Miscarriage describes pregnancy loss that occurs before 20 weeks gestation, but most miscarriages occur within the first trimester. As many as 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, although this number is suspected to be even higher since many miscarriages occur even before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.
The majority of miscarriages cannot be prevented and are due to abnormalities that occur within the embryo. These chromosomal abnormalities are seen more often in older moms, but they can happen in any pregnancy. Fortunately, embryonic growth problems are usually a one-time occurrence and don’t affect future pregnancies.
Other factors that can lead to miscarriage include infection, hormone imbalance, maternal health conditions, incompetent cervix, uterine abnormalities, maternal exposure to environmental hazards and lifestyle factors such as smoking or heavy alcohol consumption. Women who have experienced two or more miscarriages in a row are also more likely to miscarry again.
Vaginal bleeding at any time during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy is a symptom of threatened miscarriage. Abdominal cramping, with or without vaginal bleeding, is another indication that a pregnant woman is at risk for miscarriage.
If your OBGYN believes miscarriage may occur, certain tests may be done to check the condition of your cervix as well as the health and development of your baby. This includes blood tests, ultrasound and pelvic exam. If there is a threat of miscarriage, your obstetrician may recommend limiting activity and abstaining from sex.
Miscarriage is an emotionally devastating experience that can lead to feelings of guilt and disappointment. However, most miscarriages are caused by circumstances outside of the mother’s control. It is normal to feel a sense of sadness and grief following pregnancy loss. Allow yourself time to grieve and share any questions or concerns you may have with your obstetrician.
The majority of miscarriages occur randomly and only a few women (1%) go on to experience two or more miscarriages. If you have a health problem or other risk factors that increase your chances for repeat miscarriage, your OBGYN can provide information on how these issues can be addressed.