It’s one of the most common pregnancy-related complications, and it can be difficult to diagnose at first.
The moment that line turns pink is unlike any other moment in a woman’s life. It is truly life-changing, and naturally brings with it a wide range of emotions – from shock and disbelief to happiness, excitement and even fear.
One of the most common fears newly-pregnant women experience is miscarriage. Those first few weeks of pregnancy can leave many women feeling extremely anxious about the health of their developing baby, and every little cramp and twinge can often have them questioning whether or not everything is okay.
According to the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, an early miscarriage – commonly referred to as a loss of the fetus within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy – is extremely common and occurs in 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies. Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done to prevent a miscarriage, and the reason for most early miscarriages is unknown. Experts believe, however, that they are usually due to the fetus not developing properly.
Miscarriage can be an unexpected and devastating event; however, the good news is most women go on to have healthy pregnancies afterward. Curious or concerned about miscarriage, and not sure what to look for, or expect? Here are 15 common signs, and five things many women tend to experience shortly after a miscarriage.
20 Just When You Thought You Were Done With Cramps
Cramping is often the first sign of an impending miscarriage, however, not every twinge, pinch and ache mean the end is near. Mild to moderate cramping – similar to the discomfort many women feel right before Aunt Flo comes knocking – can be a completely normal early pregnancy symptom. This may be a result of implantation, which means – you guessed it – the fertilized egg implanting in the uterus. It can also be as simple as the uterus growing and expanding.
But is it possible to know for sure?
The answer no, at least not at first. For some women, their tummy troubles eventually taper off and go away completely. Yet, for others, their cramps intensify and are often accompanied by other not-so-pleasant symptoms, such as bleeding or severe aches and pains – which usually mean bad news and should be assessed immediately by a medical professional.
The good news is once the second trimester rolls around, the chances of miscarrying have already drastically decreased.
Miscarriages are the most common during the first trimester, so the majority of women past this stage who are experiencing some uncomfortable abdominal action can most likely chalk it up to the body making room for a growing baby.
19 Braxton Hicks Aren't Just For The End Of The Pregnancy
Braxton Hicks contractions, sometimes referred to as "practice contractions", are completely normal, intermittent uterine contractions that can be felt as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. They are typically harmless, however, women who experience particularly persistent Braxton Hicks contractions will likely be ordered by their physicians to go on bed rest and avoid any type of strenuous activity.
Braxton Hicks are called "practice contractions" because they are exactly that: they help prepare the body for the real deal.
Braxton Hicks contractions are also a preview of true contractions, which of course, happen during labor. Surprisingly, most women don't feel or notice their Braxton Hicks contractions until the second or third trimester.
True contractions, on the other hand, are an entirely different ball game – and should not be taken lightly at any point during a pregnancy. During labor, they help to thin and dilate the cervix (the lower end of the uterus), while also helping the baby to descend further into the birth canal. While not uncommon, contractions in the first trimester - specifically painful, recurrent ones accompanied by several other symptoms listed in this article - are a definite cause for concern and can be a sign of miscarriage.
18 The Once-Snug Maternity Clothes Are Suddenly Falling Off
With all the praying to the porcelain gods pregnant women do during those first few glamorous weeks of pregnancy, it's a miracle that they don't shed half of their body weight by the time the second trimester rolls around.
Fortunately, those early morning yak-fests at the very beginning typically don't take a huge toll on mom or baby.
That is of course, unless ‘mum’ is Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, who suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) - a rare, but potentially serious pregnancy condition that causes severe nausea, vomiting, and weight loss - for all three of her pregnancies.
According to Pregnancy Corner, women of average weight should gain between 25-35 pounds during pregnancy – and that includes the occasional first trimester weight loss, which isn’t unusual. After all, women tend to eat healthier once they discover they are pregnant, and that oh-so-common first trimester nausea and food aversion episodes can make eating quite the challenge.
However, a sudden weight loss without the added stress of nausea, vomiting, aversions, or in extreme cases, HG –especially after a steady weight gain during those first few weeks of pregnancy – is a red flag, and can be a telltale sign that something isn't right.
17 Underwear Are Stained Pink
Sure, pink undies can be a cute, welcome addition to nearly any wardrobe, but in this particular case, we aren’t too focused on fashion. In some cases, spotting can, unfortunately, be a warning sign that something isn’t right.
On the bright side, there may not be an immediate cause for concern when it comes to a little color down there. Light colored droplets on pre-pregnancy intimates don’t necessarily mean that the worst is yet to come. According to Parents Magazine, light spotting in early pregnancy is a fairly common occurrence (as many as 1 in 5 women experience it), and there can be many reasons it happens. It could be as simple as overdoing it at the gym or lifting one too many heavy boxes. It can also indicate implantation bleeding or a minor internal irritation causing the increased blood vessels down there to react. Regardless, it should always warrant a follow-up OB call, just to be safe.
A miscarriage often begins with a light pink or even brown color visible either on bathroom tissue or undergarments. This typically progresses to a heavier and darker flow over several hours and even days and more often than not is accompanied by cramping, aches, and pains.
16 Crimson Tide
The last thing any newly pregnant woman wants to see when she takes one of her many trips a day to the loo is crimson blotches on her Charmin Ultra Soft. Besides, that unwelcome monthly visitor is supposed to stay away for the next nine months, right?
Wrong. At least sometimes.
Sometimes, a red flow down below after those lines turn pink doesn’t necessarily mean that the end is nigh.
In fact, studies have shown that 20 to 30 percent of women experience some degree of bleeding in early pregnancy. One culprit could be something called a subchorionic hematoma, an extremely common and usually harmless condition where a little blood gathers in the space between the placenta and uterus (more on that later). Fortunately, it usually clears right up on its own without any issues.
However, bright red spotting or bleeding, especially following lighter spotting as discussed above, is certainly not within the realms of "normal". This is particularly true when additional symptoms are present, such as cramping and other common signs of miscarriage – which this article will be discussing in depth below. It’s important to remain positive if this happens, and remember that half of the women who bleed or have spotting during early pregnancy do not go on to miscarry.
15 Sleeping On A Hard Surface Will Help Those Backaches
Baby got back … pain.
Sometimes, it seems like early pregnancy is chock-full of some of the most unpleasant symptoms known to womankind: fatigue, nausea, cramping, bloating, mood swings, cravings and aversions – and this is just the beginning! From the get-go, many pregnant women are also inundated from head to toe with particularly uncomfortable afflictions such as aches, strains and pains, and it can be challenging to identify what’s normal, and what’s not.
Back pain, for example, can be incredibly common and completely normal in those first few weeks, and can range from dull and inconsistent, to barely-being-able-to-move uncomfortable. The reason? According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are many causes for this lower extremity agony: hormone increases resulting in a shift of joints and loosening of ligaments, the centre of gravity moving forward causing a change in posture, increased weight for the back to support, poor posture, excessive standing and bending over, and even stress.
One fairly undeniable sign of an impending miscarriage is severe lower back pain, especially accompanied by the symptoms addressed above. There is a definite cause for concern if this discomfort also radiates from the lower abdomen and pelvic area and moves to the lower back.
14 It’s Way More Than Just “Discomfort”
As mentioned above, mild to moderate abdominal discomfort can be completely normal and all part and parcel of the body’s incredible transformation and fascinating journey into motherhood. After all, there is a heck of a lot going on in there as it prepares to grow and nurture an entire human being.
Round ligament pain, for example, can be extremely painful. Though it often occurs during the second trimester, it can also affect women in their first trimester of pregnancy as well. The round ligament connects the front part of the womb to the groin, and when stretched, can cause great discomfort on one or both sides of the abdomen and hip area. Fortunately, round ligament pain is completely benign and can usually be alleviated by specific stretching exercises from a health care provider.
The presence of sharp, persistent abdominal pain however, should always, always sound the alarm.
Certain types of severe abdominal pain could signal a serious, sometimes life-threatening pregnancy complication called a tubal or ectopic pregnancy, where the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus, usually in one of the two fallopian tubes. The majority of ectopic pregnancies are fortunately caught early and treated, and most women go on to have completely normal and healthy pregnancies afterward.
13 Trust Your Instincts
There’s no denying it: when you know, you know. And it’s not just a myth – women’s intuition is a real thing. In fact, according to Nature.com, studies have shown that women have a superior ability to understand the emotional state of another person simply by looking at photographs of their eyes. But it doesn’t end at expert emotional awareness.
It is also extremely common for women to become more in tune with their bodies during conception and pregnancy. During the TTC (trying to conceive) period, most women become acutely aware of, and are able to predict exactly when ovulation will occur, including all of the physical and emotional changes that take place during that period. Following conception into early pregnancy, it’s not uncommon for a woman to know that she is pregnant even before she takes a test.
Therefore, it’s no wonder that most women can also easily sense when “something is off.” More often than not, women who miscarry experience just this. Marise Varanda, pregnancy, health and fitness blogger, was nearly seven weeks into her first pregnancy when she had a feeling her body was trying to tell her something. “I had a lot of persistent back pain and cramping early on,” she says. “Even though I knew that could be normal, I somehow just knew something was wrong – and sure enough, shortly afterward I lost the pregnancy.”
12 No, It's Not The Flu
Fever. Chills. Body aches all around. All signs must point to the flu.
Or do they?
While it isn't unheard of to come down with a frightful flu bug during pregnancy, flu-like symptoms such as a high fever, chills, aches and pains can actually be indicators that something a little more sinister is going on. One cause of these unwelcome symptoms could be an infection, which can have harmful and devastating effects on a pregnancy. According to Science Daily, there are several viral and bacterial infections that cause flu-like symptoms and put pregnant women at risk for miscarriage. Listeria, for example, is a food-borne bacterium that has recently been shown to pose a severe risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy. Toxoplasmosis, on the other hand, is a blood infection that puts pregnant women at risk if they are exposed to cat feces or undercooked meat. It is most common in areas with warm, moist climates.
Better safe than sorry: it's usually best not to scoop during pregnancy (even though most women who have been around cats have already developed an immunity), and avoid foods such as raw meat, deli meat, unpasteurized milk and cheese, and some produce such as melons and lettuce, if improperly handled.
11 Where Did The Cheeseburger Cravings Go?
Most women have a pretty good idea that they are pregnant before they even dip the stick: tender ta-tas, frequent trips to the ladies’ room, questionable cravings and so many gag-worthy smells it is almost impossible to keep count. These symptoms are mainly due to an increased blood flow (50 percent!) and elevated hormone levels, which help to prepare the uterus for pregnancy.
Symptom spotting during that excruciating two-week wait is enough to drive any sane person mad, but more often than not, there ends up being a pretty good reason why all of a sudden, we are craving that Quarter Pounder like nobody's business.
So when seemingly out of the blue, those pesky pregnancy symptoms vanish into thin air, it's important not to shrug it off completely.
Sometimes, it can just mean that hormone levels are finally evening out, but an abrupt loss of pregnancy symptoms can also be an indicator that hormone levels are falling, which could mean the beginning of the end. If those cheeseburger cravings have vanished (as well as a ton of other symptoms) is accompanied by several other signs mentioned in this article, it’s a good idea to let a medical professional know what’s going on.
10 They Keep Passing
While it might be a little scary to see at first, it may be comforting to know that the passing of small-to-large sized clots doesn't necessarily indicate miscarriage.
Robin Elise Weiss, Ph.D., childbirth and postpartum educator, says a code red situation of this nature can also be a result of something called a subchorionic hematoma - an accumulation of blood between the placenta and the wall of the uterus. This happens when the placenta detaches from the original site of implantation, according to HealthLine. Typically, this bleeding goes away on its own, and while it can reoccur, most women go on to have a healthy pregnancy without any complications. Most hematomas are not harmful in the long-term, however, a doctor will likely suggest bed rest, avoiding standing for long periods of time, physical activity – and in some extreme cases, will recommend progesterone therapy.
However, if those unsightly red glops keep passing, and cramping and severe abdominal pain just won't let up, this is a pretty good indicator that a miscarriage may be happening. It's important to remember that what may seem like a red horror picture show at the time is actually the body's way of moving things along naturally - and a completely normal process.
9 The Double Pink Lines Are Blurring Into One
For many women, taking a home pregnancy test (HPT) is one of the most agonizing experiences ever, especially for those who are hoping for that elusive positive symbol after months and months of trying.
Even when we do get that big fat positive, we still scrutinize the results like it’s going out of style.
As many pee-on-a-stick (POAS) enthusiasts will tell you, the more concentrated the mellow yellow, the more accurate the HPT. Therefore, most women test early in the morning when it's easiest to detect hCG, the pregnancy hormone (which we will revisit a bit later in this article). And once that tee-tee is on the stick, it’s go time.
We’ve all been there, at one point or another: hunched over the sink in the ladies’ room, squinting intently at the test line of home pregnancy test after home pregnancy test, poring over whether or not the color is getting darker … or lighter. But what happens if that second line starts to fade, or worse, disappears altogether? Unfortunately, an increasingly faint line, or no line at all - especially when testing at the same time every day and with the same brand of test - is a pretty clear sign that the pregnancy is no longer viable.
8 That Time Of The Month Arrived 9 Months Early
Sometimes, the red menace refuses to stay away even after that line turns pink.
This is actually more common than most people think, and there’s a very good reason for it. Many HPTs on the market nowadays are highly sensitive, boasting extremely early detection of the pregnancy hormone hCG – sometimes, almost a week before Aunt Flo is set to arrive. As a result, they often detect something called a “chemical pregnancy”, an extremely early miscarriage (around the 5th week of gestation) where the fertilized egg doesn’t properly implant, and therefore doesn’t develop. While it still allows for the pregnancy hormone to be detected by the HPT, it will eventually show up as negative after a few days of testing.
In some cases, women don’t realize they have conceived until Aunt Flo comes knocking, usually a little later than expected. According to Very Well Family, it's believed that as many as 75 percent of pregnancies that end in miscarriage end this way, and the reason is generally due to genetic or chromosomal problems with the developing fetus. Other reasons, although slightly rarer, include infection, uterine abnormalities and low hormone levels. The good news is a chemical pregnancy rarely interferes with the ability to get pregnant again down the road.
7 Wait For The Test Results To Come Back
Sometimes, there's nothing left to do but play the waiting game. During the first few weeks of pregnancy, the developing baby is far too small to be seen on an ultrasound scan.
Therefore, one of the most sure-fire ways to confirm a miscarriage is to have a blood test done to verify if the hCG count is decreasing.
HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone produced by the body (specifically, the cells in the developing placenta) during pregnancy. Home pregnancy tests are able to detect this hormone about two weeks after ovulation, however, blood tests will be able to do this much sooner – around 6 to 8 days after ovulation. A doctor may recommend a blood test if a woman is experiencing several miscarriage symptoms, like the ones discussed in this article.
A good indicator of whether or not a pregnancy is progressing well is if the level of hCG is doubling every 48-72 hours. These levels peak around 8 to 11 weeks after conception, so it’s important to have this test done in the earlier weeks of pregnancy. If these levels do not increase, or worse – they begin to decrease - it is extremely likely that the woman will miscarry.
6 The Official Confirmation Of The End
There are two ways of performing an ultrasound scan in early pregnancy: the first method is trans-abdominal, or external. This is typically done at around the 11 to 12-week mark, where the fetus is much larger. For extremely early pregnancies, a more accurate method is internal. While slightly more uncomfortable, it will be sure to give the clearest picture.
There are certain things an ultrasound technician will look for if a patient comes in with the classic telltale signs of a miscarriage. Similar to a blood test that indicates the level of hCG, ultrasounds are a fairly conclusive method of figuring out just what the heck is going on once and for all.
First and foremost, the tech will look to see if the pregnancy is visible in the uterus. If not, this may indicate that it is simply too early, or that there could be a possibility of an ectopic pregnancy, which will need to be diagnosed and treated fairly quickly. If visible on an ultrasound, measurements of the fetus will be taken and analyzed, and if far enough along, the technician will try to detect a heartbeat. Sometimes, a woman may not be entirely sure of her conception date, so it may be difficult to detect anything at all. If that is the case, the ultrasound technician may request a follow-up appointment in 1-2 weeks.
5 Stock Up On The Sanitary Pads
After a miscarriage has been confirmed by a blood test or by a medical professional, there are a number of things that women can expect to experience - both physically, and emotionally. Sometimes, these things will happen right away, and others may take some time. Often, the impact of a miscarriage diagnosis can have a long-lasting emotional effect, as well as a lengthy recovery process.
It is a process that is completely different for every woman, and no two experiences are exactly the same.
One thing that is fairly consistent across the board is that all women who experience a miscarriage will eventually have to manage some moderate to heavy bleeding, which can last for a few days or up to several weeks, depending on how far along the pregnancy was. The timing of this can also differ, depending on the diagnosis. A “missed miscarriage” for example – where the fetus stopped growing but there were no symptoms, sometimes for weeks – may mean that those pads may not be needed right away.
Much like that oh-so-familiar monthly visitor we've all come to know and love, bleeding may also be accompanied by other unwelcome symptoms, such uncomfortable cramps and body aches. More on this below.
4 Hot Packs To Soothe The Achy Cramping
Yes, there will be cramps - so it's never a bad idea to have those hot packs handy for when the discomfort starts. In fact, according to Everyday Health, a study published in 2001 found that topically applied heat was just as effective as over-the-counter medication in treating uncomfortable cramping.
At first, cramps may be quite manageable and will certainly seem familiar, given that most of us deal with some level of cramping every 28 days or so. With a miscarriage, however, cramps may be a little more intense and severe than what most women are used to – especially if the pregnancy was further along. This is partly due to the uterus contracting as it works to return to its normal size. Fortunately, the intensity doesn’t last long, and the pain becomes duller with each passing day (if it doesn’t, a call to a health care provider should be made).
If hot compresses alone simply aren't cutting it, there are several other ways to relieve the aches and pains. For example, light exercise such as walking or stretching (if manageable), herbal teas and a healthy, reduced-fat diet have all been shown to help. If nothing seems to work, it's completely safe to take an over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, or even a prescription pain medication as directed by a medical professional.
3 The Blame Game And The Emotions That Come With It
Sadly, there is no handbook out there that tells us what to do, or how to deal with the challenging emotional aftermath of a miscarriage. Immediately following a miscarriage, many women will experience a wide range of emotions from sadness, grief, and anger, to disappointment, guilt, self-blame and shame. Sometimes, it takes a significant amount of time for the entire process to sink in, and some women experience delayed emotions after a short period of shock and disbelief.
It's important to acknowledge that all of these feelings are completely normal and are part and parcel of the grief and healing process, which allows us to close one chapter, and move onto the next.
Arguably more important, however, is the understanding that in most cases, there is nobody to blame for when a miscarriage does happen.
In almost every case, there is little to nothing anybody could have done to change the outcome.
When dealing with the often-complicated emotions that arise following a miscarriage diagnosis, many women seek comfort in friends and loved ones to help manage their feelings. Some women, on the other hand, choose to meet with a counselor or a support group where they can share their experiences with those who may be going through something similar.
2 It's Important To Fuel The Body
Not only will most women experience a broad spectrum of emotions following a miscarriage, but they will also likely deal with several physical obstacles such as exhaustion and fatigue, which can lead to other unwelcome feelings like irritability, mood swings and in some extreme cases - anxiety and depression. In fact, according to Very Well Family, a 2011 study involving 13,000 women who had experienced a miscarriage showed that 15 percent had clinically significant anxiety and/or depression which persisted for as long as three years.
Self-care is immensely important at this time, especially when it comes to diet. While eating (let alone healthy eating) may be one of the last things a woman experiencing a loss wants to do, choosing the right foods and maintaining a well-balanced diet will help the body – and the mind – heal as quickly as possible.
Live Strong suggests stocking up on fruits, vegetables and iron and fiber-rich nutrients such as meat, fish, beans and whole grains, and filling up on vitamin C-rich foods to help bring those calcium levels back up. When it comes to starches, reach for whole-grain pasta and rice, and avoid refined grains such as white flour and white bread, high-sugary snacks and too much dairy. Hydration is extremely important, so women are also encouraged to drink plenty of water.
1 Take Time To Heal The Body And Your Heartbreak
There is no set time limit on how long women are allowed to process their experiences and the diverse, raw emotions that happen to come along with them. There is no such thing as a recovery schedule, or a "return to normal" timeline.
Healing doesn’t have an itinerary.
So, take as much time as required to allow the grieving process to happen. Sleep, even though the mind may not shut off. Eat, even though things may seem tasteless. Talk to a professional, vent to a friend, or write about it. Most importantly, slow down. Both emotional and physical healing can take a while, and women should be encouraged to take all the time they need, and at their own pace.
Speaking of physical healing, many women cite exhaustion as one of the biggest obstacles they face on the road to recovery. Healing extends beyond fuelling our bodies with wholesome food and managing our emotions with the help of an encouraging support system. It also means getting as much rest as possible (think early bedtimes and all of the naps), being kind to ourselves (and our broken hearts) and most importantly, taking it one day at a time . It will get better.
References: Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, The American Pregnancy Association, PregnancyCorner.com, Parents.com, Nature.com, Planned Parenthood, Very Well Family, Science Daily, Livestrong