What is a Missed Miscarriage?

You’ve probably just received the worst news of your life—that you’re no longer pregnant. And we know just how shocking and upsetting that can be. We’ve been there, too, asking the same horrible question: How could you possibly feel so pregnant, but not be?

According to your doctor, you’ve had a missed miscarriage (also known as a blighted ovum). But you’re not alone. About half of the first trimester miscarriages are due to blighted ovum, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

What is a “missed miscarriage,” anyway?

Whether it’s called blighted ovum, anembryonic pregnancy, early pregnancy loss, or missed miscarriage, it all amounts to the same awful thing. Your body has started growing placenta for a baby, but a baby isn’t growing inside it. It occurs when the fetus either dies or never grew, but the placental tissue and sac are still there, according to Dr. Marra Francis, MD, FACOG, executive medical director at EverlyWell.

You’ll likely try to search out the reason it happened, and you might even place the blame on yourself for it. But your miscarriage didn’t happen because you drank a glass of champagne or you cleaned out the cat’s litter box before you knew you were pregnant. Repeat after us: it was. not. your. fault. In most cases, actually, a missed miscarriage happens because of a chromosomal abnormality, a problem with the genetic code of the embryo.

In fact, there was nothing you could do to cause this miscarriage to happen—and there was nothing you could do to stop it from happening. No matter how well prepped you are (modifying your diet and exercise routines, limiting stress, taking prenatal vitamins), unfortunately, that won’t stop chromosomal abnormalities from happening, says Dr. Stephanie Zobel, MD, an OB-GYN with Winnie Palmer Hospital.

How it’s diagnosed

There’s a reason it’s called a “missed” miscarriage, and that’s because all the common signs of miscarriage, like heavy bleeding and cramping, are missing. Your levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the pregnancy hormone that the placenta produces, may rise just as they should—leading to the breast tenderness, nausea and other symptoms common in early pregnancy.

In fact, the only unusual symptom women might experience is a bit of brown spotting, says Dr. Francis. A missed miscarriage is only caught when you go in for an ultrasound, and there’s no baby.

What happens if you’re diagnosed with a missed miscarriage?

Once it’s been confirmed that you’ve miscarried, you and your doctor can decide the best course of action to deal with your miscarriage. You might decide to simply wait for your body to expel the placenta and other tissues on its own, or you may opt to take a medication like misoprostol to help remove the remaining tissue.

In some cases, it might make sense to have a dilation and curettage (also known as a D & C), where the doctor will dilate the cervix and surgically remove everything. That’ll be helpful if you’d like a pathologist to investigate what happened—which might be important for you if you’ve multiple miscarriages.

But the grief, anger, and myriad of other emotions you’re feeling in the wake of the miscarriage can be much more challenging for you and your partner to handle. Take time to grieve, seek out supportive friends and family members (or even a support group), and be kind to yourself. Remember that you’re not alone. According to the March of Dimes, 15 to 20 percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage—so odds are, you have some friends who have dealt with this themselves.

How soon can you try again?

Most doctors recommend waiting at least one to three menstrual cycles before you try to get pregnant again after a miscarriage, but you should check in with your own OB/GYN to see what she recommends for you.

It can be scary to try again after a missed miscarriage, but keep in mind that the odds are in your favor that the next time will, hopefully, be a success. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for you. In the meantime, take all the time you need to grieve.

Lisa Milbrand

Lisa Milbrand writes about parenting and fertility topics for major websites and magazines. She’s the author of the upcoming book, Baby Names With Character—and the mom of two amazing girls.