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Miscarriage: Signs and causes

Miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy before 24 weeks. Stillbirth is the name given to pregnancy loss after 24 weeks.

Miscarriages are very common. At least 1 in 5 women will have a miscarriage.

Contact your GP, midwife or obstetrician immediately if you have these symptoms:

  • heavy bleeding from your vagina
  • severe abdominal (stomach) pain
  • smelly vaginal discharge

If the miscarriage happens outside of normal working hours or at the weekend, contact your maternity hospital's emergency department.

Signs you may have

Most women who are having a miscarriage will experience:

Bleeding from your vagina

There are lots of reasons why you might have vaginal bleeding during pregnancy. Sometimes it can be a sign of miscarriage.

The bleeding will be like a heavy period for the first day or two after a miscarriage. It should lessen to a brown discharge. Use sanitary towels and not tampons for this bleeding to reduce the risk of infection.

Read more guidance about bleeding from the vagina.

Stomach cramps and pain

Stomach pains can happen for different reasons during pregnancy. Sometimes this is a sign of miscarriage.

You may have low back pain and strong period-type cramps on the day of your miscarriage. These can become stronger as the miscarriage is happening - but they'll subside afterwards. You may get milder cramps for a day or two afterwards.

You can take the following painkillers (if you are not allergic to them):

  • paracetamol - take 2 500mg tablets 4 times per day
  • ibuprofen - take 400mg 3 times per day

Contact your maternity hospital if the pain is severe and painkillers don't help.

Read more guidance about stomach pains during pregnancy.

No signs (a 'missed miscarriage')

Sometimes there are no symptoms. You may only find out you have had a miscarriage during an ultrasound scan. This is sometimes called a 'missed miscarriage'.

It is a good idea to always bring someone to every scan who can support you, like your partner, a friend or support person.

Page last reviewed: 20/11/2018
Next review due: 20/11/2021