When a pregnancy ends before 20 weeks, it is called early pregnancy loss. This can happen because of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.
Miscarriage is the most common cause of early pregnancy loss. It happens in 15 to 20 percent of all pregnancies, usually in the first trimester. The exact reason for a miscarriage is often not known. However, most miscarriages occur when there is a problem with the baby's development that makes survival impossible.
This term does not mean that a woman did something to end the pregnancy. Early pregnancy loss is not caused by a fall, a fright, stress, exercising, working or having sex. In fact, most early pregnancy loss cannot be prevented.
Most of these problems happen by chance and are not likely to occur with the next pregnancy. Most women who have a miscarriage go on to have a healthy next pregnancy.
About two percent of pregnancies are ectopic. This means the pregnancy grows outside of the uterus, most often in a fallopian tube. Because a fallopian tube is narrow, it bursts when the baby and placenta have grown to the size of a walnut.
The rupture causes a deep pain and serious, even life-threatening, bleeding. It must be treated right away.
A woman is at higher risk for an ectopic pregnancy if her fallopian tubes are scarred from previous infections, a previous ectopic pregnancy, or endometriosis (uterine cells that grow outside the uterus).
Women and their partners have a variety of reactions to an early pregnancy loss. It is normal to have feelings of sadness, anger, frustration or hopelessness. There can also be physical symptoms like loss of appetite, feeling tired, finding it hard to concentrate, and having trouble sleeping.
Many women find the emotional recovery from losing a baby takes much longer than the physical recovery. Take comfort and strength from your support system. Give yourself time—time to grieve and time to heal.
Expect that you and your partner will experience this loss in your own ways. Grief is personal and unfolds differently. It is important to be honest with each other. Ask for what you need. If you and your partner think you would benefit from support or counseling, see pregnancy loss at the bottom of the resources section.
Or, ask your health care provider. Talking with other parents who have had similar experiences can also be valuable.
You may find it helpful to talk with your health care provider, even if you don't get all of the answers you are looking for. You may want to talk about how much time your body needs to heal before you try to get pregnant again.
When you call for an appointment, ask for extra time during an office visit. If you have trouble asking questions about your loss, have your partner ask the questions. Or, write your questions down and hand them to your health care provider.
After a pregnancy loss, many women find it difficult to sit in a waiting room with pregnant women. This is an understandable reaction. Let an office staff member know that you would be more comfortable going into an exam room right away.
Getting pregnant after a loss may be difficult emotionally.
If you are considering getting pregnant or are pregnant, there are support services available to help you and your partner. For information about these services, call Allina Health Class Registration at 1-866-904-9962.
Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
Grief is not something that lasts for a few weeks and then ends. Grief has no expiration date. It can appear at times when you don't expect it.