How to Care for Your Body After a Miscarriage
Each year, an estimated 23 million miscarriages occur around the world, according to an April 2021 report in The Lancet, and the number is likely much higher, since many people miscarry before learning they’re pregnant. But despite how common miscarriages are, many people don’t realize that losing a pregnancy can have a significant impact on a person’s body, particularly when the pregnancy is further along.
What Is a Miscarriage?
A miscarriage is defined as the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks. Most miscarriages occur as a result of chromosomal abnormalities or congenital defects, which means the pregnant person did nothing at all to cause it.
The initial signs of miscarriage tend to be the same: “The majority of women will start with bleeding, and then they'll get cramping,” says Denise Castellanos, a certified nurse-midwife at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. (However, it's also possible to experience bleeding or spotting during pregnancy and still carry a baby to full term, which is why it's important to call your doctor for an evaluation if you experience it.)
What Happens to Your Body During a Miscarriage?
If your doctor determines that you’re having a miscarriage, it’s often possible to allow your body to complete the process at home. You may be given the option to allow your body to pass the pregnancy on its own, or a doctor may prescribe a medication to help your body expel the tissues more quickly, says Castellanos.
But if you’re experiencing heavy bleeding, it’s important to seek more urgent care. “If you are soaking a pad within an hour or less and passing large clots, or if you’re having severe cramping, you need to go to the emergency room,” Castellanos says. The same is true if you’re having fever or chills, which can be a sign of infection.
In some cases, not all the pregnancy tissue passes on its own, an outcome known as an incomplete miscarriage. “An incomplete miscarriage means that not all of the products of conception, such as the placenta, have passed out of the body,” says Kimberly Langdon, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn in Columbus, Ohio. “Usually, there is continued bleeding and cramping until that occurs.”
An incomplete miscarriage may also require medication or a surgical procedure called dilation and curettage (D&C) to ensure that you don’t get an infection from the remaining tissue.
“The importance of getting rid of all the tissue is that if it stays in, it increases the risk of infections and also can create problems down the line if that individual wants to get pregnant again,” says Michael Tahery, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn in private practice in Los Angeles.
About 80% of miscarriages occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, so many people will notice that they’re no longer experiencing first-trimester symptoms. “All the changes that occurred before the miscarriage eventually go away, such as breast tenderness, nausea, and fatigue,” Langdon says.
What Happens After You Have a Miscarriage?
After you have a miscarriage, light bleeding can continue for several weeks. During this time, you’ll want to keep your vaginal area clear, meaning no tampons or intercourse. “The general rule of thumb says that once you've passed the pregnancy on its own or you've had a D&C, we don't want you to put anything in your vagina,” says Teresa Hoffman, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
It’s also a good idea to avoid tub baths. They can cause bacteria to enter your cervix, which may still be dilated.
Here are some other helpful pieces of wisdom from medical providers:
Your first period after a miscarriage may be heavier. After the bleeding stops, your body will begin ovulating again, but your initial period may be different than what you’re used to, and it may not occur for four to six weeks after the miscarriage. “Sometimes, if there's any small amount of tissue left and it's in the lining of the uterus, it can get passed with a period,” Tahery says.
You may need to take some time before trying to get pregnant again. From a physical standpoint, your body needs to start ovulating regularly again before you can potentially get pregnant after a miscarriage. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, conception can happen as early as two weeks after an early miscarriage, but the organization recommends talking to your doctor to determine the best timing for you.
It can be a good idea to wait even longer. “The recommendation given by a lot of providers, including myself, is to give it at least one to three normal cycles just to allow the body to heal,” Castellanos says. Give yourself as much time as you need, particularly if the experience was traumatic for you.
Honor your emotions. It's very normal to experience doubts and sadness after a miscarriage. "It's just like any other loss and grieving period a person has to go through," Tahery says. If you feel overwhelmed emotionally, don't minimize those feelings.
And if you feel that it would help to discuss them, share them with someone close to you. You can also find a therapist who works with people who’ve experienced pregnancy loss or connect with a support group through Postpartum Support International.
Keep up healthy lifestyle habits. If there’s a chance you will want to get pregnant again, even if you’re not sure, continue taking a prenatal vitamin and folic acid, eating a healthy diet, exercising, and abstaining from alcohol and drugs, recommends Tahery. This helps you keep your body ready for another try, if and when you decide you’re ready.
Finally, if you have a miscarriage, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for support. “We as providers are in tune with the patient, and we walk beside them through the loss,” Castellanos says.
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