Frequently asked questions
You’ll find quick answers here to our most commonly asked questions, with links to where you can find out more.
We aim to provide accurate and up to date information but it cannot and should not take the place of individual medical advice.
Q: I’m bleeding/spotting. Am I miscarrying?
You might be, but even heavy bleeding doesn’t always mean miscarriage. An ultrasound might tell you more, but not till about 7 weeks and even then, it might not give a full picture. See signs and symptoms for more information.
Consider contacting your GP, midwife, Early Pregnancy Unit or Accident & Emergency department if you have more pain and bleeding than you can cope with.
Do contact your GP, midwife, Early Pregnancy Unit or Accident & Emergency department if you:
- Have previously had an ectopic pregnancy, or
- Have sharp one-sided pain and/or pain in your shoulders, or
- Feel very faint or dizzy.
Early diagnosis and treatment of ectopic pregnancy won’t save the pregnancy but may prevent an acute emergency and can mean less radical treatment. You’ll find more information here.
Q: When can I have a scan? / Why do I have to wait for a scan? / Why do I have to have a repeat scan?
The best time to have a scan is from about 7 weeks’ gestation when it should be possible to see the baby’s heartbeat. But it can be hard to detect a heartbeat in early pregnancy and it can be hard to know whether the baby has died or not developed at all, or whether it is simply smaller than expected but still developing. See ultrasounds for more information.
Q: What’s a fetal pole?
The fetal pole is the first visible sign of a developing embryo, with the embryo’s head at one end and what looks like a tail at the other end. If you read or hear the term ‘crown rump length, or CRL, that describes the measurement from head to ‘tail’, which helps to date a pregnancy.
Q: What’s a missed miscarriage? Why does it happen?
A missed miscarriage (also called silent or delayed miscarriage) is where the baby has died or failed to develop but your body has not actually miscarried him or her. The scan picture shows a pregnancy sac with a baby (or fetus or embryo) inside, but there is no heartbeat and the pregnancy looks smaller than it should be at this stage. Pregnancy hormone levels may still be high, so you may have had no idea that anything was wrong, still feel pregnant and have a positive pregnancy test.
It’s not clear if there is a particular reason for this kind of miscarriage. Some people think it’s just the downside of early pregnancy tests and ultrasound: if the miscarriage wasn’t diagnosed on, say, a booking scan, you would only know you had miscarried when that physical process started.
You can find more information here.
Q: What are the options for treating a missed or incomplete miscarriage?
The options are natural (waiting for nature to take its course), medical (tablets or pessaries to start or speed up the miscarriage process) or surgical (removing the remains of your pregnancy, under general or local anaesthetic).
You can find more information here.
You’ll find detailed information about each of them in this leaflet.
For loss after 14 weeks there is additional information on page 3 of this leaflet.
Q: Can I choose how my miscarriage is 'managed'?
You should usually be able to choose the option you feel you can cope with best, but there may be medical reasons that you shouldn’t have one or other option, or it may be that the hospital doesn’t offer all kinds of management.
National (NICE) guidance also advises hospitals to suggest natural management for two weeks or so in many cases, before offering other options. If you really don’t want this and there’s no medical reason for waiting, you may need to push for having medical or surgical management – but it’s not a right.
Q: What happens to the remains of my baby?
New guidance advises that hospitals should offer the option of arranging cremation or burial of pregnancy remains or, if parents prefer, the option of taking the baby’s remains home and making private arrangements. You should be given time to decide. However, actual practice varies a great deal and sadly, some hospitals may still treat the remains of an early loss as clinical waste unless you request otherwise. (This is not illegal in England and Wales, although Scottish guidance is different.)
You can read more about this and your options here. This includes information about what to do if you miscarry at home.
Q: What happens in hospital?
It depends on your symptoms, which department you’re seen in and what day and time it is.
If you are seen in Accident & Emergency (A&E, Casualty), you may have to wait a long time, especially if it’s busy. You may not be seen as a priority and others might be seen ahead of you. If you’re bleeding heavily, you might feel embarrassed.
After you are seen you may be referred to an Early Pregnancy Unit (EPU) or a gynaecology ward, either straight away or at another date. Most EPUs are open only limited hours and very few at evenings or weekends.
If you are seen at a specialist EPU or emergency gynaecology unit, you will be seen by people who understand pregnancy loss. They’ll advise what happens next. There will still be some waiting, perhaps with some people who are upset and anxious and others who are excited and/or visibly pregnant.
Q: What is a chemical pregnancy?
Chemical pregnancy (sometimes called biochemical pregnancy) is a term that doctors sometimes use to describe a very early pregnancy loss. This kind of loss usually happens just after the embryo implants (before or around 5 weeks) and before anything can be seen on an ultrasound scan.
There is usually no need for medical treatment or intervention.
However early the loss, it can still be distressing.
You can find more information on the facts and feelings here.
Q: When can we have sex again? When can we try again?
It’s best to avoid having sex until any bleeding has stopped, to reduce the risk of infection. Once bleeding has stopped, you can try again whenever you and your partner feel ready – although the advice on timing might be different after late miscarriage, ectopic or molar pregnancy.
If you wait until after your first period it can make it easier to date another pregnancy, but it won’t make any difference to the risk of miscarrying again.
You’ll find more information here.
Q: When will I get my period?
In most cases, between 4 and six weeks after your loss, though this can vary. That first period may be heavier and last longer than usual.
If you haven’t had a period after 6 weeks, it’s worth doing a pregnancy test. If it’s positive, but you know there’s no chance you could be pregnant again, it is a good idea to contact your GP or the hospital where you were treated.
Q: Why did I have a miscarriage/ectopic pregnancy/molar pregnancy? Was it something I did?
It’s usually difficult to know why any pregnancy loss happens, though it’s highly unlikely to be because of anything you did or didn’t do. You can find out more about the causes of miscarriage here, and what we know about ectopic pregnancy and molar pregnancy.
Q: Where can I find someone to talk to who will understand?
Our helpline, e-mail support, online forum, local support volunteers and Facebook groups are all ways you can contact friendly, supportive and helpful people who can understand. You’ll find a full list here.