What Is Miscarriage Bleeding?

A miscarriage (also called spontaneous abortion) is pregnancy loss that happens in week 20 of pregnancy or earlier. Miscarriage bleeding can range from brownish discharge or light spotting to heavy bleeding with bright red blood and, sometimes, clots.

Other symptoms of a miscarriage include cramping and pain in your abdomen, pink vaginal fluid, dizziness, and discharge of tissue through the vagina. Know, however, that light bleeding during the first three months of the pregnancy is also common and not necessarily a sign of a miscarriage.

This article will help you to recognize symptoms that may signal a miscarriage. It emphasizes how important it is to call your healthcare provide right away, or to seek emergency care for heavy vaginal bleeding, especially if you're also having contractions during late pregnancy.

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Blood Loss During Miscarriage

During pregnancy, a person's blood volume expands. This change is important in order for the body to support a healthy pregnancy. Much of the increase is concentrated in the uterus and placenta.

The amount of miscarriage bleeding that can occur depends on your health, medical history, and how far into the pregnancy you are. All the tissue in the uterus—the thickened uterine lining, placenta tissue, and fetal tissue—is expelled.

Light bleeding or spotting is not uncommon in early pregnancy, but it's still important to contact your obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) about any symptoms. The symptoms of miscarriage also may include:

  • Heavier vaginal bleeding
  • Abdominal cramps or pain
  • Lower back or pelvic pain
  • General weakness

In some cases, your symptoms may be due to a threatened miscarriage. Treatment for a threatened miscarriage is possible and can lead to a continued pregnancy, but it's critical to receive immediate medical attention.

Risk Factors for Miscarriage

About half of all miscarriages are due to genetic problems in fetal development, with miscarriages occurring in about 10% of all known first trimester pregnancies (keeping in mind that sometimes, a missed miscarriage can occur before you know you're pregnant).Risk factors include previous miscarriage, underlying medical conditions like diabetes, and pregnancy in people age 35 and over.

Seeing a Healthcare Provider for Miscarriage

Your healthcare provider will first want to determine the cause of your vaginal bleeding, especially if the bleeding is heavy, associated with other symptoms, or occurs during late pregnancy.

In some cases, the cause of bleeding that occurs during the third trimester can be life-threatening to both a pregnant person and the fetus. These conditions may include:

If the bleeding is due to spontaneous abortion in the absence of another cause, then your OB-GYN or emergency physician will determine what type of miscarriage it is. They are likely to order an ultrasound and may check human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in the blood.

Some people, including those with a threatened or a history of recurring (multiple) miscarriages, may be treated to try and stop symptoms. Some studies suggest treatment with progesterone supplements may prevent miscarriage in some cases.

If the miscarriage can't be prevented, treatment will depend on whether or not your body has expelled all of the blood and fetal tissue. In this case, no further treatment is needed.

You may need medication or a procedure to remove uterine contents, though, in the case of an incomplete abortion that could lead to complications.

Ectopic Pregnancy and Miscarriage

On rare occasions, pregnancy losses happen because the pregnancy develops outside the womb. This is known as an ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancies may be life-threatening. There's a risk you could experience significant internal bleeding before you see any vaginal bleeding.

What to Expect After Miscarriage

Bleeding can last up to a few weeks, and your healthcare provider will offer suggestions for care after a miscarriage. These may include:

  • Avoiding sexual intercourse for one to two weeks
  • Not inserting anything into the vagina, like a tampon, for one to two weeks
  • Receiving counseling and mental health support
  • Using birth control if you don’t want to become pregnant again right away

Be sure to talk with your OB-GYN about future pregnancies. If and when you are ready for another pregnancy, your risk of miscarriage will be elevated due to the history of a previous miscarriage.

Preventing a Miscarriage

It's important to know that, in most cases, miscarriages don't happen because of something a pregnant person did (or failed to do). There are steps you can take to boost your chances of a healthy pregnancy even before you conceive, like starting on prenatal vitamins. Diet, exercise, smoking cessation, and other lifestyle choices can help.

Summary

Bleeding can occur in light or heavy amounts after a miscarriage. It is the process through which the fetal tissue and blood are expelled from your body, and it may last for about two weeks.

Note that it’s also common to have bleeding in the first trimester, so bleeding does not mean you definitely had a miscarriage.

If you have vaginal bleeding and are concerned about a miscarriage, talk to your healthcare provider. They will need to perform tests to confirm whether a miscarriage is occurring, and may monitor you to make sure you have expelled all of the pregnancy tissue.

A Word From Verywell

If you are facing pregnancy loss, be sure to establish a good support system. It's important to take the time for you to grieve the loss. Most people will go on to have successful pregnancies, but keep in mind the emotional healing is as important as the physical healing before trying again.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does miscarriage bleeding last?

    The heavy bleeding and passage of the pregnancy may occur in the first hours, but bleeding may continue for a few weeks after. Typically, the answer to how much bleeding is normal, and how long it lasts, will depend on the stage of pregnancy before miscarriage occurred.

  • When should you be concerned about bleeding after a miscarriage?

    If vaginal bleeding becomes very heavy or you experience other symptoms like lightheadedness, you should seek medical attention right away and/or call 911. Don't hesitate if you have a history of prior miscarriages or other significant pregnancy risk factors.

  • How do you stop bleeding after a miscarriage?

    Bleeding will stop on its own once the body has released all of the tissue and blood from the pregnancy. You may require medical or surgical assistance if your body doesn’t clear all the tissue on its own, and you may bleed on and off for a few weeks. Call your provider if bleeding continues or starts again.

11 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.