In the midst of a traumatic experience, it’s common (and absolutely normal) to wonder when the pain will end. When that experience is pregnancy loss, the physical and emotional toll can feel insurmountable and never-ending. But, exactly how long does a miscarriage last? Though the timing can vary, understanding the process can help you cope.
How long does a miscarriage last?
A miscarriage can last a few hours, days, weeks, and sometimes up to a month or more, but the timing varies from person to person. Early in pregnancy, the length of a miscarriage is typically shorter, lasting several hours or days. Those who are further along or who are carrying multiples can experience bleeding and other miscarriage symptoms for much longer.
“Average recovery time varies from woman to woman, depending on the gestational age the miscarriage occurred, and the methodology in which it occurred — naturally vs. induced,” Dr. Kecia Gathier, a double-board certified physician in OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine, and Director of Perinatal Services/Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln tells Romper.
Typically, a miscarriage has ended once all embryonic or fetal tissue has passed, bleeding stops, and a physical exam determines that the cervix has closed.
Signs of a miscarriage
“Typical signs of a miscarriage can include abdominal or pelvic cramping, vaginal bleeding or a gush of amniotic fluid,” Dr. Joey England, OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist at the Woman’s Hospital of Texas tells Romper.
You may experience a combination of signs and symptoms during a miscarriage, but some people may not experience any symptoms at all.
Here are some possible signs of a miscarriage:
- Vaginal bleeding or spotting
- Pelvic or abdominal cramping
- Amniotic fluid or tissue passing from the vagina
- Lower back pain
- Decrease or halt of pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, and breast tenderness
Types of miscarriage
A miscarriage is defined as the spontaneous loss of pregnancy prior to 20 weeks gestation. However, there are various medical descriptions used to define different types of miscarriages. Below is a brief description of each:
- Threatened miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding with a closed cervix. Though you’re at risk for miscarriage, medical intervention could allow for the continuance of pregnancy.
- Inevitable miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding with a dilated cervix and uterine contractions. Some fetal tissue may pass through the vagina, indicating a miscarriage in progress.
- Incomplete miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding with a dilated cervix and partial expulsion of fetal tissue. Some tissue remains in the uterus, but may or may not require medical intervention to remove.
- Complete miscarriage: Vaginal bleeding and fully expelled fetal tissue with a closed cervix.
- Missed miscarriage: Embryo death occurs, but the placenta and embryonic tissue are still in the uterus. This may present with no symptoms and only be recognized via ultrasound.
Other types of pregnancy loss that you may hear in relation to miscarriage include blighted ovum, ectopic pregnancy, and chemical pregnancy. These are non-viable pregnancies which will ultimately result in fetal expulsion from the uterus — which, put simply, is a miscarriage — but they may not initially present with bleeding.
What to do if you think you're having a miscarriage
If you think you’re having a miscarriage, it is important to call your healthcare provider right away. Miscarriages are diagnosed by a combination of blood tests, physical exam, and ultrasound, so you’ll need to be seen in order to find out if you’re actually having a miscarriage, or are experiencing another type of pregnancy complication or side effect.
A visit to the nearest emergency room is also not out of the question. “If you have not yet established care with a provider, you should present to the hospital for heavy bleeding, pain, or fever,” England tells Romper.
Whether you’re having a miscarriage or not, with symptoms like bleeding, fever, or pain during pregnancy, it’s important to get checked out sooner rather than later to address any potential complications.
Joey England, M.D., OB-GYN and maternal-fetal medicine specialist on the medical staff of The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, part of HCA Houston Healthcare
Dr. Kecia Gathier, M.D., MPH, MS/MBA, FACOG, double board-certified in OB-GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, Director of Perinatal Services/Maternal Fetal Medicine at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln in the Bronx