Symptoms and Signs of an Impending Miscarriage

Sad couple with doctor getting news of early miscarriage
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Miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous end of a pregnancy (also called spontaneous abortion) in the first 20 weeks. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, about 15 percent to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage; more than 80 percent of these occur in the first trimester.

In some cases, a woman may not even be aware she is having or has had a miscarriage because it happens before she even knows she is pregnant. Most likely, though, an impending miscarriage will have some distinct symptoms, although having these symptoms in pregnancy does not always mean a miscarriage is occurring. If you do have any of the following symptoms, it is important to call your OB/GYN as soon as possible, as she may want you to come in for a medical evaluation.

Vaginal Bleeding

Bleeding or spotting is the first sign of a miscarriage for many women. Although vaginal bleeding can be frightening, remember that even heavy bleeding does not always indicate a miscarriage. Sometimes bleeding may be the result of cervical irritation or the process of implantation; it may stop and the pregnancy may continue without any further problems. About 10 percent of all pregnant women experience vaginal bleeding at some point during pregnancy.

Light bleeding or spotting that is pink or brown is typically nothing to worry about. More worrisome is blood that is bright red or copious. Passing clots or a pink-tinged mucus may also indicate a miscarriage.

Report vaginal bleeding to your doctor if you have it at any point during your pregnancy. He or she will probably have you come in for an exam to see what’s going on.

Severe Abdominal Pain

Severe pain in the abdomen can be a symptom of an ectopic pregnancy, which is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus, often in one of the fallopian tubes. Severe pain in early pregnancy, especially if it is on only one side of the abdomen, should always be treated as an emergency. Milder cramping that is similar to menstrual cramps can occur in normal pregnancies and is not necessarily a sign of miscarriage.

Fading Pregnancy Symptoms

Another common concern in early pregnancy is when the pregnancy symptoms you've been having begin to diminish. If you've been experiencing morning sickness or breast soreness, for example, and these begin to disappear, it may mean the embryo is no longer viable.

Keep in mind, however, that pregnancy symptoms may fluctuate for other reasons, including the body becoming accustomed to the hormones of pregnancy. If you are concerned, call your doctor or mention it at the next scheduled appointment, if for no other reason than to put yourself at ease. 

Not Feeling the Baby Move

In the second half of pregnancy, you should start to feel the baby move on a regular basis. If the movements seem to stop for several days, your doctor may ask you to come in for fetal heart monitoring to make sure that your baby is okay.

Preterm Labor

In the second or third trimester, any signs of preterm labor should prompt an immediate call to your practitioner and possibly a trip to the emergency room, depending on your doctor’s advice. Signs of preterm labor include:

  • Contractions every 10 minutes or more frequently
  • Cramps that feel like menstrual cramps
  • Dull backache
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Vaginal discharge changes

A Word From Verywell

If you are having miscarriage symptoms, remember to see your doctor as soon as possible for diagnostic testing. Your pregnancy may still go on to be normal, or you may indeed be experiencing pregnancy loss.

If a miscarriage is, in fact, taking place, remember that miscarriage causes are almost never the mother's fault. Still, experiencing a miscarriage can be devastating. If you have one, ask your provider to help you find good support resources to help you get through the experience. The good news: According to the American Pregnancy Association, at least 85 percent of women who have had a miscarriage will go on to have a healthy, full-term pregnancy.

Verywell Family 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.

By Krissi Danielsson
Krissi Danielsson, MD is a doctor of family medicine and an advocate for those who have experienced miscarriage.