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Miscarriage: Signs, Symptoms, and Causes
The loss of a much-wanted pregnancy through a miscarriage can be a truly heartbreaking event for both the mother and the father. Unfortunately, the risk of losing your baby in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy are higher than you might think. What are the signs of a miscarriage? What causes it? And is there anything you can do to prevent it?
The loss of a baby before 20 weeks of pregnancy. The medical term for miscarriage is "spontaneous abortion". After 20 weeks, fetal death is referred to as "stillbirth".
Unfortunately, around 10% - 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. 80% of miscarriages happen within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is why most people hold off on announcing their pregnancy until after this time.
What Causes Miscarriage?
Generally, it is impossible to tell the cause of a natural miscarriage and medical professionals generally don't do comprehensive check-ups unless a pattern of miscarriages develops. Experts say that between 50% and 70% of spontaneous abortions happen because of chromosome abnormalities with the fertilized egg. It is unable to develop normally and therefore results in miscarriage. Occasionally miscarriage is caused when the embryo embeds incorrectly. Less often it is caused by problems which develop during the development process. And, even less frequently, miscarriage is caused by unhealthy choices made by the mother. Rest assured that, unless you're drinking, smoking, or using drugs, a miscarriage is not your fault and you should be able to conceive again and carry your pregnancy to full term.
What are the Signs of Miscarriage?
Bleeding or Spotting:
Light spotting up until week 4 of pregnancy is quite normal as the embryo is embedding in your uterus. But any heavy bleeding and any spotting after week 4 can be a sign of miscarriage. Contact your medical professionals.
Intense Abdominal Pain or Cramps:
Again, uterine cramping is a perfectly normal symptom of pregnancy and is usually the result of the ligaments around your uterus stretching to give Baby room to grow. But, if the pain is intense and persistent, it can be a sign of miscarriage and you need to get in touch with your medical professionals.
What to do if You Think You are Having a Miscarriage:
If you experience any of the symptoms of a miscarriage, you should call your obstetrician, midwife, or emergency room right away. In most cases, it is unlikely that medical intervention will be able to stop the miscarriage. But there is always a risk of serious complications to you and your reproductive health and you need to seek medical attention in the event of a miscarriage. It is likely that you'll need to have an ultrasound and blood test to see whether there is any tissue left in your uterus and any risk of blood poisoning. In some cases, a surgical procedure called Suction cutter.
How to Prevent Miscarriage:
Unfortunately, most women who suffer a miscarriage do so through no fault of their own and the miscarriage was not preventable. However, there are lifestyle changes you can make before pregnancy to reduce your chances of miscarriage. These include:
- Diet and Exercise: Obesity has been proven to increase your chances of suffering a miscarriage. If you are overweight and planning to have a baby, you should consult your doctor about a diet and exercise plan to help you prepare for pregnancy. Even if you are not overweight, you are more likely to have a viable pregnancy with a fitter, stronger body. It's best to take about three to six months preparing your body for pregnancy before trying to conceive.
- Smoking: Nicotine and the other harmful chemicals in tobacco have a proven link to miscarriage as well as complications for mother and baby if you do make it through the pregnancy. Quit smoking well in advance of trying for a baby.
- Alcohol and Drugs: Likewise, the use of alcohol and drugs increases your risk of miscarriage - think of it as the embryo realizing that this womb is an unsafe place to develop and self-aborting. You should stop using any recreational drugs and clear your system of them at least three months before trying to conceive.
- Environmental Factors: There's not a lot you can do to purify the air you breathe and prevent miscarriage. But there are some environmental factors you can control - avoid situations and workplaces where you're exposed to toxic fumes, drink purified water, and be vigilant about safe food preparation to decrease your chances of consuming toxins.
What Factors can Increase the Chances of Miscarriage?
In addition to your personal lifestyle choices, there are factors which you have little or no control over which can contribute to the risk of miscarriage. These factors include:
- History of Miscarriage: Unfortunately, if you have suffered miscarriages in the past you are more likely to have another one.
- Age: Your chance of having a miscarriage does increase as you get older. Make sure that, if you're over 35, you have a gynecologist check your reproductive health before you try for a baby.
- Problems with the Reproductive System: A spontaneous abortion can sometimes be caused by problems with your reproductive system, such as a weak or short cervix.
- Paternal Factors: It is also possible for a miscarriage to be caused by sperm that is abnormal or unhealthy at the time of conception.
- Genetic History or Hereditary Disorders: Sometimes, your risk of miscarriage can be increased by genes passed through your family or your partner's. Talk to your mother and mother-in-law and share any information with your doctor.
Chances of Pregnancy after Miscarriage:
Possibly the only good thing about having experienced a miscarriage is that it does show you can conceive naturally. Now it's just a matter of holding on to your pregnancy. Many women experience three or more miscarriages before successfully (and naturally) taking a pregnancy to full term. If you have had a miscarriage and want to keep trying for a baby (you definitely should!), make an appointment with an OBS/GYN to discuss your options and have tests to make sure that everything is working as it should.
Coping After Miscarriage:
You are likely to continue having uterine pain (similar to menstrual cramps) and moderate bleeding for several days or even weeks after a miscarriage. If you have any intense pain or notice sudden changes to these symptoms, get in touch with your medical professionals.
You also have your emotional health to consider. Having a miscarriage is heartbreaking. When the elation of discovering you're pregnant and the hopes and dreams you pour into the unborn child are lost so suddenly, it can be very hard to cope. But there is miscarriage support available to you. Speak to your midwife about who you should contact. Also, make sure you're communicating regularly with your partner - he is suffering a great loss, too - and you should support each other. Consider taking a few days off work to recover, both physically and emotionally.