A miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion, is an event that results in the loss of a fetus before 24 weeks of pregnancy. It typically happens during the first trimester, or first three months, of the pregnancy. Miscarriages can happen for a variety of medical reasons, many of which aren’t within a person’s control.

Miscarriage signs

The symptoms of a miscarriage vary, depending on your stage of pregnancy. In some cases, it happens so quickly that you may not even know you’re pregnant before you miscarry.
Here are some of the symptoms of a miscarriage:

  • heavy spotting
  • vaginal bleeding
  • discharge of tissue or fluid from your vagina
  • severe abdominal pain or cramping
  • mild to severe back pain

Call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms during your pregnancy. It’s also possible to have these symptoms without experiencing a miscarriage. But your doctor will want to conduct tests to make sure that everything is fine.

Miscarriage causes

While there are some things that increase the risk of miscarriage, generally it isn’t a result of something that you did or didn’t do. If you’re having difficulty maintaining pregnancy, your doctor may check for some known causes of miscarriage.

During pregnancy, your body supplies hormones and nutrients to your developing fetus. This helps your fetus grow. Most first trimester miscarriages happen because the fetus doesn’t develop normally. There are different factors that can cause this.

Genetic or chromosome issues

Chromosomes hold genes. In a developing fetus, one set of chromosomes is contributed by the mother and another by the father.

Examples of these chromosome abnormalities include:

  • Intrauterine fetal demise: The embryo forms but stops developing before you see or feel symptoms of pregnancy loss.
  • Blighted ovum: No embryo forms at all.
  • Molar pregnancy: Both sets of chromosomes come from the father, no fetal development occurs.
  • Partial molar pregnancy: The mother’s chromosomes remain, but the father has also provided two sets of chromosomes.

Errors can also occur randomly when the cells of the embryo divide, or due to a damaged egg or sperm cell. Problems with the placenta can also lead to a miscarriage.

Underlying conditions and lifestyle habits

Various underlying health conditions and lifestyle habits may also interfere with the development of a fetus. Exercise and sexual intercourse do not cause miscarriages. Working won’t affect the fetus either, unless you’re exposed to harmful chemicals or radiation.

Conditions that can interfere with fetus development include:

  • poor diet, or malnutrition
  • drug and alcohol use
  • advanced maternal age
  • untreated thyroid disease
  • issues with hormones
  • uncontrolled diabetes
  • infections
  • trauma
  • obesity
  • problems with the cervix
  • abnormally shaped uterus
  • severe high blood pressure
  • food poisoning
  • certain medications

Always check with your doctor before taking any medications to be sure a drug is safe to use during pregnancy.

Miscarriage or period?

Many times, a miscarriage can happen before you even know that you’re pregnant. Additionally, as with your menstrual period, some of the symptoms of a miscarriage involve bleeding and cramping.

So how can you tell if you’re having a period or a miscarriage?

When trying to distinguish between a period and a miscarriage, there are several factors to consider:

  • Symptoms: Severe or worsening back or abdominal pain as well as passing fluids and large clots could indicate a miscarriage.
  • Time: A miscarriage very early in pregnancy can be mistaken for a period. However, this is less likely after eight weeks into a pregnancy.
  • Duration of symptoms: The symptoms of a miscarriage typically get worse and last longer than a period.

Miscarriage risk

Being older can also affect your risk for miscarriage. Women who are over 35 years old have a higher risk of miscarriage than women who are younger. This risk only increases in the following years.

Having one miscarriage doesn’t increase your risk for having other miscarriages. In fact, most women will go on to carry a baby full term. Repeated miscarriages are actually quite rare.

Miscarriage prevention

Not all miscarriages can be prevented. However, you can take steps to help maintain a healthy pregnancy. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Get regular prenatal care throughout your pregnancy.
  • Avoid alcohol, drugs, and smoking while pregnant.
  • Maintain a healthy weight before and during pregnancy.
  • Avoid infections. Wash your hands thoroughly, and stay away from people who are already sick.
  • Limit the amount of caffeine to no more than 200 milligrams per day.
  • Take prenatal vitamins to help ensure that you and your developing fetus get enough nutrients.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

Remember that having a miscarriage doesn’t mean you won’t conceive again in the future. Most women who miscarry have healthy pregnancies later.

Getting pregnant again

Following a miscarriage, it’s a good idea to wait until you’re both physically and emotionally ready before trying to conceive again.

You may want to ask your doctor for guidance or to help you develop a conception plan before you try to get pregnant again.
A miscarriage is typically only a one-time occurrence. However, if you’ve had two or more consecutive miscarriages, your doctor will recommend testing to detect what may have caused your previous miscarriages. These may include:

  • blood tests to detect hormone imbalances
  • chromosome tests, using blood or tissue samples
  • pelvic and uterine exams
  • ultrasounds