Missed Miscarriage: Causes, Signs and What to Do

A miscarriage can be devastating for any woman. Miscarriage, also known as spontaneous abortion, is the medical term for a pregnancy that ends at or before 20 weeks gestation. A miscarriage means that pregnancy ends on its own, and there is often no clear explanation as to why it happened. Though a miscarriage might happen within the first 20 weeks, the vast majority of them happen during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Knowing about miscarriage is very important for pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant. Here is the information you need to know specifically about missed miscarriage.

What Is a Missed Miscarriage?

A missed miscarriage is also called a silent miscarriage because there are usually no symptoms at all. The pregnancy didn’t develop as it should – perhaps there is only a gestational sac but no embryo, or the embryo might have begun to grow, but stopped somewhere along the way. Usually a mother is only aware of the missed miscarriage when she goes to the doctor and there is no fetal heartbeat. A missed miscarriage can understandably be a huge shock to anyone.

What Causes a Missed Miscarriage?

In most cases, a missed miscarriage happens simply because something went wrong with the embryo. Perhaps there was a significant birth defect, or the embryo had the wrong number of chromosomes and was incompatible with life. Whatever the reason for it, the embryo stops growing, and the heartbeat stops.

In later pregnancy, infections such as rubella or parvovirus can lead to a missed miscarriage. If this happens, your doctor can run a battery of tests on you and on the fetus to find out what the problem might have been, and how to prevent it from happening if you get pregnant again.

What Are the Signs of a Missed Miscarriage?

Unfortunately, most women do not realize that the embryo had died until they go to the doctor and see the proof on an ultrasound. In some cases, there might be brownish spotting, but that can often be attributed to other causes. Some women may feel the pregnancy symptoms reduce or disappear altogether.

Sometimes the body will begin to expel the fetus immediately, and you will go through a more traditional miscarriage. But sometimes the body doesn’t spontaneously miscarry, even though the heartbeat has stopped. When this happens, the doctor can take measures to help you.

What to Do After Diagnosing the Miscarriage

1. Let It Happen Naturally

Diagnosis of a missed miscarriage must be confirmed with two ultrasounds to be sure. Once the diagnosis is made, many women might choose to continue the pregnancy until it naturally ends. Others might want their doctor to offer options to end the pregnancy as soon as possible, so they can begin to grieve and heal, and start over with a new pregnancy.

2. Taking Medications

For a pregnancy that is extremely early, a woman can take medications that will cause the body to have contractions, thus pushing out the remaining tissue. Medications like misoprostol are non-invasive, and the result is often like that of a very heavy period. Your doctor might give you pain medication to help with the contractions. The emotional pain can be significant too, so it is important to talk to a counselor if you need to, even at this early stage of pregnancy loss.

3. D&C--Dilation and Curettage

If the pregnancy is older than eight to nine weeks, your physician might want to perform what is known as a dilation and curettage, or D&C. In some cases, the woman is put under general anesthesia while the procedure is performed; in other cases, local anesthesia can be enough. The importance of this procedure is to ensure everything is removed from the uterus so there is no infection. That kind of infection can eventually lead to pain, blood infection, significant illness, and even result in infertility if it is not treated in time. Those who have a missed miscarriage and do not have the material removed can find themselves hospitalized for serious, life-threatening infections.

A D&C is done in the same way that a traditional abortion is done; however, this is not an abortion. It is the removal of a pregnancy that has already been lost. Because of that, most hospitals are willing to perform the procedure, even those hospitals that have a strict no-abortion stance. It is very rare that a woman would have to visit an abortion clinic to have this potentially life-saving procedure done.

In the following video, a mom shares her experience of a missed miscarriage and how she dealt with it:

How to Deal with the Loss

Dealing with a pregnancy loss can be very difficult, no matter what stage the pregnancy was in. If you lose your pregnancy in the first weeks or several months in, it still hurts, both physically and emotionally. Keep in mind that any miscarriage can lead to postpartum symptoms, including postpartum depression. Women who have miscarried are just as likely as other women to suffer from this kind of depression, thanks to the sudden cessation of pregnancy hormones in the body.

Know when to get help: Besides that, miscarriage means the loss of something you probably wanted very much. Being depressed about losing something important is perfectly natural. But if your feelings of depression are interfering with the rest of your life, if you are having thoughts of suicide, or if your grief seems to be unassailable, it is time to talk to your physician. They can send you to a good therapist, or they can give you medications that can help you through a difficult time.

What about trying again? If you have dealt with a miscarriage, no matter how early, you might be very worried about trying again. But it is important to remember that most women who miscarry go on to have a successful pregnancy. In fact, your doctor might recommend early scans to reassure you that everything is okay. Once you do see a heartbeat, the pregnancy is probably viable and will likely be carried to term. In addition, keep in mind that if there was a medical condition or other problem that could be prevented, you and your doctor will be armed with that information this time around, and that increases your chances of a healthy pregnancy.

Learn more on recovering yourself from a miscarriage: