Why Does Early Pregnancy Loss Occur?

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Generally, a miscarriage occurs when a baby dies and the pregnancy ends. Miscarriage is generally defined as the loss of a baby prior to the twentieth week of gestation. When discussing a miscarriage a health professional may use the medical term “spontaneous abortion”. Medical staff may also use the term “embryo” to describe a baby until the sixth week of pregnancy. From then on until birth, the term “fetus” is often used by health professionals when referring to a baby.

A pregnancy may end in miscarriage for many reasons, including a weakness in the womb or cervix, a chromosomal abnormality, viral infections, diabetes, or placental malformation. Sometimes there is no explanation for the loss of a pregnancy. Nearly all miscarriages are unexpected and are not preventable.

It is very rare for miscarriage to occur because of something you have or have not done, although many parents still feel this to be the case. For the majority of women the cause of the miscarriage will never be known, even after extensive testing. Many parents have expressed feelings of frustration and helplessness when a cause for their miscarriage cannot be found.

There are many different reasons for an early pregnancy loss. Some of these include:

  • Abnormalities with the embryo or foetus
  • Infection
  • Problems with implantation of the embryo in the wall of the uterus
  • Problems with the formation of the placenta
  • An inability of the cervix to stay closed

Another cause for an early pregnancy loss might be an Ectopic pregnancy. This type of pregnancy develops most often in the fallopian tube and occasionally at other pelvic sites. This causes vaginal bleeding and severe abdominal pain. Some women are not aware they are pregnant until the ectopic pregnancy is diagnosed. If you experience these symptoms, medical advice should be sought as ectopic pregnancies can be life threatening. If you have an ectopic pregnancy, an operation is necessary to remove the pregnancy. Sometimes it is possible to save the fallopian tube, however, if it has ruptured it will be necessary to remove this as well.

Many women become concerned that they may be able to fall pregnant again with only one tube, however as women usually have two fallopian tubes, it is normally possible to become pregnant again if there are no other complications

“I often wonder if there was something I could have done differently. Maybe rested more or have been less anxious.”

Ask your doctor for further information why your miscarriage may have occurred.

Being pregnant involves adjustments and perhaps mixed feelings about the role of being a parent. The experience of loss may bring feelings of relief for some and confirmation for others that they really were looking forward to this baby.

When a pregnancy threatens to miscarry there is often very little the mother, father or health professionals can do to alter the outcome. This can be a time of considerable uncertainty and anxiety for many women and their partners as they wait, hoping the symptoms will go away and that their baby is still alive and growing. Feelings such as fear, guilt and sadness may be intense as parents search for explanations for the onset of the symptoms.

Fear is a normal response to an unexpected, unfamiliar and threatening event, so for many parents miscarriage can be a frightening experience about which they have little or no knowledge. When you miscarry you usually are not prepared for the changes, both physical and emotional that occur.

Feelings of guilt are often experienced and women may feel that they have lost control over their body.

As the pregnancy progresses the mother’s body produces an increased blood supply to nourish the baby. The sudden loss of quantities of this blood and the onset of sometimes severe pain can be very distressing and frightening to women and their partners. It is important to contact a doctor if you suspect you have miscarried as medical treatment may be required. It can be helpful to have your partner, a family member or close friend support you at this time.

The meaning of any pregnancy is individual. You may find that other people do not acknowledge your loss or support you in the way that you would like. It is not unusual for others to assume that because miscarriage is a relatively common event it is therefore a minor experience that will soon be forgotten. Sometimes staff may use medical phrases and terms that do not seem to respect your experience or your baby and this may be distressing for bereaved parents. Maintaining contact with friends, doctors and other health professionals who will listen to you, who you trust and who will try and understand your sense of loss can be helpful.

“I feel the need to talk to people about my baby and not have them say, ‘it was only a miscarriage’ or ‘it’s for the best’”. Talking to someone about your feelings and anxieties can be a great comfort.

This article was prepared using extracts from Miscarriage: Information for Parents and Families.1 The full text is available online or contact Red Nose Grief and Loss Services on 1300 308 307 for a printed version.


Last reviewed: 21/3/19