Miscarriage can be scary, often because it is surrounded by so much uncertainty. If you've recently been told to expect a miscarriage or that you are miscarrying, you likely have hundreds of questions. While information can't mend your heart or speed healing, it can offer some individuals comfort in understanding the process of miscarriage.
Common questions women may have are how long does it take for a miscarriage to happen? What happens during a miscarriage? And how long does a miscarriage last? You're in the right place if you have any of these concerns. Hopefully, this guide will provide you with the information you need and the peace of mind that you're not alone. You won't be in this place forever.
What is Miscarriage?
A miscarriage is classified as the ending of a pregnancy before the 20th week. It is the most common type of pregnancy loss, with an estimated 10 to 15 out of 100 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. Most miscarriages occur within the first three months of pregnancy. Sometimes, a woman may not even realize she is pregnant before miscarrying.
Unfortunately, many women do know when they are miscarrying. Miscarriages can be physically difficult and painful, especially if they occur later during the first twenty weeks. They can also be mentally and emotionally hard. Most women report feelings of grief, loss, and sadness.
Your doctor may use the medical term for miscarriage which is spontaneous abortion. They may also tell you that you are experiencing one of five types of miscarriage. The types of miscarriage are:
Threatened miscarriage - when you have symptoms of a miscarriage, such as bleeding and cramping, but your cervix remains closed. Usually, there is a 50% chance a threatened miscarriage will progress.
Inevitable miscarriage - when signs of a miscarriage are accompanied by the opening of your cervix, meaning that it will inevitably progress.
Incomplete miscarriage - you pass some of the pregnancy tissue, but other tissue still remains in your uterus.
Complete miscarriage - you pass all of the pregnancy tissue.
Missed miscarriage - you do not have symptoms of a miscarriage, but an ultrasound reveals the embryo has not survived.
Each type of miscarriage can have different symptoms, causes, and treatments. Possible causes of miscarriage include chromosomal abnormalities, specific illnesses, a serious infection or injury, or uterine abnormality. In some cases, the cause of miscarriage is unknown. Regardless of why or how a miscarriage occurs, feelings of grief, loss, confusion, anger, and sadness are common for both the mother and her partner. Sometimes, gathering facts and information about miscarriage can help a woman feel more prepared and in control, providing some sense of comfort during a difficult time.
How Long Does It Take for a Miscarriage to Happen?
Once a miscarriage has started, nothing can stop it. Threatened miscarriages are different in that the pregnancy has not yet ended, but there is a 50% risk that it will. A threatened miscarriage is usually considered to have passed when symptoms taper off, and the pregnancy progresses normally. A true miscarriage usually cannot be prevented, and doctors cannot stop it.
A miscarriage can happen gradually or suddenly, and in some cases, you may not be aware it is occurring.
When your doctor diagnoses a miscarriage, it can be scary and sad. You may wonder how long it takes until it is all over. The passing of pregnancy tissue can take anywhere from a few days to four weeks. During this time, your body is working to pass the pregnancy tissue. If it cannot expel all the tissue, treatment may be necessary.
What Happens During a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage can begin with symptoms such as vaginal bleeding and cramping. Alternatively, your doctor may find via ultrasound that your embryo no longer has a heartbeat, or they can find only an empty sac. If you have symptoms of miscarriage and the process appears to be progressing normally, your doctor will likely prescribe expectant management. This type of treatment is a "wait and see" approach. Your body will work to pass the pregnancy tissue through cramping, which is very similar to contractions.
You may require medical intervention if you have heavy bleeding, are at risk of an infection, or your body is not actively working to pass the pregnancy tissue. Sometimes, a woman may wish to speed up the process through medical intervention. Usually, the intervention will be either medicine or a surgical procedure.
Misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, can assist a woman with miscarrying at home. It stimulates uterine contractions to pass the tissue. The surgical intervention usually performed is called a dilatation and curettage (D&C), in which your doctor will remove the tissue. Afterwards, you will likely be able to go home the same day. Depending on the treatment prescribed and the type of miscarriage, how long the process lasts can vary.
How Long Does a Miscarriage Last?
A miscarriage is complete when the embryo or baby, pregnancy sac, and placenta have been passed. A very early miscarriage can only last a few hours. For some women, the miscarrying process can take a few days, while others can experience miscarriage symptoms for weeks. However, the passing of the tissue and heavy bleeding usually takes around 3 to 5 hours. The further along you are in your pregnancy, the more pronounced the bleeding and pain will likely be. Once the bleeding and pain have ceased, your miscarriage is likely over. Usually, your doctor will confirm that your uterus is clear via an ultrasound.
In the case of medically treated miscarriages, it will likely only last a few days. Surgical treatment of miscarriage means that it is over immediately after the procedure.
However, emotional symptoms can remain even though symptoms have subsided and tissue has passed.
After the Miscarriage
After a miscarriage, you may experience light bleeding and minor cramping. It will generally taper off within a couple of weeks. Pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness and breast tenderness will gradually fade as your hormone levels return to normal. Some women can see a return of their period within four to six weeks. Although for many women, it can take much longer for their periods to regulate and their hormones to balance.
You may feel your grief isn't real because you didn't get to hold or see your baby before the loss. This is not the case. A miscarriage at any point during pregnancy is difficult and can produce real feelings of loss. Grief is a common feeling experienced by both partners. You may also feel shocked, angry, and confused.
Women may suffer from shame and guilt post-miscarriage, even though they did nothing to cause the miscarriage, nor was there anything they could do to prevent it. You may feel jealousy, resentment, fear, loss of faith or trust (especially in your body), and loneliness.
While there is no "right" way to grieve, you should know a few things. Don't try to rush back into things or push yourself to feel a certain way. Feeling sad is a normal part of the process. You should feel comfortable expressing yourself however you feel, whether talking to your partner, journaling, or going to therapy. You may wish to commemorate your loss in some way, which is a natural part of grieving.
While healing physically and mentally, be sure to maintain a healthy diet, get regular sleep, and participate in gentle movement. Stay away from things like alcohol in an attempt to numb the pain. These things will help your body heal and promote a healthy state should you want to try and conceive again in the near future.
Promoting a healthy womb is key when you decide to try again. Making sure your hormones are balanced and your cycles are regulated can help encourage fertility and make it easier to know when to have intercourse. Be sure to work with your doctor to understand when you can try again and how to optimize your chances for a healthy pregnancy. At home, you can do things like maintain a healthy diet, get regular sleep, and consider a supplement. A well-rounded supplement like Freshly Moms Womb Rebalance can help boost your nutrient levels, promote restorative sleep, encourage hormonal balance, and support regular menstrual cycles. For women who experienced a miscarriage and are struggling to return their womb to balance, it can be a beneficial part of a preconception routine.
Miscarriage recovery, especially emotionally, is never easy. Please know that a miscarriage is not the result of something you did or didn't do. Furthermore, you are not alone. If you feel especially sad or isolated, reach out to friends, family members, or a medical professional.
Shruti is the founder of Freshly Moms. She is a professional plant-based chef from Natural Gourmet Institute, NY and a certified IIN health coach. She has been working with Ayurveda, food & nutrition for over 10 years and is also a fresh mom herself.
This article is not a medical advice and is not meant for every situation. Every woman's body is different and may respond differently to treatments or supplements.