Let's be honest, it's not until you actually get pregnant that you really begin to understand how complex the whole process is. When you're trying for a baby, it's easy to get confused by all of the jargon involved and just how much actually has to go right for you to get pregnant. And if your doctor mentions something you might not have heard of, like "chemical pregnancy," you might feel more thrown than ever. (And disappointed.) A chemical pregnancy can be categorized as a loss, but what's the difference between a chemical pregnancy and a miscarriage?
According to New York OB-GYN Dr. Sheeva Talbein, MD, Fellow of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (FACOG), "A chemical pregnancy refers to a positive test that declines before fetal structures are visible on a sonogram." These are very early miscarriages, she tells Romper, basically a loss of the pregnancy anywhere from one to three weeks after implantation (or one to two weeks after your missed period). A miscarriage generally refers to the loss of a pregnancy after contents are developing in the uterus, Talbein continues.
Dr. David Rivera, MD, FACOG, agrees. "A chemical pregnancy means a pregnancy that was detectable by measurable hCG levels," he says in an interview with Romper. "Prior to sensitive tests, some women with a very early pregnancy would have a heavy period that seemed a week or two late. Technically, that was a miscarriage. Traditional miscarriages usually happen after at least five to six weeks of pregnancy, when the egg has implanted and starts to develop."
As the American Pregnancy Association (APA) noted, miscarriage is a term used for a pregnancy that ends on its own, within the first 20 weeks of gestation.
Miscarriages are the most common type of pregnancy loss, the APA added, and anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of all recognized pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Chemical pregnancies actually may account for 50 to 75 percent of all miscarriages, and because they typically occur right around the time of an expected period, most women do not ever realize that they conceived when they experience a chemical pregnancy.
According to Dr. Candice Fraser, MD, of Trinity Medical Care in New York, one way to tell if you've had a chemical pregnancy is by your period. "A woman may experience bleeding heavier than their regular period, shortly after they should have had a period."
If you're wondering what's going on with your body, period, or pregnancy, talk to your doctor. After all, knowing exactly what's happening at least offers a little peace of mind in tricky situations.