What Does a Miscarriage Look Like? The Facts Explored

What is a miscarriage? What are the signs and symptoms? What does a miscarriage look like? What causes a miscarriage and how is it treated?

This is a very touchy subject; one that moms-to-be generally don’t want to think about.

Unfortunately, however, it does happen. If you think you are experiencing, or have already experienced, a miscarriage, see your doctor right away. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is when your body expels the pregnancy, normally within the first trimester. About 1 in 4 early pregnancies end in miscarriage. Miscarriage rates drop significantly after the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

This can happen for various reasons, but the most common reason is early pregnancy failure, meaning that the pregnancy failed to develop normally.

This usually happens before a woman even knows that she is pregnant. However, if the woman takes a pregnancy test very early on, she may find that she is pregnant, though it may be a failed pregnancy.

Types of Miscarriage

Contrary to belief, there are different types of miscarriages, with different causes. Here are a few of them:

  • Threatened Miscarriage– This is where spotting and bleeding occur within the first trimester and the doctor is wary that the fetus will not survive. Spotting and bleeding occur in ⅓ of pregnancies, but only around half of these pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
  • Complete Miscarriage – This is where the entire fetus is expelled from the body, normally before a woman even knows she’s pregnant. This type of miscarriage is accompanied by bleeding and cramping.
  • Incomplete Miscarriage – This occurs when the pregnancy has miscarried but there is still tissue left in the uterus. When this occurs, treatment and surgery may be necessary to remove the rest of the tissue, especially if there is heavy bleeding. This can lead to hemorrhaging if the tissue stays in the uterus.
  • Anembryonic Gestation – This is the most common type of miscarriage where the embryonic tissue (the part of the embryo that is supposed to form into your baby) never developed or stops developing.
  • Embryonic or Fetal Demise – This is the type of miscarriage where the embryo develops until around 10 weeks of gestation and then stops.
  • Missed Abortion – This is the least common type of miscarriage. This occurs when a woman has had an abortion, but the pregnancy tissue will not be expelled from the body for around 4 weeks. This is accompanied by spotting, light bleeding, and cramping.
  • Septic Miscarriage – This type of miscarriage is caused by an infection in the uterus. This is very dangerous and needs immediate treatment. If you have a septic miscarriage, they will put you on antibiotics to treat the infection and vacuum out your uterus to ensure that there is no residual pregnancy tissue.

All of these types of miscarriages normally occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Though there can be numerous causes for a miscarriage, it is normally due to a flaw in the genes and is no one’s fault.

It is very uncommon for a woman to have multiple miscarriages in a row. If you have confirmed that you have had multiple miscarriages in a row, you may have what is known as recurrent miscarriage.

What are the Signs and Symptoms?

There are a few common signs and symptoms that women have when experiencing a miscarriage.

  • Bleeding
    • Though it is normal to experience light bleeding in early pregnancy (see What is Implantation Bleeding), this can also be a sign of miscarriage.
    • If the blood is brown and looks more like coffee grounds, this is old tissue that is being expelled from the uterus.
    • If the blood is bright red, heavy, and accompanied by blood clots, this is a sign of miscarriage and you should see your doctor right away.
  • Cramping
    • It is normal to experience very light cramping in early pregnancy. However, if this cramping is coupled with heavier bleeding and/or blood clots, a miscarriage is likely.
  • Passing tissue through the vagina
  • Clear or pink vaginal fluid/discharge
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Loss of previous pregnancy symptoms
    • This can be tough because if you are close to the end of your first trimester, these symptoms begin to subside.
    • This can also be due to what’s known as an ectopic or tubal pregnancy, which is extremely dangerous and life-threatening for you and your baby.

If you feel that you are at risk of having a miscarriage, or are worried that you are experiencing one, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away. Even if you aren’t experiencing a miscarriage, it will put your mind at ease.

What Does a Miscarriage Look Like?

What a miscarriage looks like depends on the gestation of the fetus and type of miscarriage that you’ve experienced. If your fetus did not develop (anembryonic gestation), it is very likely that you didn’t even realize that you were pregnant.

The expulsion of the fetus will look very much the opposite of a light period and more like your normal period, possibly with more blood clots, slightly heavier bleeding, and more cramps.

If you experienced a miscarriage after development occurred (embryonic or fetal demise), you will experience heavier bleeding and expel what looks like a small sac. These sacs are normally a few inches long and are very thick due to all of the tissue.

Though it is uncommon to see an actual fetus in a miscarriage, some women experience fetal demise later on in their pregnancy (around 14 – 16 weeks instead of 12 weeks).

In this case, you will expel a larger sac and you may be able to see the remnants of a fetus. However, this is extremely rare. Only around 2% of all pregnancies end in what is known as late miscarriage.

Late miscarriages consist of the same signs and symptoms and are accompanied by heavier bleeding, more blood clots, and more severe abdominal cramping.

What Causes a Miscarriage?

Though miscarriages are mainly caused by flawed genes, there are some things that can increase your chances of having a miscarriage, such as:

  • Heavy smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • Use of drugs, especially cocaine
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Hyper/Hypothyroidism
  • Physical issues with the uterus such as fibroids, cysts, and other abnormalities with the development of the uterus.
  • Trauma to the abdomen can sometimes cause a miscarriage

There are not many things you can do to cause a miscarriage. Avoiding intercourse and other daily activities will neither increase or decrease your chances of miscarriage.

What are Treatments for Miscarriages?

Though all miscarriages require confirmation, not all miscarriages require monitoring and treatment. Some miscarriages are ‘successful’ in the fact that they have expelled all of the fetal tissue. Surviving fetal tissue in your uterus can cause hemorrhaging and can potentially be life-threatening.

Your body will continue trying to expel the tissue, causing continuous bleeding until there is no remaining tissue. If this goes on for too long, a doctor might execute a procedure identified as a D&C (dilation and curettage) to remove any of the residual tissue. Afterward, you will need to follow-up with your doctor to ensure that your uterus is healing properly.

Alternately, a doctor may use suction aspiration to expel the rest of the tissue. This is less invasive than a D&C and much more common for miscarriages that are around 10 weeks gestation.

Another way that doctors treat a miscarriage is what’s called expectant treatment. This is where you and your doctor continue follow-up appointments, after confirming the miscarriage, until the miscarriage is completed.

The last way that doctors treat miscarriage is called medical management. Your doctor will prescribe medication to assist the uterus in passing the embryonic tissue. This type of treatment also requires follow-ups throughout the process.

Coping With a Miscarriage

Miscarriages are unavoidable, sometimes. However, they take a toll on our emotions, nonetheless. If you have experienced a miscarriage, you may be feeling depressed, anxious, and guilt.

First, you need to understand that it is not your fault. No one expects to have a miscarriage, and they are more common than we like to think. Here are five ways to cope after experiencing a miscarriage:

Lean on your partner, friends, and family

They are there to support you. Discuss with them what it was like to experience the miscarriage and how you are feeling after the fact. This will help them to understand what you need from them. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Seeking counseling is another great way to cope with a miscarriage. Ask your partner or a family member to come along with you for emotional support, if needed. A counselor can help you work through your feelings and help the family understand how to help you better.

Do not try to get pregnant again right away, no matter how tempting

Getting pregnant quickly after a failed or successful pregnancy is dangerous for your body since it has not had a chance to heal properly. Also, you need to give yourself and your partner time to grieve the loss of your pregnancy. Having another child, no matter how daunting the thought is, is not going to help the feeling that you are currently experiencing.

Get out and do things

Create new hobbies for yourself to keep yourself busy, help you to regain your confidence, and keep your mood light. Include your partner or friends, or just go off by yourself. Do what you need to do to feel better.

Don’t forget that your partner experienced the miscarriage too

They carry their own set of guilt. Instead of pushing them away, embrace them and let them stand by your side through the grieving process. Miscarriages are hard for everyone involved, and your partner is there to support you as much as you are there to support them.

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