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
What causes a miscarriage?
A miscarriage during the first trimester is normally linked to an abnormality in the foetus. Later miscarriages can be caused by a variety of conditions: an infection, abnormalities in the placenta or uterus, or a weak cervix. However, in many cases, the cause of a miscarriage is never found.
Two of the tests that are used to detect abnormalities in babies (amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling (CVS)) can also put a pregnancy at risk. If you are advised to have these tests, your consultant should clearly explain the risks involved in both having and not having the tests.
Signs of miscarriage
Women who miscarry very early on may be ‘lucky’ enough to go through it without ever realising they were pregnant. Early miscarriages can be just like a heavy period, with abdominal pain and heavy bleeding, sometimes with thick clots of blood.
Sadly, in the case of later miscarriages, some women find out they have lost their baby during a routine ultrasound scan, when their baby’s heartbeat can’t be found.
How to reduce the risks
There are a few things you can do to reduce the risks of having a miscarriage. Giving up smoking is one of the most important. Ideally, you should give up when you decide to try conceiving but giving up while you’re pregnant will still be better for you and your baby. Maintaining a healthy diet is also important.
Cutting out caffeine and alcohol are also key – ask your midwife or doctor for the latest guidelines or check our information on alcohol during pregnancy.
There’s also a higher risk of miscarrying if you have:
- kidney disease
- thyroid disease
- fibroids (or other abnormality in the uterus)
- a history of miscarriage
And if you have any of these, you should speak to your midwife or doctor about any special care you might need; there may be tests and special procedures your doctor can carry out to make sure your health and the health of your baby is more closely monitored.
If you’ve miscarried before, your midwife or doctor should be able to advise you on whether you need to take any extra precautions during your first trimester, such as making sure you get plenty of rest and avoiding sex.
Finding emotional support after a miscarriage
Bonding with a baby probably starts as soon as a woman finds out she’s pregnant, so losing that bond so suddenly can be devastating. Getting the right support and giving yourself time to grieve are both important. The Miscarriage Association has been helping women cope with miscarriage for 25 years, so is a good source of information and support. You may also find comfort from other women who have been through a miscarriage on our Mums’ Forums.