How common is miscarriage?

Miscarriage is fairly common during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

It is hard to know how many miscarriages take place because sometimes a miscarriage can happen before the mother knows she is pregnant. The estimated figure is that miscarriage happens in around 1 in 4 recognised pregnancies, with 85% of those happening in the first trimester (weeks 1 to 12).

A 'late' miscarriage, which is much less common, may occur between weeks 13 to 24 of pregnancy.

Age makes a difference to risk levels:

  • If a woman is under 30, she has a 1 in 10 chance of miscarriage
  • If a woman is between 35 and 39, she has a 2 in 10 chance of miscarriage
  • If a woman is over 45, she has a 5 in 10 chance of miscarriage.

Read more miscarriage statistics.

After 24 weeks, the delivery of a baby who has died in the womb is referred to as a stillbirth.

What are the signs of miscarriage?

The main sign of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding. This may be followed by cramping and pain in the lower abdomen.

Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom of a miscarriage; it can vary from light spotting to a heavy bleed, heavier than a normal period. Some women are shocked by the volume of blood that they seem to lose.

Other signs are cramping or abdominal pain. Some women describe simply not feeling pregnant anymore. They may have lost the pregnancy symptoms such as nausea or breast tenderness that they had previously been feeling.

We still don’t know why all early miscarriages occur. In some cases, however, it is due to a genetic or chromosomal problem in the developing baby.

Find out what to do if you think you're having a miscarriage.

Missed miscarriage

It is possible to miscarry without having any of the usual symptoms, such as bleeding or pain. This is called a missed miscarriage.

Can anything be done to avoid miscarriage?

There are some things you can do to bring down your risk of having a miscarriage.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol in pregnancy

  • Don't use street drugs while pregnant

Being a healthy weight before pregnancy, eating a healthy diet and following guidance on what foods to avoid can also help.

Chromosome abnormality

Chromosomes contain the genetic material important for the make-up of the baby, and are found inside every cell within the body. When something goes wrong during the passing on or division of chromosomes, it can cause genetic abnormalities in the baby. This may cause a miscarriage. Chromosomal abnormalities are more likely in the babies of older mothers. 

A chromosomal abnormality resulting in a miscarriage is unlikley to affect subsequent pregnancies.

Find out more about the why miscarriage happens.

Am I at risk?

The following people have a slightly higher risk of having an early miscarriage

  • Older women: at 30, a woman has a 20% chance of miscarriage; at 42, this increases to 50%.
  • People with underlying health problems, such as poorly controlled diabetes
  • People who are obese have an increased risk of miscarriage.
  • People who engage in lifestyle choices that are harmful to the developing baby, such as heavy drinking, smoking and taking recreational drugs

If you fall into the last category you can reduce your risk by quitting smoking, stopping recreational drug use and quitting alcohol.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that develops outside of the womb, most commonly in the fallopian tube. Sometimes an ectopic pregnancy can also develop in the abdominal cavity. An ectopic pregnancy will end in miscarriage.

Find out what to do if you think you are having an ectopic pregnancy.

Read more about miscarriage

Read more about miscarriage

Sources

1. Macdonald S, magill-Cuerden J, Mayes' midwifery, fourteenth edition, London Balliere Tindall, 2011: 755

2. RCOG (2011), 'The investigation and treatment of couples with Recurrent First-Trimester and Second Trimester Miscarriage'. Green Top Guideline No 17, London Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

3. NICE (2016), 'Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage', National Institute for Health and Care Excellence https://pathways.nice.org.uk/pathways/ectopic-pregnancy-and-miscarriage#path=view%3A/pathways/ectopic-pregnancy-and-miscarriage/ectopic-pregnancy-and-miscarriage-overview.xml&content=view-index [accessed 23/03/2018]

4. NHS Choices, 'Miscarriage': https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/ [accessed 23/03/2018]

5. Patient.co.uk, 'Miscarriage (spontaneous abortion)': http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/miscarriage-spontaneous-abortion [accessed 23/03/2018] 

6. Rai R, Regan L (2006) Recurrent miscarriage. Lancet; 368(9535): 601-11

7. NHS Choices, 'Miscarriage, causes': http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Miscarriage/Pages/Causes.aspx[accessed 23/03/2018] 

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Last reviewed on April 10th, 2018. Next review date April 10th, 2021.

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