A chemical pregnancy is one of those things that, unless you know you’ve experienced it, you might not have previously even been aware of.
Despite how common chemical pregnancies are – some doctors suggest that chemical pregnancies account for up to 70% of all conceptions – it’s still a heartbreaking experience, especially if you don’t know why it’s happening.
We’re here for you. It sometimes feels like there’s a whole lot to know – and a whole bunch of things to worry about – when it comes to pregnancy.
Even the term ’chemical pregnancy’, ‘biochemical pregnancy’, or ‘chemical miscarriage’ can feel loaded with negative connotations, so we’re suggesting the term ‘early pregnancy loss’ instead, as part of our #RenamingRevolution.
But for the purposes of this article, we’ll use both terms, so that more mamas-to-be who are looking for this information can find it.
So here’s your guide to chemical pregnancies and early pregnancy loss, medically reviewed by embryologist and fertility expert, Navya Muralidhar.
In this article: 📝
- What is a chemical pregnancy and what causes it?
- How would you know if you had a chemical pregnancy?
- What is the impact of a chemical pregnancy?
- How to prevent chemical pregnancy
- Are you more fertile after a chemical pregnancy?
- Is a chemical pregnancy a miscarriage?
What is a chemical pregnancy and what causes it?
A chemical pregnancy is a term used for a very early pregnancy loss; typically, a miscarriage at 5 weeks or less.
At this point of pregnancy, it would be too early to detect the embryo on an ultrasound scan, so the only way to detect it is through the presence of the pregnancy hormone, hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin). Hence the name, “chemical” pregnancy.
So with a chemical pregnancy, hCG levels will be higher than usual. Home pregnancy tests are sensitive enough that they can show a positive pregnancy result before your period is even due, thanks to elevated hCG levels.
If you then get your period soon after the positive test result, this is classed as a chemical pregnancy.
So what causes a chemical pregnancy if they’re so common? In most cases, a chemical pregnancy is caused by chromosomal or genetic abnormalities.
In a successful pregnancy, both the egg and the sperm contain 23 chromosomes which combine to form a 46-chromosome zygote. The zygote goes through rapid cell multiplication and evolves into a blastocyst (embryo), which implants into the uterine wall to develop into an embryo.
To cause a chemical pregnancy or early miscarriage, either the egg or the sperm (or both) may contain too many, or not enough, chromosomes. During cell multiplication, the chromosomal imbalance will mean the zygote is nonviable.
Your body will be able to tell something is not quite right, and the pregnancy will fail; the blastocyst will be lost, along with the uterine lining, as a period bleed.
Ok, science lesson over.
So when does a chemical pregnancy occur? And what causes chemical pregnancy?
Although a chromosomal abnormality is completely unpreventable, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of suffering a chemical pregnancy.
Some chemical pregnancy causes include:
- Abnormal hormone levels
- Uncontrolled diabetes or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
- Untreated thyroid conditions or clotting disorders
- If you’re 35 or over
- Uterine abnormalities
- Genetic abnormalities
- Implantation outside the uterus, like an ectopic pregnancy
How would you know if you had a chemical pregnancy?
Because of how early chemical pregnancies happen, many women may not even know they are pregnant, and it will simply seem as though you’re going through your normal menstrual cycle.
Although levels of hCG will be high enough to show a positive test result, they won’t be high enough for you to experience any of those typical first-trimester pregnancy symptoms, like fatigue or nausea.
Instead, the only signs of chemical pregnancy you may notice might be;
- Slight spotting about a week before your period is due.
- Your period is slightly later in the month than usual.
- Your period is slightly heavier than usual.
- You have more painful menstrual cramps than usual.
If you’re closely monitoring your journey to conceive, it’s more likely you’ll take an early pregnancy test, get that positive result, and be aware of going through a chemical pregnancy.
Usually, in a chemical pregnancy, bleeding can be seen either before or on your period due date.
Unfortunately, chemical pregnancy signs can be vague, but typically, bleeding is the main symptom of an early pregnancy loss.
If you’re receiving treatment for infertility, your doctor may suggest an early pregnancy test, and as such, researchers have found that chemical pregnancies occur in 18%-22% of all IVF pregnancies.
Sadly, some people can experience early miscarriage symptoms 2 weeks into their pregnancy, but as these chemical pregnancy symptoms are hard to spot, they can be attributed to early pregnancy or usual menstrual symptoms.
It can be a really distressing time, so please know that you are not alone.
What is the impact of a chemical pregnancy?
You might be wondering what is chemical pregancy’s impact on the body?
The physical impact of a chemical pregnancy or early miscarriage, is minimal.
Among medical professionals, a chemical pregnancy is often classed as a normal menstrual cycle, rather than a pregnancy, as it has much less effect on your body than a miscarriage in later weeks.
This doesn’t mean it’s not important, though. A chemical pregnancy can still feel like a big loss.
Plus, the psychological impact of an early pregnancy loss can change vastly from person to person.
How to prevent chemical pregnancy
We really wish we could tell you how to prevent chemical pregnancies.
Unfortunately, because there are various causes, and sometimes, no causes at all, a chemical pregnancy cannot be prevented.
However, there are some things that can increase the risk of early miscarriage:
- Low body weight
- Excessive alcohol consumption
However, you can do all the ‘right’ things and still have an early pregnancy loss.
Sometimes, there really is no cause at all.
Are you more fertile after a chemical pregnancy?
There are a few rumors going around that you can be more fertile after a chemical pregnancy.
A chemical pregnancy doesn’t impact your fertility, so having a chemical pregnancy doesn’t make you more fertile – or more likely to be infertile.
Doctors also don’t advise waiting before trying to conceive after an early pregnancy loss, either, so you can have a pregnancy after chemical pregnancy.
So after a chemical pregnancy, when do you ovulate?
If you have an early pregnancy loss, you should return to your usual ovulation cycle, so you can continue TTC after chemical pregnancy straight away, if you choose.
But if you’re TTC and suffer multiple chemical pregnancies, 2 chemical pregnancies in a row, or if you have any of the risk factors for chemical pregnancies, it may be worth speaking to your doctor for advice.
Navya Muralidhar, embryologist and fertility expert, also suggests “It may also be beneficial to conduct genetic or karyotype screening tests to rule out any genetic abnormalities that may be causing repeated miscarriages.
“In case of repeated miscarriages with IVF, an additional procedure known as pre-genetic screening is conducted on the embryo to determine its viability.
“Based on the report, the healthiest embryo can be transferred to maximize chances of a successful pregnancy.”
Is a chemical pregnancy a miscarriage?
By definition, a miscarriage is the loss of a pregnancy, so yes, a chemical pregnancy is a kind of early miscarriage.
Everyone’s reaction and emotional state will be different after a chemical pregnancy, so while some may need to take the time to mourn their loss, other women may move on more quickly.
No matter how you feel, your feelings are totally valid.
A doctor may be able to confirm the chemical pregnancy occurred through a blood test, depending on how recently it happened – and if you would like to have confirmation or closure.
And unlike a miscarriage later on in pregnancy, after which you’d be advised to wait to physically recover before trying to conceive again, you can try to get pregnant after a chemical pregnancy.
However you feel after a chemical pregnancy, there’s no right or wrong, and we’re not here to say what you should or shouldn’t feel or do next.
Just know that there are other women on Peanut to speak to, if you wish, to share your experience and get the support you need.