The fear of pregnancy loss is real mama, and the emotional impact is heavy so let’s talk about it.
But before we begin, if you’re wondering what does a miscarriage look like? because you’re worried you could be experiencing one right now, your doctor is the best person to call.
No two women experience a miscarriage in the same way, whether physically or emotionally.
And just as we can’t tell you how you will respond emotionally to pregnancy loss, we can’t tell you that you will definitely experience certain symptoms during a miscarriage.
What we can do is explain what a miscarriage can look like and feel like and how long it can last.
There is no right or wrong way to move through a miscarriage as long as you are not doing it alone.
Because you’re not alone.
We’ve got you. 💗
Content warning: We’ll be exploring some potentially upsetting or triggering topics of pregnancy loss in this article. You don’t have to read this if you don’t want to.
We’ll also be primarily using the term “miscarriage” instead of our preferred “pregnancy loss,” to help people find this article, should they need it.
And if you want to talk to someone who has been through or is going through a similar experience, our Peanut community is always there.
In this article: 📝
- What exactly happens in a miscarriage?
- How do I know if I’m miscarrying?
- What does a miscarriage look like and feel like?
- What does an early miscarriage look like?
- What does a later miscarriage looks like?
- What does a miscarriage look like when you pass it?
- Can you have a miscarriage without symptoms?
- How do miscarriages start?
- Did I miscarry or is it my period?
- Is a miscarriage painful?
- What happens if you have a miscarriage and don’t go to the doctor?
- What should you not do after a miscarriage?
What exactly happens in a miscarriage?
The best way to describe a miscarriage is a spontaneous loss.
It’s a bodily response to a pregnancy that ends suddenly of its own accord (that bit’s important) within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.
When this happens, your body needs to remove the tissue that has developed in your uterus which is why you may see some vaginal bleeding.
Sadly, once the miscarriage has begun, it can’t be stopped.
But listen when we say it’s not a fault, a failure, or a cause for shame – it’s unexpected, and it’s common.
Miscarriages happen in about 1 in 4 detected pregnancies, and around 85% of miscarriages occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
And let us not forget the early pregnancy losses that happen within the first five weeks.
Honestly mama, most of the time, there’s nothing you can do to prevent a miscarriage.
Most miscarriages happen because of “chromosomal abnormalities” – a genetic problem that occurs when the cells of the embryo are dividing.
And while this may sound scary and uncertain, what is clear is that pregnancy loss is not your fault nor is it abnormal.
The key thing to take away is that with so many women experiencing pregnancy loss, we really need to talk about it more.
How do I know if I’m miscarrying?
You’d expect a miscarriage to be more obvious, but it can be incredibly hard to tell if you’re experiencing a miscarriage.
Vaginal bleeding, [spotting, or even cramping aren’t only linked to pregnancy loss, but these are the most common signs.
If you are experiencing vaginal bleeding or cramps in your lower abdomen, just above your pubic area, see your doctor as soon as possible.
What are the symptoms of a miscarriage?
The main symptom of a miscarriage is vaginal bleeding, which can look like light spotting, brown discharge, or heavier bleeding while passing blood clots, which can last for anything from a few hours to a few days, starting and stopping for a while.
But depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re at, the symptoms of a miscarriage can look and feel very different.
If you notice any of these signs, the best thing you can do is make the call – no one will judge you for it:
- Vaginal discharge: Discharge is common throughout pregnancy, but if you notice fluid or tissue, it’s best to contact your doctor.
- Cramping and pain: Usually in your lower tummy, just above your pelvic area.
What does a miscarriage look like and feel like?
The symptoms of miscarriage will be different depending on your individual situation and how advanced your pregnancy is.
Vaginal bleeding and cramping are pretty solid signs, but they can vary in their intensity or even not happen at all.
To help give you a little more clarity we explore what a miscarriage may look like at different stages of pregnancy below.
We’re in this together mama.
How early can you notice a miscarriage?
An early miscarriage is any pregnancy loss that occurs in the first trimester, so usually within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
This means you could notice a miscarriage as early as 5 weeks (more on this below).
Depending on how early this happens, it can be very easy to fall into a comparison trap but mama, self-compassion is a far better direction. 🙏
Everyone’s story is different, and a loss at 6 weeks can be just as devastating as a loss at week 18.
Be kind to yourself.
What does a chemical pregnancy look like?
A chemical pregnancy is a miscarriage that happens at 5 weeks – before the embryo has been detected on an ultrasound.
It gets its name from the chemicals (ahem hormones) in your body that produce a positive pregnancy test even though your embryo has stopped growing.
We get the logic, but the wording is less than desirable (which is why we opted for “early pregnancy loss” in our #RenamingRevolution glossary).
Because of how early chemical pregnancy can happen, the symptoms are very similar to a late period and usually include slightly heavier bleeding and more intense cramping.
As jarring as the terminology sounds, the physical impact is quite minimal which is why many women believe they are simply going through their regular menstrual cycle – albeit a tad bit later.
For those who’ve experienced the joy of a positive pregnancy, the emotional impact can be significant.
Just because your embryo was too small to show on an ultrasound doesn’t make it any less painful to experience the loss — especially if you’ve been TTC for some time.
What does an early miscarriage look like?
At an early stage of pregnancy, miscarriage bleeding can start with light spotting and become heavier, or it may be heavy from the start.
The blood might look pinkish, bright red, or brown.
You may also feel some cramping.
In the first month of pregnancy, your embryo is about the size of a small grain of rice so any sign of loss will be incredibly difficult to see.
That doesn’t make it any less alarming.
Let’s take it week by week, with day one of pregnancy being the day after your last menstrual period (it sounds strange, but that’s actually where doctors start the timeline):
What does a miscarriage look like at 1 week?
If you’re 1 week pregnant, your body is still in pregnancy preparation mode, so there’s no embryo just yet.
At this stage, bleeding could just be down to your uterus cleaning house and shedding lining to make way for your incoming guest – essentially, since fertilization hasn’t happened yet, bleeding at one week would be an early period.
But if there is any bleeding outside of your regular period, it’s best to speak with your doctor, just in case.
What does a miscarriage look like at 2 weeks?
Some people have early miscarriage symptoms at 2 weeks, but just as with week 1 of pregnancy, your fertilized egg may not have even implanted yet.
Any symptoms during this stage would be more of a sign of ovulation or an early period than a miscarriage.
What does a miscarriage look like at 3 weeks?
This is where things get a little more complicated.
The second or third week of your pregnancy is typically the point that the zygote (your fertilized egg) makes its way into your uterus through the fallopian tube, all the while transforming into a blastocyst (the earliest stage of your little embryo).
Once the blastocyst arrives, it nestles into the wall of the uterus – making your pregnancy official.
But for some blastocysts, this next stage of implantation doesn’t happen which may show as light spotting or blood clots.
What does a miscarriage at 4 weeks look like?
Week 4 is usually the point of implantation, which can cause some light bleeding.
Vaginal bleeding at this point doesn’t necessarily mean a pregnancy loss, especially if only light spotting.
A miscarriage at 4 weeks may look similar to a period, so if a little heavier contact your doctor.
What does a miscarriage look like at 5 weeks?
At 5 weeks, the blastocyst has become an embryo, and most women will have experienced the famous ‘missed period’ that tells them the good news.
So it can be especially concerning when bleeding occurs here.
At this stage, a miscarriage may have more noticeable blood clots than at 4 weeks and look more like a heavy period (more painful cramps included).
What does a miscarriage look like at 6 weeks?
There’s less of a chance of miscarriage the further you get into pregnancy, and at 6 weeks, the chances drop to an average of 10%.
But they do happen.
At 6 weeks, a miscarriage may be heavier with more noticeable blood clots.
What does a later miscarriage looks like?
A late miscarriage is a pregnancy loss that happens after 12 weeks.
These are far rarer again, but as you know, the stories are many.
As for the reasons?
From bacterial or viral infections to chronic endocrine conditions and illness, there so many factors – none of which are in your control (that’s important to hold onto).
The symptoms of a later miscarriage can be quite similar to an early pregnancy loss, but the bleeding is often heavier with larger blood clots and pieces of tissue.
Depending on how far along you are, other symptoms include:
- Labour-like cramping
- Vaginal discharge that looks like water breaking
- Loss of pregnancy
- No fetal movement in your uterus
Sometimes there are no warning signs, but even if there are, the trauma is real.
The emotions are real.
Taking the time to process will be just as valuable as your physical recovery.
What does a miscarriage look like when you pass it?
If it’s an early miscarriage, it may look like brownish coffee grounds or simply a slightly heavier period.
If it’s a later miscarriage, you may notice larger blood clots, and they might contain tissue.
As for color, miscarriage blood can appear bright red, pink, or even brown.
What do miscarriage clots look like?
Miscarriage blood clots can vary in size, from a fraction of an inch to a few inches wide.
This may be uncomfortable, but it’s worth exploring these major stages in closer detail:
- Under 6 weeks: You may pass some small clots and notice white or grey tissue.
- After 6 weeks: Alongside bleeding and clots, you may also see a small sac and an embryo no bigger than your pinky fingernail.
- 8 weeks: Many women describe the tissue as similar to liver. Miscarriage clots can appear shiny and deep red.
- 10 weeks: The miscarriage clots look more like jelly and contain what looks like a membrane inside. The sac will be in one of these clots.
- 12 weeks: If you miscarry at 12 weeks, you may notice leaking amniotic fluid (AKA your water breaking) followed by bleeding and clots.
- After 16 weeks: At this late stage, miscarriage clots will look more like large pieces of liver. The passing can feel very similar to labor, and you may need pain relief.
None of this is easy to talk about, but it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.
Awareness can be a powerful ally.
Just like the mamas on Peanut.
Can you have a miscarriage without symptoms?
In some cases – and this can be tough to go through – your pregnancy can end without you realizing it.
During a missed miscarriage (or silent miscarriage), your embryo will have died without you experiencing any of the physical symptoms we looked at above.
This is often because the body has not recognized the loss itself or released the tissue.
If this happens, your doctor may suggest waiting for the physical process of miscarriage to start on its own, or they may recommend medication or surgery to help the process along.
Can you have a miscarriage without bleeding?
Yes, it is possible to have a miscarriage with no bleeding, especially in the earlier weeks.
But there are some other symptoms that you may not be aware of:
- Less obvious pregnancy signs.
- Intense nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Pain in your lower back.
- Negative pregnancy tests.
Will a pregnancy test tell me if I miscarried?
Unfortunately, home pregnancy tests cannot tell you if you have miscarried.
It’s because your hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, or pregnancy hormone) levels may still be showing as high enough to give a positive pregnancy test result.
The opposite can also be true for a very early pregnancy.
You may be experiencing implantation bleeding and implantation cramps, but your hCG levels may not be high enough to grant a positive.
Better to save your mind from the rollercoaster and leave it in the safe hands of your doctor.
How do you confirm a miscarriage at home?
There is no surefire way to confirm a miscarriage at home.
The only way is through ultrasound and regular hormonal testing, making your doctor your best bet for confirming a pregnancy loss.
Plus they can give you the best guidance on how to take care of yourself physically and mentally in the weeks after.
As for an early pregnancy loss, it can be hard even for a doctor to confirm so it may take a bit longer to be referred for tests.
How do miscarriages start?
Some women find their miscarriages start with some light bleeding and mild cramping, while others feel pain more intensely with a sudden, heavier “gush” of blood.
It’s also worth remembering that light bleeding and mild cramping during pregnancy aren’t always a sign of a miscarriage, but it’s still worth visiting your doctor as soon as you can.
How long will a miscarriage last?
Every pregnancy loss is different and can affect different bodies in different ways.
But how far along you are will be the greatest indicator.
For an early miscarriage, you might have just a few hours of heavy bleeding followed by a few days of spotting.
But, very generally speaking, once light bleeding starts, a miscarriage can take a few days to pass.
With a miscarriage later in pregnancy, you could experience initial heavy bleeding followed by 1 to 2 weeks of bleeding that tapers off.
Did I miscarry or is it my period?
With early pregnancy loss at 5 weeks or earlier, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between a miscarriage and a late period.
Because the length of pregnancy is calculated from the first day of your last menstrual period, week 4 or 5 of pregnancy falls around the time you’d normally expect to get your next period.
Many women likely experience early pregnancy loss without ever knowing they were pregnant.
But just because it happened early doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.
No comparisons here mama. Only validation.
Miscarriage vs. period
It can be hard to know if your bleeding is due to a miscarriage or period.
It doesn’t stop many women from wondering and worrying.
If this is you, you’re certainly not alone.
The general rule is that the symptoms will be more intense if you’re experiencing an early miscarriage rather than your period:
- Heavier bleeding that lasts for longer than your normal period.
- Blood that is an unusual color – usually darker.
- Blood clots that you don’t normally have.
- More painful cramps.
You know your body best, so always trust your instincts.
Is a miscarriage painful?
Sometimes, yes, but not always.
Some of our Peanut community have reported cramping that feels similar to period cramps, sometimes more painful or lasting longer.
And some have said they experienced no significant pain at all.
It’s the emotional pain that needs the most attention, and we are all for you working through it in any way that helps you.
What happens if you have a miscarriage and don’t go to the doctor?
We get the resistance, but it’s so important to visit a doctor as soon as you think you may be having a miscarriage.
In some instances, embryonic or fetal tissue does not pass completely and can cause sepsis or infection.
This needs to be promptly evaluated and treated.
Your fears are valid and totally fair, but the best place to feel them is with your doctor.
How can I clean my uterus after a miscarriage at home?
After a miscarriage, it can be normal to want to shut the world out.
And you can absolutely do that.
But taking care of your body and your uterus is an essential step (could even prove to be helpful for your emotional state).
As for how, there is no safe way to clean your uterus at home unless prescribed by a doctor.
Outside of their guidance, some other things you can do to practice self-care while giving your body a boost include:
- Plenty of rest
- Keeping hydrated
- Taking plenty of soothing baths
- Avoiding sex (just for 2 weeks)
- Warm compresses for your body
- Light movement or meditation
What should you not do after a miscarriage?
Number one: do not blame yourself.
No matter how tempting it may be, it is not the answer you need.
The reality is that miscarriages sometimes just happen for no reason at all.
Adding shame on top of grief, anger, and trauma helps no one – least of all you (the very person who needs the most care).
Take some time for yourself and give space for the feelings that come up.
It’s also important not to have penetrative sex until your miscarriage symptoms have passed, which can take a few weeks.
And if you’re TTC (trying to conceive), it’s often advised to wait 2-3 months to have sex to conceive to heal emotionally and give your uterus time to heal.
She’s been through a lot too.
If you experienced an early miscarriage (before 6 weeks), it’s recommended to rest for a week.
You can still work, but if you have a more labor-intensive job, it might not be a bad idea to ask for some time off to recover.
It all depends on how you’re feeling, too.
If your cramping and bleeding are lasting longer than anticipated, or even if they’re not, take as much time as you need.
Going through a miscarriage, whatever the stage of your pregnancy, can be difficult.
You might feel sad, shocked, or angry, or you might not feel much at all.
There’s no single “right” response here.
Whether you want some quiet time alone to reflect or you want to cry on a friend’s shoulder, do whatever you need to do to get through this.
And remember, we’re here for you, always. 💕