It is believed that one in five pregnancies ends in miscarriage. An expert explains what a miscarriage is, as well as possible causes and the effect it has on parents. Mark and Lara describe how they dealt with the miscarriage of their first baby.

Media last reviewed: 19/12/2011

Next review due: 19/12/2013

How common are miscarriages?

Miscarriages are much more common than most people realise.

Among women who know they are pregnant, it is estimated that 1 in 7 of these pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Many more miscarriages occur before a woman is even aware she has become pregnant.

Losing three or more pregnancies in a row (recurrent miscarriages) is uncommon and affects around 1 in 100 women.

A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks.

The main sign of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding, which may be followed by cramping and pain in your lower abdomen.

If you have vaginal bleeding, contact your GP. Most GPs can refer you to an early pregnancy unit at your local hospital straight away if necessary.

However, bear in mind that light vaginal bleeding is relatively common during the first trimester of pregnancy (the first 12 weeks) and does not necessarily mean you are having a miscarriage.

Read more about the symptoms of miscarriage.

What causes a miscarriage?

There are probably many reasons why a miscarriage may happen although the cause is usually not identified. The majority are not caused by anything that the mother has done.

It is thought that most miscarriages are due to abnormal chromosomes in the baby. Chromosomes are genetic "building blocks" that guide the development of a baby. If a baby has too many or not enough chromosomes, it will not develop properly.

If a miscarriage happens during the second trimester of pregnancy (between weeks 14 and 26), it is sometimes the result of an underlying health condition in the mother.

For most women, a miscarriage is a one-off event and they go on to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

Read more about what causes a miscarriage.

Can miscarriages be prevented?

The majority of miscarriages can not be prevented. If a woman has suffered from more than three miscarriages then there are some women who can be helped to keep their pregnancy with medication under the care of a specialist.

However, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of a miscarriage. Avoid smoking, drinking alcohol and using drugs while pregnant. Being a healthy weight before getting pregnant can also help.

Read more about preventing miscarriages.

What happens if you think you may be having a miscarriage?

If you have the symptoms of a miscarriage, you will usually be referred to a hospital for tests. In most cases, an ultrasound scan can determine whether the pregnancy is ongoing or you are having a miscarriage.

When a miscarriage is confirmed, you will need to talk to your doctor or nurse about the options for the management of the end of the pregnancy. In the majority of cases the pregnancy tissue will pass out naturally in a week or two. Sometimes medication to assist the passage of the tissue may be recommended  or you can choose to have minor surgery to remove it if you don't want to wait.

Read more about diagnosing a miscarriage and what happens if you have a miscarriage.

After a miscarriage

A miscarriage can be an emotionally and physically draining experience. You may have feelings of guilt, shock and anger.

Advice and support is available at this time from hospital counselling services and charity groups. You may also find it beneficial to have a memorial for your lost baby.

You can try for another baby as soon as your symptoms have passed, although you should ensure you are emotionally and physically ready first.

Having a miscarriage does not necessarily mean you will have another if you get pregnant again. Most people are able to have a healthy pregnancy after a miscarriage, even in cases of recurrent miscarriages. 

Read more about what happens after a miscarriage.

Page last reviewed: 27/02/2013

Next review due: 27/02/2015


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The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

clairelouise1975 said on 31 March 2014

I am deeply sorry for all your losses xx
March 2nd 2014 i had my miscarriage
my 20 week scan I thought would be normal but I guessed wrong we got there they were saying couldn't get measurements as she was only measuring 17 weeks so they referred us to bristol to fetal medial unit which we went 6 days later we assumed it was because so many small babies in our family I was so nervous I wanted to get there and go home we were called in then asking about my 2 boys which we told them then they did the scan and after few mins he told us she had died our whole world had come crashing down I felt numb we went home were called in the hospital few days later I had my pregnancy induced on 2nd March 2014 evie ann rose was born at 4.15pm 21 weeks and 2 days we held her she was perfect she is now buried with her great grandparents we just don't understand why this happened so late had planned everything x the hospital were brilliant and caring in every way to lose a baby at 5 months isn't common so need answers but will try again x
this last month has been hell for us all we know she's with the angels now has anyone else had a late miscarriage? ?
We had bought everything for her from clothes to pushchair etc x and milk just feel so lost wish we knew why she stopped growing x

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Stakis4 said on 02 November 2010

In the video Jennie Thomas incorrectly converts one in five pregnancies resulting in a miscarriage to equaling 20% of women who get pregnant. The chance of a miscarriage is 20% per pregnancy. The chance of a women who gets pregnant just twice having a miscarriage is 36% (first pregnancy miscarried = 20%x80%, plus second pregnancy miscarried = 80%x20% and the unfortunate double miscarry 20%x20%). The more pregnancies, the greater the risk of suffering a single miscarriage. It is worrying that NHS puts out such bad science.

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