About this booklet
Loss of a pregnancy can be a sad and distressing experience, but it is not uncommon. It is thought that possibly one in every two conceptions ends in miscarriage. Often the period is a few days late and more heavy and painful than usual. In this situation, a woman may not even think of a pregnancy. Over one in six recognised pregnancies ends in miscarriage and almost a quarter of women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.
The information given in this leaflet may help you to cope with the loss of your pregnancy at this difficult time. We have tried to provide answers to some of the questions you are likely to have.
Why did I miscarry?
Miscarriages are very common. It is usually difficult to give a definite answer as to what caused a miscarriage. It is extremely unlikely that anything you did caused your miscarriage. Women and their partners may blame themselves for a miscarriage, but it is very seldom anything they have done, or not done, that causes the loss. At least two thirds of all miscarriages occur because of a chromosome abnormality.
What happens now?
Does anything need to be done?
Following some miscarriages, you may have already passed all of the pregnancy and therefore nothing further needs to be done. Blood loss, like a period, may continue for several days until the lining of the womb is all shed. Following other miscarriages, some or all of the pregnancy may still be within the womb. In many circumstances nature will take its course and you will pass all of the pregnancy. However, there are other options like using medicines to help empty the womb. In some situations a small operation is required. You will be referred to a specialist gynaecologist for your treatment and follow up. You will find some more detailed information regarding these management options below.
Do I need an operation?
In the past an operation was routinely performed in all cases of miscarriage as there was no way to know how much tissue, if any, was still left behind in the womb. With modern ultrasound it has become possible to adopt a “wait and see” approach. Not all sorts of miscarriage are suitable for a “wait and see” approach. Your doctor will have advised you as to whether or not this choice is suitable for you.
With the “wait and see” approach, how long will it take for me to miscarry?
Although the length of time taken for a miscarriage to be complete is difficult to predict, in the majority of cases a pregnancy will miscarry within two-three weeks. If your doctor decides to wait and see and you become unwell, bleed heavily, or have significant pain, contact them directly or present to the Mater Private Emergency Care Centre, particularly if it is after hours are you are concerned.
Is there any danger if I decide to wait?
All miscarriages can potentially be complicated by significant pain or heavy bleeding. Miscarriages managed with a “wait and see” approach carry a very small risk of infection and are not always successful. If unsuccessful then you may need to consider surgical management for your miscarriage. If you have any of the following symptoms you should contact your doctor or present to the Mater Private Emergency Care Centre:
- excessive bleeding
- unpleasant discharge
- lasting pain
- high temperature—fever.
Surgical management of miscarriage
What does the operation involve?
The operation following a miscarriage is sometimes called a “curette” or a “D&C” (which stands for a dilatation and curettage). It is also known as an ERPOC (which stands for the evacuation of retained products of conception). This is the traditional method carried out under a general anaesthetic in the operating theatre. Instruments are used to ensure the inside of the womb is empty. The operation usually takes about five to ten minutes. It is done vaginally and you will have no cut/stitches. Sometimes a D&C is the best choice but often other options (like using medicines or letting nature take its course) are preferable.
Are there any risks?
Like all operations, small anaesthetic and surgical risks are involved. There is a small risk of infection or injury to the womb or cervix. Injury to the womb occurs about once every 200 to 500 operations. The injury is usually small and of little consequence. Very rarely this injury may be more significant requiring further surgery at the time to repair the damage. Surgical management of miscarriage is nearly always successful (94% to 100%). Uncommonly, however, surgery may need to be repeated to ensure the womb is empty.
Will the treatment affect my chances of becoming pregnant again?
No. Generally your chances of having a successful pregnancy in the future are just as good whichever method is required.
How long will I bleed for after a miscarriage?
The bleeding is usually less than a period, and stops by about a week. If you are still bleeding on the tenth day, or if the loss increases and becomes heavier than your normal period or starts to smell offensive, you should contact your specialist.
Whilst the bleeding continues, it is best to use sanitary pads instead of tampons, as this will reduce the risk of infection. Baths or showers can be taken as required.
What else should I expect after having a miscarriage?
If you have an anaesthetic, you will probably feel tired during the 24-hour period after your anaesthetic and you should not drink alcohol, drive or operate any dangerous machinery.
After a miscarriage you may have a dull ache in your lower tummy—this is normal for a few days.
Your breasts may be tender for several days and you may even leak milk. In this case wear a good fitting bra, day and night, to provide adequate support until your breasts are comfortable. This may be necessary for a couple of weeks, but will settle on its own. If painful, mild painkillers such as paracetamol can be used. Testing to see if there is milk causes a reflex stimulation of milk production, and should therefore be avoided.
Going back to work?
If you have had an operation, you are unlikely to feel fit enough for work as soon as you leave hospital—so make sure you rest. One week’s absence is usually enough but the decision to go back to work is up to you. In all cases, a sick leave certificate can be obtained from your doctor.
Will I miscarry again?
Fortunately most couples go on to have normal, healthy, full term babies. The chance of another miscarriage following one miscarriage is not significantly changed. Even after several miscarriages, there is a good chance of a successful pregnancy.
What can I do to stop having a miscarriage?
There is no magic formula for success, but the emotional and physical well being of both mother and father in the months before pregnancy will help to give your baby the best possible start. Please remember these are only suggestions—the most important thing is to decide how you both feel about being pregnant again and to prepare in whatever way feels right for you..
Check up on your health
After a miscarriage, it is worth while asking your GP for a general health check. Your doctor may be able to pick up or sort out problems that may affect a future pregnancy. If you have a disability or long term condition such as diabetes, epilepsy or high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your plans to fall pregnant. Ask how your condition will affect your pregnancy, and what extra care may be needed to reduce any risk to the baby. If there is a genetic disorder in your own or your partner’s family, and you are worried that it may be passed on to your own children, ask your doctor about seeing a genetic counsellor who can advise you about the likely risk.
Drugs or Medicines
Don’t take drugs or medicines unless you have checked with your doctor or pharmacist that they are safe to take during pregnancy. Common drugs such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine (in tea, coffee and cola drinks) and tranquillisers can all affect the body’s chemistry. Illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin and cocaine may affect fertility and increase the risk of premature or low birth weight babies, or damage to the developing fetus. The safest course of action is to avoid using any of these drugs before and during pregnancy.
Smoking can make a man less fertile and produce damaged sperm and a woman who smokes runs a greater risk of miscarriage. Smoking during pregnancy affects the baby’s growth, and a small baby is more susceptible to health problems in the early weeks of life. If your partner smokes but you do not, you are still affected by breathing in smoke. Heavy drinking reduces the number of sperm a man produces and it can also damage sperm. For women, heavy drinking reduces fertility and increases the risk of miscarriage. It can also affect the baby’s development during pregnancy. As the risk is highest in the earliest stages of pregnancy (including the time before a period is even missed) it is advisable that you both cut out or at least cut down on drinking if you are planning a pregnancy. If you choose to drink, you should have no more than seven standard drinks in a week, and no more than two standard drinks (spread over at least two hours) on any one day (one standard drink = 100 mL wine or one glass of beer (285 mL ‘heavy’, 375 mL ‘mid strength’ or 425 mL ‘light’ ) or 60 mL fortified wine/port or 30 mL spirits a glass of wine).
Protect your baby
Certain infections may increase the risk of miscarriage or damage to your baby during pregnancy. Rubella (German measles) can seriously damage your baby if you catch it in the first few months of pregnancy. Even if you think you are immune, ask your doctor for a blood test to check. You can be vaccinated against rubella, but it is best to wait three months after the injection before getting pregnant.
A well balanced diet is the basis of good health. A good diet will help to provide the best possible conditions for a baby to grow. A healthy variety of foods includes vegetables and fruit, meat, fish, dried beans or pulses, eggs, milk, cheese, cereals and bread (wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals such as muesli, porridge and wheat biscuits).
Folic Acid Supplements
Recent research has shown that a daily dose (400 mcg tablet once a day) of Folic Acid appears to reduce the risk of spina bifida when taken in the pre-conception period and during the early weeks of pregnancy. High doses of certain vitamins and minerals can be harmful and so it is advisable to obtain advice from your doctor before taking any supplements.
How long should I wait before trying for another baby?
When the bleeding stops, it is usually safe to start having sexual intercourse again. You may need a few weeks for your body to recover and then it depends on how you and your partner feel. You may not feel like having intercourse for a while or your sex drive might decrease. Your feelings and those of your partner need to be respected on this—be loving and understanding to each other. You may ovulate unpredictably after a miscarriage and hence the time of your next period may be less certain. You may try again when you feel ready however it is sometimes better to wait a few months before trying again for a baby.
It is natural to feel low and depressed. Give yourself and your body time to recover. It may help to talk over things with your partner, friends and other members of your family. We will have also provided you today with a brochure regarding support following a miscarriage which you may find helpful.
Information in this brochure was sourced from the Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit, Level 7, Mater Mothers' Hospitals. Please telephone 07 3163 5132 if you would like to speak to someone from the unit.
Mater Private Emergency Care Centre
Mater Private Hospital Brisbane
301 Vulture Street, South Brisbane Qld 4101
Telephone: 07 3163 1000
© 2010 Mater Misericordiae Ltd. ACN 096 708 922.
Mater acknowledges consumer consultation in the development of this patient information.
Mater Doc Num: HOSP-005-00804
Last modified 19/11/2015.