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Recognizing Miscarriage

By Tamera Young, RN, MSN

Recognizing Miscarriage

Usually when you hear about pregnancy loss, it’s the devastating stories involving still birth, or a premature birth in which baby doesn’t make it. But there’s another type of loss that’s far more common yet often ignored or not discussed: Miscarriage.

A pregnancy loss before 20 weeks is a “miscarriage,” and these losses affect as many as 20% of all pregnancies. While miscarriage is common it’s a topic that is often avoided. Many women feel isolated and alone when dealing with an early pregnancy loss.

What causes miscarriage?

Most miscarriages are due to chromosomal abnormalities in the developing fetus. These prevent a baby from developing normally, and a pregnancy loss results. However, miscarriage can also be caused by hormonal imbalances and structural problems in the mother. Sometimes a pregnancy loss occurs for no identifiable reason and without risk factors.

How do I know if it’s miscarriage?

Symptoms of a miscarriage typically include vaginal bleeding during pregnancy and lower abdominal cramping. You may even see clots and what looks like body tissue, depending on how far along in your pregnancy you are.

Tell your healthcare provider immediately about any instances of bleeding and/or cramping in early pregnancy. The status of your pregnancy can be confirmed by blood tests and ultrasound.

If your provider tells you that your pregnancy won’t progress, it will be important to learn if your body has expelled the fetus. If not, your provider may suggest a surgical procedure to remove the remaining tissue.

Getting support

Even if you’ve experienced miscarriage before, it’s important to remember that a miscarriage is a loss. Don’t become isolated; reach out to supportive family and friends. Grieving is normal and appropriate.

The healing process takes time, both physically and emotionally. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. Everyone grieves differently; give yourself permission to experience all of the feelings associated with this loss. These can include shock, denial, anger, guilt and depression.

How long these feelings continue can vary, and you may want to use support groups to help cope with the loss.

Miscarriage Risk Factors

  • Advanced age of the parent(s)
  • Previous pregnancy losses or miscarriages
  • History of birth defects
  • Maternal infections
  • Taking certain medications
  • Smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking illicit drugs
  • Chronic health conditions in the mother, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity
  • Gynecological abnormalities
  • Environmental toxins

Tamera L. Young, RN, MSN, is visiting faculty at Chamberlain College of Nursing.

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