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.
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.
Page last reviewed: 27/02/2013
Next review due: 27/02/2015