Miscarriage and Stillbirth

Losing a baby, no matter where you are in your pregnancy, is a very difficult experience. Your midwife and your GP can reassure you that you are in no way to blame.

Miscarriage in early pregnancy

Most miscarriages happen in the first three months of pregnancy and in most cases there is no clear reason why it happens. Research shows it is very unlikely that anything a pregnant woman, did or didn’t do, will have caused the miscarriage. Sadly, for most women, the cause is unexplained.

As many as one in five pregnancies can end in miscarriage. A miscarriage means losing your baby (technically the fetus) before 24 weeks.

Symptoms of miscarriage

While some spotting of blood is quite common in early pregnancy, it’s worth mentioning to your midwife. Heavier bleeding, possibly accompanied by cramps that feel like bad period pain, could be the start of a miscarriage. If this happens, you should call your midwife or GP immediately.

How you may be feeling

Even though miscarriage is common, that doesn’t make it any less upsetting. Family and friends will try to cheer you up but sometimes it doesn’t help. You and your partner need to give yourself time to grieve. It can help to talk it over with others who have been through the same thing. Your midwife may be able to put you in touch with a local support group (see Further help.)

If you experience a late miscarriage or a stillbirth you will need obstetric and midwifery care to make sure your body is recovering.

What to do

If you think you are having a miscarriage, it should always be investigated.  If you are registered with a midwife/local maternity unit, you should contact them if you are experiencing these symptoms.  If you have not yet registered, contact your GP or NHS 24 on 111.

Cervical Weakness

Occasionally, miscarriages are caused by a condition that is known as cervical weakness, sometimes referred to as cervical incompetence. This means that the cervix or neck of the womb doesn’t stay closed but starts to dilate (open). In these circumstances, the baby may be lost before the 24th week. If this has been a problem for you in the past, speak to your midwife or GP about getting extra help from your obstetrician early in pregnancy to reduce the risk of it happening again.

Multiple miscarriages

Help is available for women who have had 3 or more miscarriages. Your GP can refer you to a specialist who can investigate possible causes. If you’ve had a miscarriage before, make sure your midwife or GP know so that you can get help to reduce the risks.

Other circumstances

Ectopic pregnancy

This means the pregnancy has developed outside the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. You will need medical help as it is dangerous for you. Unfortunately an ectopic pregnancy can’t be saved. It usually becomes apparent at about six weeks. Symptoms may include pain low down in the abdomen, bleeding, or other more general symptoms such as paleness and sweating. It’s important to seek medical help quickly as early treatment means it is more likely that the fallopian tube can be saved and your fertility may not be affected.


Stillbirth is the death of a baby before or during birth after 24 or more weeks of pregnancy. This affects one in 200 pregnancies. If this did happen, you would be asked whether you wanted your baby to have a post mortem.  A post mortem can sometimes find the cause of the stillbirth; it can also help rule out some causes.  This information may be helpful if families are planning future pregnancies. (see Further help).

Last Updated: 06 September 2017
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