Are There Different Types of Miscarriage?

Types of miscarriage

First of all—and most importantly—if you have recently miscarried (or think you may have), we are so, so sorry. Experiencing a miscarriage is probably one of the most, if not the most, emotionally painful things you’ll ever experience. Having your baby’s life taken away from you is so incredibly gut-wrenching and life-changing…and we really wish we could just give you a giant hug right now.

Know that you are not alone, and we’ve been there. In fact, the March of Dimes estimates that as many as half of all pregnancies result in miscarriages, though the majority of those happen before someone even realize she’s pregnant. Of women who do see that plus sign on a pregnancy test, 15 to 20% will experience a miscarriage—most often, those occur in the first trimester.

There are actually a few different types of miscarriage, but the one thing they share in common is that no miscarriage is your fault. As incredibly awful as a miscarriage is to experience, please, please, try not to place blame on yourself.

Here are some of the most common types of miscarriage:

Chemical pregnancy

A chemical pregnancy means that your body may be producing some of the hormones like you’re pregnant, but no placenta or fetus forms. The embryo is usually lost right after implantation, and this type of miscarriage often occurs very early in the pregnancy, maybe even before you’re aware you’re really pregnant.

Blighted ovum (AKA missed miscarriage)

This type of early miscarriage is similar to a chemical pregnancy—except you start to grow the placenta and surrounding tissue, but there’s no fetus inside it. Unlike the chemical pregnancy, you might even start to develop pregnancy symptoms.

A missed miscarriage is usually discovered by your doctor, when you go in for your first ultrasound and discover there is no fetus. Chromosomal abnormalities are usually what leads the baby to fail to grow and thrive.

Incomplete miscarriage

An incomplete miscarriage happens when a miscarriage starts, but some of the fetus or the placenta is left behind in your uterus. If this happens, your doctor will need to monitor you—or she may prescribe misoprostol or perform a D&C (dilation and curettage) to help things along.

“Intervention becomes necessary if the woman is unstable from blood loss or if she becomes infected,” says Dr. Marra Francis, MD, FACOG, executive medical director at Everly Well. As long as you remain stable and don’t experience significant blood loss, your doctor can just monitor you and do a final ultrasound to confirm that all of the tissue is out of your uterus.

Complete miscarriage

When all of the pregnancy-related tissue has left the uterus, and the bleeding has ended, you’ve had a complete miscarriage. The doctor will likely conduct an ultrasound to ensure that nothing’s left behind that could lead to an infection or another complication.

Ectopic pregnancy

This dangerous condition occurs when the egg and sperm meet somewhere other than your uterus—and then stays there. The embryo latches on and starts growing in your fallopian tube or your ovary, where eventually, it could rupture and cause a hemorrhage of your tube.

In an ectopic pregnancy, if it isn’t caught early, you’ll develop severe pelvic pain and heavy bleeding that will likely need emergency care to manage.

Stillbirth

A stillbirth happens when the baby dies in the uterus later in the pregnancy—at least 20 weeks in. Only one percent of pregnancies end in stillbirths, according to the March of Dimes. You may experience some bleeding and cramping if it’s happening, but most often, the baby’s lack of movement is the only sign that there’s a problem.

Usually, labor starts on its own within two weeks of the baby’s death, but your doctor may induce labor or conduct a dilation and evacuation to remove the baby to help protect your health.

When should I see a doctor?

“If you see (or feel) something, say something,” should be your motto throughout your pregnancy. If you experience something that doesn’t seem quite right, don’t consult Doctor Google or us—see an actual doctor.

Common signs of a miscarriage or stillbirth that definitely need to be checked out immediately include cramping, pelvic pain, and spotting or bleeding—or later in pregnancy, a lack of fetal movement. But you should mention any changes that seem unusual to your doctor: It’s better to have a false alarm than to miss a warning sign that could potentially put you or your baby in jeopardy.

If you know you’ve had a miscarriage or are in the process of one, watch out for symptoms that you’re developing a uterine infection. If the bleeding and cramping continues beyond two weeks, or if you develop a fever, tenderness in the abdomen, or a foul-smelling vaginal discharge, see a doctor immediately.

This is so hard. How can I cope?

No matter how early in the pregnancy a miscarriage happens, it can be absolutely devastating. What makes it even tougher is that for centuries, people have been conditioned to stay silent about miscarriage and keep their grief to themselves.

Maybe it’s time to change the idea that you should deal with the pain of a miscarriage on your own. Being open and sharing your sadness with loved ones could help reduce the stigma of talking about miscarriage, and bring you strength and support from your circle.

Jessica Zucker, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who specializes in reproductive and maternal mental health and the creator of the Instagram account @ihadamiscarriage shares, “The sooner we address the antiquated silence surrounding pregnancy and infant loss, the sooner women and families will receive the necessary support they deserve while grieving. It is time to disband the age-old silence when it comes to miscarriage and replace it with storytelling.”

Once again, sending virtual hugs and support. Take your time to grieve, and know that we’re right here with you.

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.

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