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What is Miscarriage?

What is Miscarriage?

Sadly, miscarriages are a common occurrence, with one in four pregnancies ending in loss before 20 weeks.¹⁻⁴ 

This is little consolation when you have lost your much-wanted baby, and you will likely be feeling quite heartbroken as you come to terms with this loss.

The vast majority of miscarriages will happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, with some even happening before you would have known you were pregnant. However, given that many of us find out quite early through home pregnancy tests, it is likely you had discovered you were expecting a baby, and you are now grieving that loss. 

Please know there is nothing you could have done to prevent this - it is not your fault - and the good news is that most women will go on to have a subsequent healthy pregnancy.

Signs & Symptoms of Miscarriage

The most common signs of miscarriage are heavy bleeding, perhaps with blood clots, and strong period-type pains. Sometimes however a miscarriage can occur without any symptoms at all.

If a miscarriage is already under way, unfortunately there isn’t anything we can do to stop it. The signs of a miscarriage will depend on the gestation of your pregnancy. Most women will experience something similar to a heavy period, with slightly more cramping and bleeding than usual. Others can experience labour-like cramping, and pass large clots, particularly if it’s later in the first trimester.

In some cases, there are no signs or symptoms at all, and you may have no idea that anything is wrong until a routine scan shows that your baby has no heartbeat and stopped growing at an earlier time. Hearing this news will come as a huge shock and you may initially feel disbelief, and then devastation.

In general, it is best to see your healthcare professional if any of these occur:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting
  • Dull lower back pain/pressure
  • Cramping
  • Changes to vaginal discharge

It is important to remember to use sanitary pads not tampons during a miscarriage, as these can lead to infection.

On rare occasions, miscarriages occur because a pregnancy develops outside the womb – most commonly in the fallopian tube. This is known as an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies are potentially serious as there’s a risk you could experience internal bleeding, and in some cases your fallopian tube can rupture. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually appear between weeks 5 and 14 of the pregnancy.

Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy may include:

  • Persistent and severe abdominal pain, usually on one side
  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting, commonly after the pain has started
  • Pain in your shoulder tip
  • Diarrhoea and vomiting 
  • Feeling faint and lightheaded, and possibly fainting

Please remember this is a guide only. Get in contact with your healthcare professional if you are worried and in case of emergency, visit your nearest Emergency department or call 000.

1. Collins C, Riggs DW, Due C. The impact of pregnancy loss on women's adult relationships. Grief Matters: The Australian Journal of Grief and Bereavement. 2014;17(2):44.
2. Bellhouse C, Temple-Smith MJ, Bilardi JE. “It’s just one of those things people don’t seem to talk about...” women’s experiences of social support following miscarriage: a qualitative study. BMC Women’s Health. 2018 Oct 29;18(1).
3. McLean A, Flynn CA. 'It's not just a pap-smear': Women speak of their experiences of hospital treatment after miscarriage. Qualitative Social Work. 2013;12(6):782 - 798. doi: 10.1177/1473325012464099.
4. Lee L, Ma W, Davies S, Kammers M. Toward Optimal Emotional Care During the Experience of Miscarriage: An Integrative Review of the Perspectives of Women, Partners, and Health Care Providers. Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health. 2022 Nov 12;

MisUnderstandings of Miscarriage Documentary

Tahyna MacManus, Filmmaker and Pink Elephants Patron, embarks on a personal journey to understand the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of miscarriage. As she tries to fall pregnant again, she discovers that the world of women’s silence and shame can become one of strength in numbers. Watch the MUM Documentary trailer here and visit her website for more information https://www.mumdocumentary.com/ 

Watch TrailerVisit website