Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of miscarriage. This varies from light spotting or brown discharge, to a heavy bleed that may be heavier than a normal period.
Light bleeding before 12 weeks (during your first trimester) of pregnancy can be quite common and is not always a sign of miscarriage. But you should always contact your midwife or GP straight away if you have any bleeding, with or without pain, at any point in your pregnancy.
Bleeding in pregnancy after 12 weeks is not common. Contact A&E or your hospital maternity unit immediately so you can be checked.
If you are bleeding, use a clean sanitary pad. Do not use tampons, because they can increase the risk of infection. It’s a good idea to monitor the bleeding and make a note of what it is like, so you can tell your healthcare professional.
Stomach (abdominal) pain or cramping
Some pain and very light cramps in the stomach (abdominal) area in early pregnancy is not unusual. Mild stomach pain in early pregnancy (during your first trimester) is usually caused by your womb expanding, the ligaments stretching as your bump grows, hormones, constipation or trapped wind.
However, cramping and pain in your lower tummy may be caused by a miscarriage. If you have any concerns about any pains you’re having, or even if you just feel like something is wrong, contact your midwife.
Do not be concerned about wasting anyone’s time. It’s always best to get things checked out.
Find out more about stomach pain in pregnancy.
Other miscarriage symptoms
When you are experiencing a miscarriage, you may also notice the following symptoms:
- a discharge of fluid from your vagina
- a discharge of tissue from your vagina
- no longer experiencing pregnancy symptoms, such as feeling sick and tender breasts (although these symptoms may lessen or go away after the first trimester)
When to get checked
If you notice any of the symptoms listed above, especially vaginal bleeding or pain, you should contact your GP, midwife or nearest Early Pregnancy Unit straight away. You can also call the NHS 111 at any time of day or night.
Missed (or delayed) miscarriage
Some women do not have any symptoms that show they are having a miscarriage. This is called a missed miscarriage. In this case, women usually find out when they attend a routine antenatal appointment as it may not be possible to find the baby’s heartbeat during the ultrasound scan.
Some miscarriages are caused by a pregnancy that develops outside of the womb. This is called an ectopic pregnancy. Symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy usually appear between weeks 4 and 12.
You should seek medical advice immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms:
- persistent and severe tummy pain, usually on one side
- vaginal bleeding or spotting, commonly after the pain has started
- pain in your shoulder tip
- diarrhoea and vomiting
- feeling very faint and lightheaded, and possibly fainting.
Call 999 for an ambulance or visit your nearest A&E department if you:
- have sharp, sudden and intense stomach pains
- feel very dizzy or faint
- feel sick
- look very pale.
Research into why miscarriage happens
Most of the miscarriage research carried out in the UK happens in the Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, which only opened in 2016. Historically there has been a lack of research into miscarriage and because of this the causes are still not very well understood. The animation below shows the progress into understanding the reasons for miscarriage, particularly miscarriage that is not caused by chromosomal abnormalities.