What is a miscarriage?

Going through a miscarriage can be a very sad, scary or lonely experience. We hope our information answers any questions you have during this difficult time.

What is a miscarriage?

A miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy during the first 24 weeks. Sadly, miscarriages are a common complication, with most miscarriages happening in the first 3 months of pregnancy (first trimester).

Losing a baby is a deeply personal experience that affects people differently. No matter when in your pregnancy you miscarry, you may need support to help you come to terms with what’s happened.

Tommy’s is here to help you. You can talk to a Tommy’s midwife for free, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. You can call them on 0800 0147 800 or email [email protected]. All our midwives are trained in bereavement support and will be able to talk to you about what you’re going through.

Find out more about what support is available.

Miscarriages are often referred to as early or late, although there are other types of miscarriage too.

What is early miscarriage?

Early miscarriage is one that happens in the first 3 months (first trimester) of pregnancy. Most miscarriages are early miscarriages.

Unfortunately, early miscarriages are very common and may happen before a woman realises she is even pregnant. In most cases, it is not possible to give a reason why an early miscarriage happens.

Find out more about early miscarriage.

What is late miscarriage?

A late miscarriage is one that happens after the first 3 months (second trimester of pregnancy, but before 24 weeks (during your second trimester). If a baby dies at or after 24 weeks of pregnancy, this is called a stillbirth.

It can be very hard to understand why a very late loss is called a miscarriage rather than a stillbirth. This is because, from a legal point of view, a baby is thought to have a good chance of surviving if they are born alive at 24 weeks. 

This distinction can be upsetting for some women who have a late miscarriage because they may also give birth to their baby and, understandably, feel that it should be called a stillbirth.

Late miscarriages are not as common as early miscarriages and happen in 1-2% of pregnancies.

How common is miscarriage?

Miscarriage is more common than people realise. Up to 1 in 5 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime. Many miscarriages are unreported and some go unnoticed as it happens so soon.

Find out more about how common miscarriage is.

What are the symptoms of miscarriage?


The most common sign of miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. It’s common to have light bleeding or spotting without pain before 12 weeks, so this doesn’t mean you are having a miscarriage. But if you have any bleeding in pregnancy, with or without pain, you should contact your midwife or hospital straight away.

Other symptoms of a miscarriage include:

  • cramping and pain in your lower tummy
  • 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).

Can I prevent miscarriage?

We don’t always know why miscarriages happen, which makes it very difficult to prevent them.

It is important to know that miscarriages very rarely happen because of something you did or didn’t do. And it’s important to remember that there is nothing you can do that will guarantee that you won’t have a miscarriage. However, we do know that there are some things that increase your risk of miscarriage that you can change. 

Find out more about preventing a miscarriage.

Was it my fault?

When your healthcare professional can’t give a reason why you miscarried, it can be very difficult to come to terms with. Without having a reason why, some women and couples end up unnecessarily blaming themselves for what happened. We have answered some common questions that we hope will stop people blaming themselves. 

Find out more about why did I miscarry and was it my fault?

Why does miscarriage happen?

Unfortunately, we still don’t know why every miscarriage happens. Sometimes, your doctor may be able to offer you some tests and find out the cause of your miscarriage. If this happens, you may be able to have treatment to help prevent it from happening again.

It’s important to know that sometimes doctors will not be able to find a reason why you have miscarried. Try not to worry too much if this is the case. Most couples are likely to have a successful pregnancy in the future.

We have a Miscarriage Support Tool that you can use to get personalised support and find out your chance of a successful next pregnancy.

Our research

Tommy’s is funding the cost of the UK’s first national Miscarriage Research Centre and aims to halve the number of miscarriages by 2030 by funding medical research.

1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss or preterm birth – and most parents never find out the real reason why. Our research is entirely dedicated to finding out why miscarriages happen and how to prevent it in the future.

Find out more about our Tell me why campaign.

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2016) Early miscarriage https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-early-miscarriage.pdf

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2012) Recurrent and late miscarriage: tests and treatment of couples https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-recurrent-and-late-miscarriage---tests-and-treatment-of-couples.pdf

NICE Guidelines (2019) Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage: diagnosis and initial management. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng126

NHS Choices. Miscarriage symptoms https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/symptoms/ (Page last reviewed: 01/06/2018. Next review due: 01/06/2021)