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A normal pregnancy takes about 38 weeks for the fertilized egg to develop into a fetus, then a full term baby. However, there are times when the fertilized egg doesn’t continue to grow and the pregnancy is lost. An early pregnancy loss (before 20 weeks) is called a miscarriage. Sometimes a miscarriage happens before a teen or woman even knows she’s pregnant, and there is usually nothing that she did to cause it. Having a miscarriage is upsetting. It will take time to heal both physically and emotionally.


What is the medical term for miscarriage?

The medical term for miscarriage is “spontaneous abortion”, but it's not the same thing as a therapeutic or planned abortion. A spontaneous abortion is when a pregnancy ends “spontaneously”, unexpectedly, or suddenly. There are different reasons why this happens, but most often the reason is unknown.


What causes miscarriage?

There can be different reasons that a pregnancy will end suddenly. Most of the time miscarriage happens because the fertilized egg or fetus is not growing or developing normally. If the fetus doesn't form and the pregnancy tissue does not grow, this is called a “blighted ovum”.


What is a blighted ovum?

A blighted ovum is a fertilized egg that has a placenta but no embryo. The fertilized egg attaches itself to the inside of the uterus. The sac develops, but since there is no embryo, the pregnancy cannot continue.


What happens when the fetus stops growing?

If the fetus stops growing (early fetal demise) then there will be a miscarriage. The fetus is usually very small and if the tissue is passed it doesn'tlook like a fetus.


What are other reasons for an early miscarriage or blighted ovum?

What does NOT cause miscarriage?

We know that normal activity, regular exercise, and most jobs do not cause miscarriage. There is also no proof that having sex will cause miscarriage.


Who is at risk for having a miscarriage?

Anyone can have a miscarriage, but a teen or woman is at a higher risk if she has one or more of the following conditions or behaviors:

What are the symptoms of miscarriage?

Bleeding is the most common symptom of miscarriage, however some teens/women can have light bleeding during the first few months of pregnancy without problems. This may seem confusing. It may be helpful to think of the following symptoms as “warning signs” and a reason to call your health care provider.


Warning Signs of Miscarriage

What will happen if I have to go to the hospital?

You will need to have a pelvic exam to see if your cervix has dilated (opened) and/or a pelvic ultrasound.


If your cervix has dilated, it’s likely that you’ve had a complete or partial miscarriage. If your health care provider feels that you have had a “complete” miscarriage, after you have been examined, you may not need to have a procedure. Sometimes the tissue doesn’t completely come out of the uterus (partial miscarriage). If this happens, you may need to have a routine procedure called a D & E.


What is a D & E?

A “D & E” is short for dilatation and evacuation. This procedure can be done in a health care provider's office or an emergency room under local anesthesia (numbing medicine), or in an operating room at a hospital (under general anesthesia - while you are asleep). The cervix may need to be dilated (widened) and then any tissue left behind is removed.


What happens after a miscarriage?

After a miscarriage you will have some vaginal bleeding, but it shouldn’t be heavy. You may also have mild cramping in your abdomen (belly). This happens because your uterus (womb) is tightening and getting smaller (back to the shape and size it was before you got pregnant). You will need to see your health care provider for a follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks for a routine check-up or sooner if you have any of the following problems.


Call your health care provider right away if you have:

Your health care provider will give you specific instructions about how long you should stay home and rest, and when it is safe to be physically and sexually active.


Can I get pregnant after a miscarriage?

If you got pregnant once, you know that you are “fertile” (you ovulate and can get pregnant). It’s important to know that you can ovulate (make eggs) as early as 2 weeks after having a miscarriage. This means you can get pregnant right away if you are sexually active and you don’t use birth control. If you don’t want to become pregnant, talk to your health care provider about birth control.


Why do I feel so sad?

Whether or not your pregnancy was planned, it’s normal to feel sad when you find out that you have miscarried. Some of the feelings are due to the changes in hormones that come with pregnancy and miscarriage. You may experience a range of emotions from feeling relieved to being sad and upset.


It's important to talk with your health care provider if you are extremely sad; crying a lot, having trouble concentrating or sleeping. Many young women say it’s also helpful to talk with a counselor or social worker.


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Written and reviewed by the CYWH Staff at Boston Children's Hospital


Updated: 6/20/2013

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